What’s Most Important For Your Career Success: Passion Or Skill?

Why "Follow Your Passion" Is Bad Advice

Most people take their work and careers very seriously. Who doesn’t want to succeed? Of course, what it takes to succeed is the million dollar question. At the same time, there also seems to be a million opinions on how to answer that question. How do you sift through the noise and come to the right answer? Simple: Just take the two most common concepts about career success today, flip a coin, and go for broke….just kidding (about the coin toss).

The two most common ideas that claim to be the key ingredient for success are the “Passion Hypothesis” and “Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You.” The former was popularized after Steve Job’s 2005 commencement address to Stanford’s graduating class.  The latter, ”Be so good they can’t ignore you” is Steve Martin’s (the comedian) advice to aspiring entertainers. Who’s right, the brilliant computer guy who was also a business genius or the laughable comedian? Believe it or not, the comedian.

The advice to just “follow your passion” and take a “courageous leap” into something that intrigues or captivates you is over-rated at best and dangerous at worst. On the other hand, putting in the hard work to build something valuable (“career capital”) to become excellent at something valuable is much more likely to lead to enduring success.

So where is the disconnect? After all, both Steve Jobs and Steve Martin are both tops in their field and wildly successful. The key is to look at what they actually did and not just what they said: both were so good that no one could ignore them.

A lot more could be said on the this topic. If you want more detail, read my post on the EIM blog. Better yet, read Cal Newport’s book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”.

If you simply want the bottom-line road map of what it takes to maximize you chances of success in whatever you put your hand to, here you go:

  1. Know your talents and strengths.
  2. Look for opportunities and take the initiative to develop Mastery of something that embodies #1 above and then work at it like crazy.
  3. Look for opportunities that allow you to do #2 above and hone your mastery to the point of something rare and valuable to the market, even if you have to give up (what ever) or pay up (some times a lot) to do it.
  4. Lather, Rinse and Repeat # 2 – 3 above!

One more thing. The reality is that neither Steve Martin nor Cal Newport were the first ones to give us this answer. That would be the bible in Proverbs 22:29 (NIV)- “Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank.”  Looks like the comedian was right after all.

The salient point is this: its more about doing work the right way vs “finding” the perfect work. You’ve got to get good and have something valuable to offer the market place before you can expect really good work that leads to success.

Given your current situation, what do you need to do to become “so good they can’t ignore you?”

Please leave a comment, I’d love to hear what your doing!