What Your Patients are Hearing

'Follow your passion' not always good career advice


“Follow your passion” has long been a self-help mantra when it comes to a career. The idea has been that doing what you love will provide the fuel for success. The thinking goes back decades to Richard Bolles’s self-published 1972 classic “What Color is Your Parachute. The thinking has inspired countless career aspirants, including business titans.

“You’ve got to find what you love. … 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,” related the late Apple founder Steve Jobs in a commencement address delivered in 2005 at Stanford (Calif.) University. For Mr. Jobs and others over the past 4 decades, the bedrock foundation of a career is passion for the work and dreaming the big dream.

Cal Newport, the author of “So Good They Can’t Ignore You (New York: Business Plus, 2012), takes the polar opposite view. The job-passion trail has little to do with why most people love the work they do, and can spawn anxiety and a pattern of moving from one job to another, according to Mr. Newport. Rather, passion for the job comes after the hours of hard work that are needed to become really good at something. How the work is done is more important than what the work is.

In “Designing Your Life (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016), Bill Burnett and Dave Evans go even further, arguing that a career based on passion is usually useless and sometimes dangerous, since many people don’t know what they are passionate about or are passionate about something that is a clunker from a career perspective. Following your passion can lead to chasing pipe dreams.

A better tact might be to insert “interest” instead of “passion” when pondering career choices, according to Crystal Holly, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Ottawa. “Our careers are just one part of our lives, and not always the most important one,” she said in an interview for the article published on the website of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

Looking at interests more abstractly, rather than setting up a score sheet of definitive career goals, can be helpful, according to career coach Jen Polk, PhD, since that approach can lead to work areas not previously considered, which prove to be satisfying and fulfilling.

The path of job passion worked for Steve Jobs. But it might not be the way for many people.

Click here to read the CBC article.

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