lucy-dunnBy Lucy Dunn, 30 May 2014

I have recently read a book titled “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by Cal Newport, and I really like the way the author talks about so simple truths in work and life.

How many times have you heard “Follow your passion” as a career advice? Even Steve Jobs quoted that in his commencement speech to Stanford’s graduating class in 2005. Yet, look around, and you will see many young grads or even not so young Millennial’s who are struggling to follow their passion. In seeking the transcendent path they are not learning the foundational skills and making the contacts that will feed their career later. They hop between jobs, industries and even countries to find that “sweet spot” where their passion is or was when they last thought they saw it. The author is advocating “Don’t follow your passion” at least in work and I cannot agree more as I have experienced it first-hand.

Working right trumps searching for the perfect work. That is really the one idea we should all embrace. So what are the traits of “working right”? It is about being focused at what you do, being a responsible human being, never giving up, being dedicated, so dedicated one cannot fail to notice. It takes hours, many hours of hard work, to acquire “exceptional knowledge and rare skills” and it is this which propels you forward in your career. Don’t waste time in a job except it is going somewhere or you are acquiring skills, knowledge, and connections to add to your portfolio.

Unless you are a trust-fund baby, “there is no free lunch” which is another universal truth. When you put in the hours into good work, you can become an expert in time. (Mind you, practice only makes permanent, only perfect practice makes perfect work!) And when you become an expert, you also, without realizing it, become a more discerning individual, in a way, that will also allow you to make better choices in life, in fact, in everything.

Your real and sustaining passion needs to be created not found. It is not a magic event or meeting that leads to a “life worth living.” You are not the victim of fate or whim, you are the captain of your ship, your life. When you work hard and you learn, you obtain expertise, you one day feel truly competent in an area. This is one of the most important steps in your realizing a feeling confidence in and about yourself. When this happens, opportunities abound and doors open that you would not have even seen before.

I am not saying that you don’t want deep passion, but that is not about advocation nor vocation. Depending on your stage of life, you always want avenues that lead to more and deeper passions in your life but without a solid work foundation, that weekend cottage on the lake will have to remain someone else’s dream.

It is important to have passions, dreams, and goals which inspire us. What I was saying is don’t obsess over discovering your true calling and put off mastering valuable skills. When you have accumulated the “career capital” these skills generate, you can decide what you want to do, where and when you want to do it and you automatically add passion to your life. In my case, I spend my hard earned “career capital” to take ballet classes. I know I will never dance with the Bolshoi but I can fly through a day when my heart is filled with the music and grace that ballet brings me.

The Cal Newport acknowledges that this philosophy (working right trumps finding the right work) is not very sexy, and yet it has been proven by many previous generations to be the truth and actually works. We are all talented in our own ways, when you find something that we are really good at, we need to put in the hours, so that, as an American comedian Steve Martin says “Be so good that people cannot ignore you.” Are you being noticed at work? If yes, congratulations. If not, why not? What key skill could you learn that would change that?

Hope the above provides some food for thoughts and as always, I love comments and other thoughts.

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