Whatever You Do, Don’t Follow Your Passion

Concept: Don’t “follow your passion”, develop expertise
Book: So Good They Can’t Ignore You Cal Newport

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.

Has “Follow Your Passion” Made us Happier with our Careers?

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.

So, if I Don’t Follow My Passion, What Should I Follow?

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.

Want More?

Not part of the Five Minute Book Club yet? Read more about it or join here.

Read Cal Newport’s full book now: Get So Good They Can’t Ignore You from Amazon by clicking here.

So Good They Can’t Ignore You is also on my list of 8 Books with the Greatest ROI on Your Time. If you liked this post, you will also probably like some of the other books on this list.


Trey Sharp is an entrepreneur & author in Huntsville, AL. Trey is the former owner/CEO of a Huntsville-based technology company, Sharp Communication, which was sold to Mobile Communications America in 2018. In 2016, Trey co-founded technology startup Tango Tango where he served as CEO for nearly 2 years. Trey still serves as an active board member and shareholder in the company. Trey also serves as an active Board Member for Urban Engine, an entrepreneurial nonprofit in Huntsville, AL dedicated to spurring the growth of startups in North Alabama. Trey is married to Claire Sharp and the couple has 4 children. Trey earned his Bachelor’s of Science in Business Administration from the University of Alabama-Huntsville in 2002.

  • Fantastic advice. That’s how I built my career. Thanks for communicating it so succinctly! I hope people will follow it so that they can find more enjoyment in the journey to get where they want to be!

  • >