Cal Newport’s Times article Follow a Career Passion? Let it Follow You is old, but I don’t so much follow the news so I’m providing a timely write-up 6 months later. The first time I read the article I thought it was maybe alright, the second time I could barely read it through my eye-rolling.
He starts by saying that after his senior year at Dartmouth, he could either go work at Microsoft, get his doctorate at MIT, or become a full-time writer. He believes that deciding between the three would have been an anxiety-provoking experience if he had bought into the idea that you have to find your passion (FYP), but he uh, knew better.
First let’s take a moment to recognize that not everyone has the skills, opportunities, or just downright luck that Cal Newport had. His ohmigod when I graduated I was all Microsoft, MIT, or get more shit published? is a little different than conversations my friends and I had. Anyone looking for someone with their masters in social work? Will work for job references and toilet paper. No matter what this dude did there was no way to lose. He says he largely made the choice based on location, cause he kinda wanted to move out east, and didn’t waste his time trying to FYP.
That’s one explanation. Another explanation is that he intuitively knew that was the right choice, even if he couldn’t put it into words. So he attributed it to something he could put into words – that he was interested in moving out east. Then he moved, thereby following his interests, or, passion.
He then argues the whole FYP thing leads to job-hopping and “existential crisis” as people wonder whether their job is really what they’re meant to be doing. Instead, we should realize that anyone can like their job by earning a sense of autonomy, the feeling that they’re good at what they do, and that they’re having an impact on the world.
Cal, please. To claim it causes “existential crisis” is extreme, but sure, finding a fulfilling job does lead to anxiety and cause stress. As it should, since we’ll spend at least 40 years of our lives working. It’s a big deal. And what’s so bad about job-hopping? I liken it to dating. If I had chosen to marry the guy I was dating at eighteen I would currently be married to a convicted felon. Fact. So why should I stick-it-out on a career path I chose at 18-19, just to maybe “earn” a job I don’t hate?
In the end, Newport chose to go with MIT. And it was hard, guys. He didn’t have the brilliance to immediately contribute to research literature. And the students at MIT are smart. Really smart. And if he had worried about FYP he would have quit early on, cause he didn’t love it every day. So what did he do? He stopped being a little bitch and worked hard, building competence. And TODAY, guys, he’s a computer science professor at Georgetown, and he loves his job. His parting words: “Passion is not something you follow. It’s something that will follow you as you put in the hard work to become valuable to the world.”
This last part just makes him sound like an ass-wipe. Basically he’s awesome and valuable to the world – we’re lucky to have him. The Times then nods to his new book So Good They Can’t Ignore You. Gag… he’s only five years older than me, but he sounds like a middle-aged dad. Not my dad (his collar’s a little too blue), but a way more self-important one. The turd has a blog too, in case you’re interested in more of the same. The fun doesn’t stop there, his other books include How to be a High School Superstar, How to Become a Straight-A Student, and How to Win at College. Something tells me that a dude that wrote about becoming a straight-A student has nooooo clue how to win at college, but who knows what goes on at Dartmouth? A lot of turd-burgerey, I presume.
The only real takeaway was that FYP shouldn’t limit you to a search for the ONE thing you are pre-destined to do. And Cal, we agree with you that we have to work for what we want, even if we’re not feeling passionate about it at the time. Instead of “find your passion” the term should probably be “follow things you’re passionate about (when possible)”, but that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. This way it doesn’t mean quitting solely because you’re not passionate about something (I’d be unemployed), just that you’ll actively give priority to things you’re passionate about, as long as you can still support yourself. The balance is a more fluid follow-your-heart-within-reason type thing. And I think that’s what I’m doing, right? Sure. Right.