“Only passions, great passions, can elevate the soul to great things.” Denis Diderot
What are you meant to do with your life?
Perhaps it’s a question you’ve pondered, maybe even struggled to find the answer to. You’ve probably heard that somewhere out there is your passion, that one thing you were meant to do and your job is to figure out what it is. Once you do, you will want to pour all of your energy into it, only then will you be able to achieve great things.
And let’s be honest, the idea of a grand passion is extremely seductive isn’t it? Why wouldn’t you want to be swept away by an all-consuming wave of purpose? Imagine waking up to something that excites you, something that you live, breathe and feel to your core each day.
Yet for many that’s not the reality
But what do you do if you’re one of the millions who still haven’t figured out what your passion is? Despite your deepest self-reflection and all the information you’ve absorbed from books and talks you’ve failed to find anything that moves you to that degree. The ‘thing you’d die for’ doesn’t seem to exist.
Is it that you just haven’t tried hard enough and need to keep looking? Or are you doomed to remain on the outside looking in, condemned to live vicariously through those who have figured it out?
But what if there was another way?
What if they have it all wrong?
What if you don’t need to go looking for passion after all?
Forget about passion… for now
We’ve been conditioned to believe that the ‘AHA’ moment is coming so we sit back waiting for it to strike. Like a bolt out of the blue we’ll have that defining moment and know what it is we’re meant to do. That may be true for some but many of us spend our lives waiting and failing to experience it.
But what if the mantra ‘first find your passion’ has it all backwards?
Cal Newport in his book ‘So good they can’t ignore you’ talks about that exact idea. He argues that counter to the belief that lives of meaning come when you pursue your passion first, the reality is it more often comes later.
He makes the point that instead of trying to find work that fills you with passion you should instead build on valuable skills that will allow you to create a fulfilling career. By doing that you stand a better chance of finding contentment and generating passion in your life.
Career passions are rare
Although you will often get presented with shining, inspiring examples of people who have taken their passions to the ultimate levels of success, people who have made their mark in the world, what Newport found more often was that passion emerged from the pursuit of mastery in an area.
Whether Steve Jobs or Oprah Winfrey, passion was an outcome of them gaining expertise. He believes that by applying these principles in your life, focusing on honing your skills and perfecting your craft, you stand a much better chance of creating that elusive passion you crave.
But that won’t happen by chance. To do it you have to develop what Newport calls a craftsman mindset.
The Craftsman’s mindset
When you adopt a craftsman mindset you set your attention on what you can offer to others as opposed to what others can give you. You try to develop rare and valuable skills all while creating value for those you interact with. In doing so you build what Newport calls career capital, the foundation required for creating meaningful work.
A craftsman’s mindset teaches that instead of chasing passion you should get really great at what you do. Develop skills and then offer them to those who will benefit. Passion often is a natural outcome.
The bottom line is you don’t find passion, you cultivate it
Yes I know, cultivating sounds a lot like work and it is. It’s definitely not as romantic as being swept away by a glorious mission ‘you were meant to do’. But there’s definitely something to the idea of building your way to a fulfilling life.
Now it’s possible that you may already know what your passion is and that’s great. But if you haven’t quite figured it out yet, perhaps you’re better off directing your energy towards doing the work and getting better at whatever it is that interests you. You may lack clarity now but it will come once you commit to taking action consistently.
Cultivate a craftsman’s mindset and start building career capital. Focus on improving and watch how you evolve from incompetence to competence, then from good to great and hopefully on to mastery. Create value for others and watch how it creates opportunities to grow beyond what you ever imagined was possible. Who knows, somewhere along the way you may discover that you actually love what you do.
And maybe, just maybe, you’ll realise Cal Newport is right, passion really is the reward for mastery.
Now over to you.
Are you struggling to figure out what your passion is?
Could focusing on getting great and adding value to others be a way forward?
Let me know in the comments.