Why only Following your Passion is Bad for You

These days almost all career advice boils down to one point “Pursue your Passion”.

The problem with this statement is that most of the us are not even aware of our passions, so what to do in this state? It’s natural to try different things to see what sticks, but isn’t this a messy process. You got to try so many things before you settle for one thing, which is not a very clean process.

But this mantra of trying everything wastes zillions of years of young ambitious people which can be put to better use. You can truly master only one thing in your lifetime, so if you are into too many things, you will always be second best.

This was a hard realization for me as well. I was like Silvia Plath.

I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in my life. And I am horribly limited.

She is right we just cannot achieve this is one life time, yet we only have one life. So we have to be more finicky about what to try and what not to try. As Shakespeare famously said, “ To be or not to be, that’s the real question”.

I red gazillion of books to find a path, and the best advice I received was from MacArthur Fellowship (The genius grant) winning author Angela Duckworth in her book “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance”.

When we think about Passion, we forget one fact i.e. like all others, passions fade!

So it has to be more than passion, and here is the point where perseverance joins passion on stage. The second part of Angela’s equation is even more important than Passion i.e. Perseverance, and the combination of passion and perseverance is True Grit (Pun intended).

Gauss sticked with normal distribution, Darwin with evolution, Turing with Artificial Intelligence and Geoffrey Hinton with Neural Networks. So if you want a great career, go with your instinct, don’t just do random experiments. Once you find something truly worthwhile, reject everything else and focus on improving your skills by all means.

Consider Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver. When he retired in 1987 at the age of forty-two, he’d compiled 311 wins; 3,640 strikeouts; 61 shutouts; and a 2.86 earned run average. In 1992, when Seaver was elected to the Hall of Fame, he received the highest-ever percentage of votes: 98.8 percent. During his twenty-year professional baseball career, Seaver aimed to pitch “the best I possibly can day after day, year after year.” Here is how that intention gave meaning and structure to all his lower-order goals:

Pitching . . . determines what I eat, when I go to bed, what I do when I’m awake. It determines how I spend my life when I’m not pitching. If it means I have to come to Florida and can’t get tanned because I might get a burn that would keep me from throwing for a few days, then I never go shirtless in the sun. . . . If it means I have to remind myself to pet dogs with my left hand or throw logs on the fire with my left hand, then I do that, too. If it means in the winter I eat cottage cheese instead of chocolate chip cookies in order to keep my weight down, then I eat cottage cheese.

When I first red this from Seaver, I realized what goes into making an expert. We think its only practice and hard work, but they transform their whole life for a single purpose, and that’s where all the magic happens. So be loyal to your passion, because passions have the capacity to fade and its only perseverance which takes you from good to great.