The Right Mix – Where Passion Meets Hard Work

This is the third post in a three part series reviewing the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, by Cal Newport.


In his book, Newport shares some exciting ideas about careers, but there are some gaps in his “passionless” career plan. First off, students can’t start in a vacuum and choose a major or a career at random. This approach suggests that you can learn to love any kind of work as long as you work very hard at doing so. Highly unlikely.

Instead, students have to ask tough questions about who they are, what they are interested in and what makes them different than others. While it can be comforting to lose yourself in skill development, there needs to be a balance of hard work and critical analysis of how your work aligns with your values, strengths, interests, etc.

Overall, Newport makes a great point about the fact that many young workers are stuck questioning themselves about passion instead of “putting in the work.” However, it is possible for some people to work hard with their heads down for years, only to realize they have been slaving away at something they don’t enjoy and don’t believe in. How many times have you heard stories of successful lawyers, bankers and other professionals confess to being completely disengaged with their work? The key lies in striking the right balance between a hardworking, craftman mindset and a strategic, reflective mindset that focuses on self-awareness and alignment.

A New Way to Think About Your Career

Newport’s great idea is that we can’t begin career exploration with a singular focus on passion. He’s probably right; few are born with a pre-existing passion that they can easily seek out or discover. Instead, passion could be seen as a side-effect of a great career, not a precondition. Therefore, students should choose a major based on who they are, what they like and how they are different than others. Then, once in a chosen field, a young worker should develop a craftsman mindset and find a niche that people are willing to pay for. Next, the focus should be on building career capital and “getting so good that they can’t ignore you.”  Finally, at this stage, it will be possible to use expertise to build a strong career mission that will lead to the elements of a dream job, which includes passion. A recipe for career success? Possibly. A theory worth applying to one’s career path? Absolutely.

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