Follow Your Passion? It’s Not Quite That Simple

Walking TrailJob seekers, whether they’re new graduates or veterans, are constantly told to follow their passion in making career choices. But what does this mean, exactly?

Cal Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown University, has some interesting thoughts on the subject. He graduated from college several years ago and was lucky enough to have three different offers. One was to go to graduate school at MIT, another was to write a book and the third was to work for Microsoft. Not a situation!

In the New York Times not long ago, Newport recounted his decision process, looking back on his career and the advice that several of mentors and friends gave him.

For someone in a new position, the right question is not, “What is this job offering me?” but, instead, “What am I offering this job?” Too often new hires make the mistake of thinking that it is all about them. What do you have to offer, and what can you learn? The ideal posting will be one that can offer you new skills, new opportunities, and new ways to increase your abilities.

And maybe new passions, too. President Kennedy once famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what your can do for your country.” The same is true when you interview.

Should you follow your passion? Yes, but it’s not quite that simple. What if you don’t know what your passion is? For sure, if you are bored in a new job, that’s not a good sign that things will work out well.

After I got out of college, I worked for a year as a professional photographer in upstate New York. I thought that photography was my passion, and knew that I had to go to New York City and become a photographer’s assistant if I was going to advance my career further.

After fruitless weeks of interviews and discussions, I realized that I wasn’t going to break in with my existing credentials. So, I took the first job that I could, working for an insurance company doing clerical work that was mind-numbingly awful. The job reinforced for me that I had to go to grad school and get more education, and I saved up enough to do so within the year.

Eventually, I found my true passion: technical writing, and that is where I have been for the past several decades.

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