For a great career, find what you love – which funny enough isn’t the same as follow your passions!
Steve Job’s commencement speech to Stanford is an impassioned argument that “you’ve got to find what you love”. The quote is often interpreted as saying to “follow your passion”, which I don’t necessarily disagree with, but I think it’s worth exploring what following your passion might mean.
Some folks follow their passions and achieve immediate success, work incredibly hard for their success while other attain a non-traditional version of success.
- Immediate: You can find YouTube and blog celebrities that have been rocketed into seemingly instant stardom, fame and riches.
- Determination: Some people try, try and try again until they finally achieve their success. Count among them Steve Jobs (who was originally fired from Apple before rejoining and making it one of the largest companies in the world), Michael Jordan (who did not initially make it on the varsity basketball team before becoming arguably the most successful basketball player of all time), and Taylor Swift (who was rejected by a multitude of record labels before becoming a pop music sensation).
- Non-traditional: There are others that follow their passions that are not necessarily thought of first when you think about someone following their passions to achieve their success: Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr are among a few of those names
- Unsung: These are the people that have left their mark but may not have achieved celebrity status or worldwide fame, but made huge impacts on those that they came in contact with
- Mis-aligned: These are the sorry folks that do follow their passions, but something stands in their way preventing their success.
Most people want to be in this camp. Finding what they love and turning it into fame and fortune. These people were fueled by incremental success then came to the right opportunity or just a tipping point in order to reach their level of success.
The challenge in emulating this success is counting how many YouTube channels there are, how many Bloggers there are, and you can see how it would be increasingly difficult to achieve this type of “passion turned success”.
The challenge if you were to try to embark on this path to follow your passion is that you need to make sure that your passion is really your passion. There is a common mis-conception that an interest and a passion is the same thing. In life you will be interested in many things, but you will be passionate about very few things (if anything at all).
Let’s take an example: As a computer science grad, I know many folks that had a dream of working as a video game tester. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be paid to play games all day long? They were VERY interested in video games, but when it came down to it, they were just interested, and not passionate about it. A passionate person would be immersed in video games, would probably have encyclopedic knowledge of all games ever played or all of the nuances of games in a specific genre, and have played games multiple times to take every single path to try to uncover all of the alternate endings. They are consumed by video games and do what they need to in order to feed what would almost seem like an addiction to video games. Those at the top of the video game world play/practice pretty much all of their waking hours forgoing friends, family, and many other things in pursuit of their passion. This may seem like an extreme case, but a true passion takes a lot of time and most people don’t take it to the extremes needed to be a passion. So if they are not as fortunate as those in the “immediate” category, then their so called passion fizzles out and turns out to just be a passing interest.
The people of this camp demonstrate passion in the sense that they were not met with immediate success, and in spite of multiple “failures”, they continued anyways and ultimately demonstrated how passionate they really were. If you were cut from the varsity basketball team, would you have the courage to keep pressing on, not know whether you would join the ranks of those in the NBA? Would rejections by multiple record labels hinder your passion for music not know whether you’d be a star or not?
Most of us don’t have the patience, time and more so the resolve to really go this far, so our so called passion is quickly dropped down in priority and often becomes nothing more than a hobby because it wasn’t really a passion to begin with and was really just an interest. This is unfortunately where the fall down happens. Most of us are very interested in something, but few of us are truly passionate about anything.
This leads us to the non-traditionals, and I call them non-traditionals as normally when we think of someone that follows their passion, we think of someone that becomes the best in the world and reaps the rewards and associated riches. Instead the non-traditionals followed their passions to change the world in spite of any wealth that they might receive. If the folks in the “determination” group demonstrated passion, these embody passion. They were motivated by something more than monetary gain, or fame; they were motivated by their passion. Mother Teresa by her passion for helping the poor. Gandhi and MLK for their passion for human rights for their respective groups. It’s hard to show more passion for their causes than being able to work with lepers, starving yourself for days 21 days, being able to rally hundreds of people to the cause. And I would argue would be considered more successful than making lots of money and topping the YouTube or Blog charts / founding great companies / winning champion / writing hit songs.
The “unsung” are not necessarily those that have a passion for singing, but refers to the term “unsung hero” in that they make a huge impact to those that they interact with but otherwise receive little or no recognition. There are probably a few of them in your neighbourhood right now.
The unfortunate reality is that passion does not guarantee success for various reasons: the world might not be right for what you have to offer, the market conditions might not be right, the technology might not exist for what you want to do, or various other reasons might stand in your way. Would you follow your passion if it meant not knowing if you will be successful? Would you be like Steve Jobs and return Coke bottles for the 5 cents to pay for food so that you could pursue your passion? Would you do that not knowing whether you’d ultimately achieve success in 1, 5, 10, 20 years or even that success might not be achieved in your lifetime? That is the challenge of following your passion and why so few of us have the determination to see it through past the first few failures.
And the challenge will be to identify whether you are in one of these situations so that you are not consumed by your passion. Perhaps in these cases, success is measured in maintaining your deep beliefs in your passion and not wavering irrespective of what we conventionally consider success.
Is your passion truly a passion? And if so, is your passion right for the world?
These can be a tough questions to come to grips with.
Would you push forward with your passion regardless if you were successful or not? If you wouldn’t, then by definition it wasn’t really your passion.
And if so, would you do so even without the typical notion of success (i.e money, and recognition)? You may need to come down to earth once in a while to make sure that your idea is really right for the world.
So make sure you avoid confusing “following your passion” with “you’ve got to find what you love”.
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