I regret that I’ve given the career advice “follow your passion” to others before. I’ve become convinced that “follow your passion” is actually terrible advice.
Entrepreneur Mark Cuban agrees with me. Mark calls “follow your passion” the “worst advice you could ever give or get”. Along with real world experience, the turning point for me on the question of passion was Cal Newport’s book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You.
Newport begins by detailing the findings of Amy Wrzesniewski, a professor at Yale. Wrzesniewski researched how workers view their careers. She found that “the happiest, most passionate employees are not those who followed their passion into a position, but, instead those who have been around long enough to become good at what they do”.
Things become more interesting with Newport’s look at the growth of, what he calls, “the passion hypothesis”. According to Google’s Ngram 2 viewer, authors didn’t use the term “follow your passion” until the 1970 Richard Bolles book, What Color is Your Parachute? The phrase grew steadily in popularity thereafter, used more and more often throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s. But, then the phrase spiked into 3X greater usage in the 1990’s than the previous decade.
The result of this trend on our overall satisfaction with our careers? We are more unhappy with our careers than ever. Today, only 45% of Americans say they are satisfied with their careers compared to 61% in 1987. 64% of young people say that they are actively unhappy with their jobs which is the worst mark in the 20 year history of this particular survey.
The fact that this rise in the “passion hypothesis” correlates with a decline in career happiness doesn’t prove that one causes the other. But, it does seem plausible when mixed with Wrzesniewski’s research and the anecdotal evidence offered in the book. Newport outlines his own view on the issue as follows:
The more I studied the issue, the more I noticed that the passion hypothesis convinces people that somewhere there’s a magic “right” job waiting for them, and that if they find it, they’ll immediately recognize that this is the work they were meant to do. The problem, of course, is when they fail to find this certainty, bad things follow, such as chronic job-hopping and crippling self-doubt.
A little more from Newport:
…our generation-spanning experiment with passion-centric career planning has been a failure. The more we focused on loving what we do, the less we ended up loving it.
Mark Cuban says you should follow your effort. Newport offers a more detailed version of the same basic message: Become really good at something.
Newport encourages the reader to take a “craftsman” mindset to his or her work. A craftsman is someone who doesn’t approach his task as a simple “job”. Instead, they seek to improve both their skills and their results for the sheer reason of achieving excellence. In short, the craftsman wants to create a masterpiece.
You must take this mindset into your own field. Seek to do your job in a much better way than anyone else is willing or able to do it. Whether it’s technical work, accounting, sales, design, engineering, or any other field, you should approach your field with the mindset of a craftsman seeking to create a truly excellent body of work.
That will require you to develop better skills or more expertise than anyone else. Work at this for long enough and it will eventually open the doors to greater income, more flexibility, more security, more control, more feeling of “making an impact”, and all the other components of a “great job” that we all want.
Doing these things consistently will eventually make you “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”, as the book title suggests. You can only reach the highest levels of career happiness and fulfillment by reaching this skill level, according to Newport.
The answer lies, not in finding “the right career for you”, but, in becoming the best person for your career.
We will breakdown the tactics of the craftsman mindset in a forthcoming post, so, be sure to subscribe through the link at the bottom of this post if you’d like to learn more.
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In the #AskGaryVee book, Gary Vaynerchuk provides a quick hit list of his top tips for success. I love the list because it is to-the-point, actionable, and it sums up most of Gary’s philosophy into a compact, tactical package.
Gary’s original advice is in bold, my comments are in plain text next to the original points.
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Last Friday, I had the opportunity to spend some time learning from author and leadership expert, Jim Kouzes, at the Women’s Economic Development Conference in Huntsville, AL.
Jim is co-author the best-selling book, The Leadership Challenge, and has spent decades studying leadership and teaching others about it. Here were some of my key takeaways from my time with Jim:
Love him or hate him, Donald Trump obviously did a lot of things right in his unlikely campaign to win the Presidency of the United States. Trump went from “long shot” or “not serious” candidate to surprise victor in the span of 18 months.
This article will make no political comment one way or another about Trump or Clinton. What we will look at are the strategies Trump used to make it to the Oval Office and how those strategies might translate to entrepreneurship.
Lesson #1: Be “the Purple Cow”. Seth Godin’s classic business book Purple Cow, put forward a simple and powerful premise: if you find yourself riding down a road and see dozens or even hundreds of normal cows, you will never remark on them and might not even notice them. But, if you see a Purple Cow, your attention will be completely captured.
You might love the Purple Cow. You might hate it. You might simply be completed befuddled by it. But, you won’t ignore it. In fact, you will actively talk about the Purple Cow to everyone you meet for a time after you see it.
Trump came out of a field of 17 candidates in the Republic primary by being the Purple Cow. He behaved in a way that was completely different from the other candidates. Doing so, caused everyone – both those who agreed with him as well as those who disagreed with him – to talk about Trump. While pundits and voters were talking about Trump, all the “regular cows” were mostly ignored.
Every time that anyone talked about Trump, Trump won. Every mention of his name, positive or negative, increased his brand awareness and public profile over the seemingly nameless and faceless sea of 16 competitors that he was facing off with. Every conversation revolved around Trump, with conversations like “Trump vs. Bush”, “Trump vs. Cruz”, “Trump vs. Clinton”.
This is the power of being the Purple Cow. Everyone becomes aware of you. Even your haters fuel your momentum by raising your brand awareness. Being ignored, being forgotten is the real danger in any entrepreneurial or political endeavor. Candidates like Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina struggled to even be noticed. If you can’t even get someone’s attention you can never get their vote nor their business.
So, if you are in a crowded market with many competitors, like Trump was in the Republican primary, you must do something to stand out. Do something to get people talking about you, do something that people aren’t expecting from businesses like yours. You don’t have to be controversial (though you certainly can be if you wish), but, you must do something to separate yourself from the pack in the minds of the customer.
Lesson #2: If you want to achieve the extraordinary, you will often need to rethink the status quo. Most considered a Republican win or “wave” in this election highly unlikely. The political and demographic deck seemed stacked against, not only Trump himself, but, the GOP as a whole from the very beginning.
So, Trump took some unusual approaches. It’s easy to fixate on his controversial verbal statements, but, Trump made some very concrete departures from not only Democrats, but, the Republican party itself in policy areas like trade and immigration.
These stances, now, appear to be the key to his success. Instead of simply trying to be a traditional Republican, but, be, say, 15% better at running a campaign or delivering the message a little better than Mitt Romney or John McCain, Trump rethought what a Republican could look like entirely. To Republicans, a party built on free market ideologies, free trade has been a sacred cow and cornerstone of the party platform for decades.
But, Trump threw this free market stance completely out the window, saying he would put “America first” in trade. He promised to impose tariffs on companies that send jobs overseas and would seek to curb the common modern corporate America practice of “outsourcing” jobs to foreign firms. This message resonated with middle class workers who have been impacted by foreign outsourcing and trade deficits and, given results in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin, many would argue that this single stance may have won Trump the Presidency.
What sacred cows exist in your industry? What if you did something completely different? What if you broke from the ranks of the regular playbook for your market and really shook things up? Is there a need in the market that you could perhaps fill? Instead of seeking to just be 10% better this year, what if you rethought your entire approach and did something completely new?
Lesson #3: Be #1 to someone or be nothing to everyone. Your business is far better served to find a niche or a group of customers who passionately believe in your message, product, service, or political candidacy.
In voting and in business, there is no value in being everyone’s #4 or #5 choice, even out of a field of only 10 competitors. Choice #4 or #5 ends up with no votes and no sales, because everyone goes for either their first choice or (maybe) their second choice. No one does business with #5. Customers or voters might kind of like of #5 and may even uniformly agree that #5 is a better choice than some other choice that they really dislike, but, they won’t buy or vote for choice #5.
However, there is tremendous value in being #1 in one or two niches. And, ironically, focusing on one niche will often yield far better results on the entire market in the long run rather than directly trying to please the whole market from the outset.
Take the case of Pepsi. Pepsi struggled to compete with Coca-Cola for years before their game-changing slogan “the Choice of the New Generation”. Conventional wisdom would have said this slogan was nuts, it appeared to be giving up on the middle age and senior citizen age brackets. But, from the campaign, Pepsi became not only the #1 cola with younger consumers, but, also gained major ground with older generations as well. If Pepsi had attempted just another “we are just like Coca-Cola, but, we’re better slogan” then they would have had an undefined brand and would have continued to wallow in mediocrity.
Starting with a niche and building from it is the key to success in the early days of business (or business turnaround) or a political candidacy.
Lesson #4: Get knocked down 100 times, get back up 101. When you look through both ancient and recent history, one trait unites all those who succeed – persistence. Some were honest, some were not. Some were smart, some not so much. Some were talented, some were mediocre to worse. Some were hard working, and some were not. But, everyone who has succeeded has persisted and pushed through setbacks.
Trump faced numerous setbacks (some self-inflicted) and his entire campaign was derided by many as pointless. He faced withering criticism from, not only pundits and Democrats, but, from his own party leaders. This, combined with his poor polling numbers, could have easily led Trump to bow out of the race and this was suggested, and even demanded, by fellow Republicans at times.
Do you feel sure you are on to something, but, are close to quitting? What if you are 1 day, 1 week, 1 month from achieving breakthrough and you just don’t know it yet?
You will make mistakes, I will make mistakes. Donald Trump made mistakes in his campaign. But, Trump never let these mistakes define him and did not seem to dwell on them. There is always a new day and a new battle to fight and the Trump campaign seemed focused on that and pushed forward through all the adversity.
The secret of success in life lies in the fact that even if our batting average is less than stellar, even if we strike out 10 times in a row, we can give ourselves almost unlimited at-bats by simply getting up, dusting ourselves off, and trying again.
Failure in business or politics is rarely final and almost never fatal. You simply must decide to persist, to keep going, and to keep working toward your goal.
The bottom line of all this is this: if you find yourself in a competitive field, be different in your marketing and promotion like the Purple Cow, rethink the status quo of what your business does and how it operates, and find a niche that really cares about what you are doing.
But, most importantly, never ever quit. You will face challenges, you will face setbacks, you will make terrible mistakes, and you will have disappointments. Keep getting back up to fight another day. Remember that every incredible accomplishment is always thought impossible all the way up until it is done.
This is my favorite video of the week, check out this awesome video from retired Navy SEAL Jocko Willink’s on Fear of Failure. Be sure to stay all the way to the end, it’s only 2.5 minutes, it’s a great message, and the delivery is fantastic. You will be ready to tackle a grizzly bear by the time the video concludes.
Transcript below in case you are somewhere that you cannot watch the video:
Jocko: “Fear of failure… obviously, fear of failure can keep you from taking risk. It can leave you sitting there, paralyzed, not taking any action at all and, obviously, that’s bad. But, I don’t want you to actually overcome fear of failure. I want you to be afraid of failure. Fear of failure is good. Fear of failure will keep you… up at night, planning, and rehearsing, going over contingencies. Fear of failure will keep you training hard. It will stop you from cutting corners. Fear of failure will keep you working, training, striving, and trying to be more prepared for battle. I want you to be afraid of failure. I fear failure.
But, more important – I want you to be horrified, I want you to be terrified of sitting on your ass and doing nothing. That is what I want you to be afraid of. Waking up in 6 days, 6 weeks, 6 years, or 60 years and you’re no closer to your goal, you’ve made no progress. That is the horror, that is the nightmare. That is what you need to be truly afraid of. Being stagnant.
So, get up. And go. Take the risk, take the gamble, take the first step, take action. And don’t let another day slip by.”
Still afraid to take the leap into a new venture? Check out my post on 7 Strategies to Overcoming the Fear of What Everyone Else Thinks.