Don’t follow your passion. Be great at what you do instead (Pt.I)

I’m 55 pages into a book that I finally got around to reading: Cal Newport’s book, ‘So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love’

My God… it’s good. When I’m finished I’ll write a bit more about it. So far it’s going against the majority of self-help career advice that’s put out there (and which I’ve fallen for, myself). Advice which was somewhat reinforced for many people worldwide by a famous speech that Steve Jobs once gave. It’s also inline with the old adage ‘Do what you love, and the Money will Follow’; and ‘Do What you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.’ The usual advice basically distills down into:

‘Follow Your Passion.’

There, simple.

Simple? Not really. If you want a great job—that you love, the chances are: you’ll have to be damned good at it. That you’ll need the great skills that are required to get you that great job.

Lots of people are (or think they are) really passionate about something or other, but they may never actually get any good at doing it. If they think that magically getting their imagined dream job will happen because: they simply had the guts/confidence to just follow their passion; they may not actually put in the work required to be good at it in the first place. That’s the hard bit. That’s the work.

The other problem is that your dream job in a toyshop, or a zoo, or Disney, might turn out to be just ‘a job’. Fail to live up to your expectations (especially if you’re not great at it).

The ‘Craftsman Mindset’

I won’t write much more about it now, because I’m only 55 pages in, but one thing that really struck a chord with me is when Cal says that what we need is not a ‘Passion Mindset’, but rather a ‘Craftsman Mindset.’ Do you know what? The work I’m proudest of—and enjoyed the MOST, was done in craftsman mode; when I was absolutely committed to quality and doing something great, the best that I could do. And in most cases, I was left quite free, or entirely free to do it as I wanted.

I was not intending to just create the Minimum Viable Product.

The odd thing is: that great work that I did is what people—and even potential employers—love in my portfolio. But how does one square being a craftsman on the one hand, with the increasingly ‘Do it faster—that’s good enough’ attitude of many businesses?


Cal describes the Passion Mindset as being more about what the world can do: for us.
And the Craftsman Mindset being more about what we can do: for the world.

Here’s Part II of what I think of Cal’s book»



  1. Pingback: Don’t Follow Your Passion! Pt.II | John I. White's Creative Blog
  2. Pingback: (Looking back?) draft | John White's Creative Blog

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