The Road to Professional Passion (Gwen Moritz Editor's Note)

by Gwen Moritz  on Monday, Jun. 16, 2014 12:00 am  

I’m not a regular on LinkedIn — Facebook is my social media drug of choice — but a couple of weeks ago I stumbled on an interesting essay posted on LinkedIn by a Virginia writer named Jeff Haden. It was called “‘Do What You Love’ Is Horrible Advice.”

Haden’s essay wasn’t groundbreaking or particularly original. Mainly he was inspired to write by a book called “So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love” by Cal Newport, in much the same way that Haden inspired me to write this column. The best part: “Where business success is concerned, passion is almost always the result of time and effort. It’s not a prerequisite.”

Isn’t that the truth?

I posted a link to Haden’s LinkedIn essay on Facebook, with this comment:

“This article lacks hard data to back it up, and that worries me because it nonetheless feels right to me. I love what I do not (absolutely not) because I had a ‘passion’ for business news but because there was a market for it. And the longer and harder I worked at it, the better I got at it and the more satisfying the work became.”

I use paid interns all year around, and almost every intern candidate I see claims some kind of passion. The word is used so often and so loosely that it’s losing its meaning in much the same way unique now just means a bit out of the ordinary (and Hitler means anyone whose politics are disagreeable). But I don’t blame the kids because this passion thing is so ubiquitous that I know it’s something that they’ve been taught.

My posting on Facebook drew responses from several people, all of them, like me, much too old to have ever dreamed of using the word passion in a job application. Probably because all of us have been in the workforce for decades, there was a great deal of agreement with Haden and Newport.

“Getting to do what you love … may be possible, and even amazing, but it’s perhaps unique in the scheme of human history,” my brother-in-law wrote. “To learn to love what you do, on the other hand, is tried and true and perhaps even more satisfying.”

“I’ve been saying that the advice ‘do what you love and the money will come’ is horrible advice,” a former newspaper reporter said. “And I think I’m also an example of the master-then-passion school. I didn’t set out in radiography because I was so excited about it. I needed an interesting, versatile, challenging new direction that paid well.”

(There are a lot of former newspaper reporters out there. And had I not stumbled into business news — the rare beat where demand still outstrips supply — I would probably be one of them.)

“As my grandmother would say, bloom where you’re planted,” a high school friend said.

Our grandmothers knew a lot about finding personal satisfaction. Even more than our grandfathers, since they had so few options back in the day.

But not everyone bought into the idea. Another high school friend said he fundamentally disagreed with the article, recommending instead Dave Pollard’s book, “Finding the Sweet Spot.”

The sweet spot, according to Pollard, is where one’s passions, one’s skills and the market potential intersect. Well, sure. That would be sweet. And there are clearly people who are able to find it, and more power to them. My son is in Chicago, pursuing his dream of working in the theater as a stage manager — and maybe someday he won’t need a day job he’s not passionate about in order to pay his rent. But our economy would screech to a halt if everyone stopped the work that was needed and valuable in order to “follow his bliss.”

My friend disagreed even more strenuously:

“I guess I really am the only one who sees this all as a justification to punch the damn time clock and be happy you have a job,” he said.

But I don’t think that’s what Haden was saying at all. I don’t think those of us with marketable skills should be stuck doing work we actively dislike or stay at jobs that aren’t satisfying or where we don’t feel valued and valuable. But the popular idea that the only path to professional satisfaction is doing something you already love is not realistic for everyone — maybe not even for most people — nor do we have to be destitute because the market doesn’t value our passions. We can match our skills to the market and, with time and effort, develop the mastery that leads to satisfaction.

And maybe, if we’re really lucky, we’ll find a professional passion we didn’t expect.

Gwen Moritz is editor of Arkansas Business. Email her at GMoritz@ABPG.com.

 

 

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