Graduate Theory

Don't Follow Your Passion

May 31, 2022 James Fricker Episode 32
Graduate Theory
Don't Follow Your Passion
Show Notes Transcript

This podcast features Steve Jobs, Cal Newport, and Ben Horowitz in investigating whether you should follow your passion when choosing a career.

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00:00 #32 Don't Follow Your Passion
01:29 Steve Jobs on Following Your Passion
02:08 Thoughts on Steve Jobs
04:18 Cal Newport on Following Your Passion
07:33 James on Cal's Advice
10:08 Ben Horowitz on Following Your Passion
12:44 James on Ben Horowitz
16:31 Scott Galloway on Following Your Passion  
18:13 Final Thoughts

Steve Jobs:

And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking and don't settle as with all matters of the heart. You'll know when you.


hello and welcome to graduate theory. On today's episode, we are going to talk about following your passion. What does that mean? And is that advice really something that you should be. Following your passion is advice that's given by people all across the internet, all across the world and it's often, well meaning advice, but as we'll see tonight, this advice is also a little bit. Today, we're going to dive into where this actually comes from the idea of following your passion and some critiques that have come out in the last few years. People that have investigated this further as some general thoughts around why this might not be the best approach to making decisions in your career. Without further ado, we're going to dive into, uh, where this first came from. So where did the idea of following your passion really stopped from, It's been around for a little while now, but when it first became popular was during the infamous Steve jobs, commencement speech back in 2005, this is a fantastic speech and has so many great points in it. But one of those was around following your passion and we're going to play that part of the space for you. Now, he is Steve back in 2005.

Steve Jobs:

I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened. If I hadn't been fired from apple, it was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it sometime life. Sometimes life's gonna hit you in the head with a brick don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved. You've got to find what you love, and that is as true for work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life. And the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking. Don't settle


If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Isn't that fantastic. What Steve shared with us there. And it's certainly, it's a very no pursuit, right? We all want to have a things that we do for work that we enjoy and that we love who wants to work somewhere and do something that they don't love and they don't enjoy it. Right. No one wants that. So obviously we all want this, so let's say the saying is absolutely right. You want to find something that you'd love to do, but the problem we get into here is that this advice now gets taller is something where you should stop, think of things that you love and then try and match your career to that. So, for example, if I liked maths and Oxford have a job in maths here. If I enjoy, you know, going outside and exercising than perhaps I should be a physio or something, something like. No, these are all, um, you know, interesting applications of this advice where we should do something that we love. And so start with something you do love now and match your career to that. That's kind of what we get taught as what this advice means. When we think about this further, what we can realize is there are some flaws with this. And so what we're going to do now is we're going to investigate some of these floors more deeply. Yeah. I'm going to call on some colon, some people that have thought about this in more detail and we're going to hear from them. And so firstly, we're going to hear from Cal Newport and county board is something, someone that I really admire. He, um, he's a professor at podcast and a writer. He wrote one book that investigates this topic in a lot of detail code is so good. They can't ignore you. And he wrote this back in 2012, so it's now 10 years old, but he, um, recently on his podcast did a little recap of some of the cool messages in the book. And in this video, he explains this idea of following your passion and. What it's meant to Maine and what we take it to me, and it's slightly different. And how you can start to think about, um, you know, Y matching your passions to a job is perhaps not the right way to think about things, but I'm going to let Cal explain his thoughts and his, his rationale on this topic. And we'll hear from him now.

Cal Newport:

And so I went and I researched and wrote this book as a postdoc at MIT, trying to answer the question, how do people end up loving what they do at the time? And continuing tell today, the common answer to that question was follow your. That's by far the most common answer, especially in the American context, there are definitely some regional differences here, but definitely in the American context, it didn't take much pushing the, realize that there are problems with this advice. Number one, a lot of people. And by a lot, I mean, most don't have clearly defined preexisting passions that they can identify to then follow real issue. If you talk to a bunch of, let's say 22 year olds just coming out of school. And say, look, you got to follow your passion or you're going to be, you know, a miserable, sad sack. And I say, well, what's my passion. I don't know. That's a problem. Second, there is not a lot of good evidence that matching the content of your work to a pre-existing interest is a major driver of satisfaction in. We just assume that's true. That advice is assumes that true. Oh, I like this thing. So if I do that for my job, I like my job, but we actually don't have a lot of evidence that that's true. We have a ton of evidence that other factors are much more important. Things like autonomy seems like mastery, things like impact things like connection. A lot of other things that are really important for job satisfaction, they have nothing to do with is the content of my work mashing, a preexisting interest. And we of course have plenty of counterexamples of people. Build jobs out of hobbies and are miserable. I mean, these are cliches that the baker, the amateur baker, who's miserable as a professional baker, the amateur photographer, who's miserable doing six wedding photography gigs per week. This is so common. It's a cliche that when you take what you love and say, let me make a job about it. You no longer love that thing. And that's because the things that makes you really love a job is not me really like this time. MI job now has this topic in it. Me now, I really like my job is way more complicated than that. And the final issue I'll throw in a third year that I noticed when I was researching so good. They can't ignore you is that if you just go out there and grab a bunch of people who love what they do for a living and look at their actual stories, nine times out of 10, they were not following a clear pre-existing. I mean, if this is the universal advice we give, you would expect that it's what most people who love their job did. That's why we give this advice. Most people don't. And the reality is when you just ask someone casually, who loves their work, what's your advice. And they say, follow your passion. What they really mean is follow the goal of ending up passionate about your work. They don't mean. Identify and advanced what you're passionate about mashed out to your job, and then you will love your work. That's not really what they mean. It's not really what they did. It's just a shorthand, but we interpret it as meaning we're wired to do one thing, match our work to that one. Then we will love our work. That's not actually the way it works


Wow. Some really cool thoughts there from Cal and to summarize his points, there are things that he thought were not really, uh, no. Great about the folio passion advice. One was that we don't actually have clear. You know, so most people don't really know what they're even passionate about. Um, well, especially when you're young, you might not have anything that you have super passionate about. Um, number two is, you know, like you said, there's not a lot of good evidence that notching the content of your work to a preexisting interest is a major driver of. And then number three, and this is something that I've really seen a lot of, as I've done a lot of podcasts now interviewed over 30 people on graduate theory. And you know, one of the key themes is, is exactly that is it. Most people don't actually follow this advice. So most people that get up there and say, you know, follow your passion, um, you know, whatever, th they, they didn't actually do that. You know, they, they sort of. Did something and ended up being passionate about it later, rather than starting with an existing passion and then matching a career to that. So that's something that I've absolutely picked up incitement even in my personal life is something that's being true is, is things that I've enjoyed doing. Haven't necessarily been something that I was passionate about before I started doing this. And certainly many successful people that you'd go, you go on, let's take any successful person. Chances are they didn't do it this way. You know, they didn't start out with some crazy passionate about a topic, um, or about a, about a career or a job. And then somehow turn that into the thing that they do for a living often passions come after. Off you decided to do something. Another piece of advice that I found the line. Around this topic was a fantastic talk by Ben Horowitz. So Ben, our Horowitz is a co-founder of a 16 Z, which is one of the world's biggest venture capital firms. Um, and he gave a talk to the graduating class of university, uh, at the university of Columbia in 2015. And this is a really, really fantastic talk. All of the, uh, links and videos that I've shared here will be in the show notes somewhere. So I encourage you to go watch this later, but this is fantastic in the, and he has some really good thoughts again, on, on passions and why following your passion isn't necessarily the best side too. And kind of some, some points, some problems he thought with that and what you should do instead. Right. Um, because it's important to know, right. If we don't have, uh, if we're not going to follow our passion, you know, what are we going to do in state? And so I liked what he had to say here. And, um, he has been sharing with us.

Ben Horowitz:

So don't follow your passion. Now. You're probably thinking that's a really dumb idea because everybody who's successful. And if you pull a thousand, people are successful, they'll all say that they love what they do. And so the broad conclusion of the world is that if you do what you love, then you'll be successful, but we're engineers. And we know that that might be true, but it all smells might be the case that if you're successful, you love what you do. You just love being successful and everybody loves you. It's awesome. So which one is it? Well, I think to figure it out, you kind of have to go back in time. You have to back off when you were successful too. Like right now, when you're graduating as the class of 2015, and the first tricky thing about passions are they're hard to prioritize which passion is it. Are you more passionate about math or engineering? Are you more passionate, passionate about history or literature? Are you more passionate about video games or. These are tough decisions. How do you even know on the other hand, what are you good at? Are you better at math or writing? That's a much easier thing to figure out. The second thing that's tricky. If you're going forward in time with this follow your passion. Is that what you're passionate about a 21 is not necessarily what you're going to be passionate about at 40. Now this is true for boyfriends as well as career choices. The third issue with following your passion. Is, excuse me, a little trouble with the throat is you're not necessarily good at your passion and as anybody ever watch American idol. So you know what I'm talking about? Like, just because you love singing doesn't mean you should be a professional singer. And then finally, and most importantly, following your passion is a very me centered view of. And when you get, go through life, what you'll find is what you take out of the world over time. Be it, you know, whatever money, cars, stuff, accolades is much less important than what you put into the world. And so my recommendation would be follow your controversial. Find the thing that you're great at put that into the world, contribute to others, help the world be better. And that is the thing to follow.


That's a really interesting pace that from Ben and what we heard from him, there was interesting distinction about it's kind of this chicken or egg problem. Where is it? You follow your passion, uh, and then love what you do, or do you love what you do and then become passionate about it second. And I think that was a really interesting thing there. And certainly it seems from the paper that we've seen in things that we've had so far, it it's, it's definitely more of the. And you, you become passionate as, as you, as you get better at what you do definitely seems to be the case. So to summarize kind of what, the things that Ben said there, which is a lot of similar things to what Cal had to say as well was, was, you know, reasons why you wouldn't want to follow our passion and then decide what to do is that often we don't have clear passions, um, our passions change over time. So something you might be passionate about when you're younger might not be when you're older. So that makes it hard to. You know, have a career that's based on your passion when it's changing. Um, you know, you might not actually be good. And that was really good example about, uh, American idol or whatever talent shows that you might've seen. Uh, people can be passionate about things and not very good at them. So certainly that might be a reason not to have it as, as your career, if you're not actually good at your passion. And I loved what he, he finished with them, which was around, you know, let's do something that can benefit the entire world and let's do something that can put some good into the world. And perhaps you can be passionate about, you know, providing something great for the world and, and, and that can be something that you're passionate about and build your career on. Okay. Rather than it being, you know, how can I get my needs met? Um, and so I thought that was really interesting and really, um, interesting piece there from him. And so I think we've, we've covered a lot of, a lot of ground here. I think it's, it's clear to me and. Through my experiences, people that I've spoken to an even more clear as I've been researching this topic and in hearing from these people, um, when I'm, when I've been researching this episode, that our passions that should not be what, what, uh, things that we use to decide what we're going to do. You know, things that we're passionate about. Uh, things like, you know, sport and, you know, uh, and fun things. Right. Um, whereas things that we're going to have a career for things that are meaningful, things that we can have a positive impact, you know, and we can develop passions for these things as we go on. And, and this is what's really important. Cal Cal was explaining this well, I thought where he was saying. Following your passion isn't necessarily starting with your passion and then finding a job it's more about, we want to have the goal of becoming passionate about whatever it is that we decide to do. So we want to have our passion. But it's not, it's not the place to start. I think that's really interesting insight that we can all do is that we can all strive to become passionate about what it is that we do. And that can be by becoming better at what you do, perhaps that will give you more passion. If you are better, you have more complements in the field. Perhaps it's, you're able to create a bigger impact and have a positive impact on, on others and on the world, perhaps that will increase your passion for what it is you do. But you know, these things are things that you can do and. It's something that's worth striving for is, you know, how can I become a passionate about the things that I do? Um, and certainly a way that you can increase your career satisfy. One thing I want to finish with as well, is this talk from Scott Galloway? Now Scott is a professor of marketing at the New York university school of business. He's a public speaker, author, entrepreneur, et cetera. Um, and he had a really interesting piece to say on this topic of passion as well. And I think, um, he had similar thoughts to mind on, you know, what, what you should do. You felt follow your passion, you know, what else should you do instead? And we'll hear from him now.

Scott Galloway:

uh, another one of my mentors told me that don't follow your passion and that's always stuck with man. Like, what do you mean? And he said, well, find something you're good at. And in business school, what I noticed is that every speaker always says, follow your passion. That's how they end their talk. What's your one piece of advice for young. Follow your passion, what things that are passion, luxury, um, food, entertainment, sports, those are massively over-invested in a very small fraction, less than 1% of the people who find those things are passionate about. Those things are able to make a living at them and God blessed them. And there's a lot of very well-published. Winds around people who follow their passion and became fabulously wealthy. But what's so unusual about this is what I find is the people who elders are telling you to follow your passion are already rich. And they typically, and they typically got rich following their passion of software as a service for healthcare scheduling. And it's like, oh, that was your passion. Let me tell you what their past. Anytime someone tells you to follow their passion. It means their passion was getting rich so they could buy a fat car and marry someone much better looking than them. That is their passion. What I would say is find something in your work that gives you joy and disproportionately allocate amount of time. You can based on your credibility in the organization to that part of your job, that just gives you joy. I think that's as bad as good as you can do. And then find something. So, so you can develop the economic currency to live a nice lifestyle and spend more and more time as you get older, following your true passions.


I think he's absolutely right there with let's start with the things you're good at fondant. That is doing the things that you got up and then let's try and get better at those. Let's try and do the things or the parts of the job that you enjoy the most and try and build out your career to the point where you can have, you have some leverage to, you know, work less or get paid more or whatever it is so that you can then start to spend more times on the things that you're passionate about outside of. And I think that is a fantastic strategy and a fantastic way to wrap up this episode. I think I hope that you've seen through this episode that perhaps following your passion as a starting point, isn't really the best idea, but the end goal is really to be passionate about the things that you do. Okay. And whether the passion comes before the job or passion comes as a result of being good at what you do. Most successful people when most people that have the have great careers are passionate about what they do. And that is something that you should absolutely try and build. So I'll leave it there. I wish you all the best, uh, going out and building that passion for what it is that you do. Uh, thanks so much again, full of seem to the graduate theory podcast. If you have enjoyed this episode, please consider going to graduate where you can subscribe to the newsletter. You get my takeaways from each podcast episode straight to your inbox every single week. Thanks again for listening and we'll see you next week. Bye for now.