We are not born passionate about our work, we become passionate. This idea is countercurrent to our current time’s message “follow your passion” that is posted everywhere from Facebook pages to blogs. But, passion is not the inevitable starting point of professional achievement.
Shake up the myth that passion at work makes us happy. This is what Cal Newport—professor at Georgetown University and author of the critically acclaimed book So Good They Can’t Ignore You released in 2012—attempts to succeed at doing. A work of literature’s title originating from actor Steve Martin’s answer to those who asked him for advice on becoming comedians. “What they want to hear is ‘Here’s how to get an agent and how to write a script, but I always tell them: be so good they can’t ignore you.”
Passion comes with work
For Newport, transforming his passion into work is not necessarily the key to professional happiness. Success instead comes from developing a rare skill so valuable that doors to a fulfilling career open.
He takes an example from Steve Jobs—who, in 2005, delivered a famous speech to the young graduates of Stanford University encouraging them to follow their passions. However, Jobs succeeded despite the fact that his business was not his passion. Rather than studying this subject in university, he would have preferred taking history or calligraphy courses. “The more he worked for Apple, the more he improved; the more passionate he became.” explains Newport, “The advantageous side effect of a starting point is that passion grows with talent.”
When passion rhymes with depression
In his book, Newport cites Robert J. Vallerant—social psychology professor at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM)—who reveals the five biggest passions of students participating in his study: dance, hockey, skiing, reading, and swimming. Although, it is unlikely that recreation will transform into a job.
Vallerand, who has made studying passion one of his specialities, is also interested in passion’s role at work. Last year, in his study published in the Journal of Managerial Psychology, he and other researchers put a spotlight on the fact that passion is not always a contributing factor to well-being at work. Being passionate increases the risk of depression when people obsess, that is to say, the need to prove their passion to feel good. Therefore, passion and work are not always a good mix.