Simple advice on building a successful career in anything.
There are many phrases bandied about the internet that I have a deep disdain for, but one that I hold a special place for is the phrase “follow your passion”.
I bought into it myself, I fell into the bullshit trap just like everyone else. The people that utter these incredibly misleading words are usually either super successful (think wealthy entrepreneurs), coffee shop owning hipsters or internet marketing guru’s (‘guru’ — a dickheads word used to describe someone who should be good at their trade). We’ve all read something similar at one point in our lives. Just follow your passion if you want to be successful.
I read these words and it made me anxious about my own career choices. I was working in investment risk at the time, and it was just after the financial crisis. Surely there couldn’t be passion there. All I could think was “I won’t be successful until I get a job I truly love”.
In fact, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. On careful examination of my job thought I had no passion in what I was doing. So I began to care less, and inevitably underperformed in my role. And of course, this probably began to make me less successful.
It’s one of those sayings that appeals to your common sense. If you have no passion in what you do how can you perform well at it? Everyone can agree with this, right? Like a lot of similar phrases though it will not hold up to scrutiny. If you go deep, down to the basic level of your work, this saying starts to make little sense.
Let’s say you know a friend, and he opened a craft brewery because he was so into his hops and grains and whatnot. (I’ve no idea what hops are by the way). He was that dude that swirled his beer and sniffed the glass, recounting the hints of barley and Autumn that filled his nostrils. You know, that annoying prick that has an actual passion.
Well, let’s say his craft brewery became successful, and five years later he sold it for a monumental sum to one of the big beer brands. Well then, you’d say he found success in his passion. He might too. But that’s clouding the actual facts. For a business to be successful it needs to be managed correctly. That means having accounts in order, paying taxes correctly, hiring good employees, potentially getting pensions for those employees, getting loans from the bank, raising money from investors, being able to sell, writing business plans, being able to buy/rent and negotiate rates and terms. As a small passionate business owner, most of this will inevitably fall on your friend’s shoulders.
You think anyone is passionate about balancing a chequebook? You think he had a love for knocking on bars door to door to ask if they would stock his beer, getting rejected multiple times? I’ve seen many businesses where the owner had a passion but has no clue how to do their companies accounts. Or hasn’t figured out how to sell to others. These people will not be successful. While our successful friend with the craft brewery had a passion in the underlying business he needed to find a passion in all those other things as well.
How to gain Passion
I guarantee you there are as many if not more equally successful people that had no passion for what they were doing when they started. And that’s the key. Passion is not something you need to have (nice to have but not necessary), but something you can learn and gain over time, whatever you are doing.
I won’t be passionate about everything that I do, that goes without saying, but I can easily find passion in what I do. I don’t need to change my career, I don’t need to quit my job and start a small business. I just need to find out what I can be passionate about in my current role and the success will follow.
I work in finance. Not much passion can be drawn from there, even at the best of times. But I work in a mathematical field. Something which interests me. I work with code. I work with a team. I work within managerial constraints. Now, lets think where I can find passion. How about my code is going to be marvellous. Yes, I’m not writing fancy AI software but goddamn I can write something that’s sleek and clean. How about my team. Some of them are decent, some poor. But how can I be passionate about working with this group? Well, how about I make this team fire on all cylinders. Be the best team in the office. Deliver their projects on time, on budget. If I’m not the team leader I can be a great cog in such a machine. If the people I work with are dicks I can be the one shiny nugget amongst them. You do not need to know your passion and then get into that area. Passion is something you can work on. In any job, you can find passion. Whatever it means to you.
A friend of mine once said that when you get to a certain age people just fall into whatever they are good at, regardless of their career. And I think this is how you find your passion. You figure out what you’re good at in your current job. It could be dealing with people, making decisions, being the team player, being the tech guy, being the sales guy, being the relationship guy…there is something which you’ve naturally been good at. Well, I’m willing to bet that is the passion you have already found in your job. And if you pursue that and don’t neglect it, you’ll be successful.
In short, the simplest way to a successful career, FIND PASSION IN WHAT YOU DO.
Please let me know in the comments if you think I’m talking crap or you agree.
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