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How to find work you’ll love doing
"How do you find work you’ll love doing?" is a question that most may ponder at some time in their life. Well, the answer to that question most commonly would be something along the lines of “follow your passion”. Is that all there is to doing something you love? Following your passion?
On the contrary, Cal Newport, the author of “So good they can’t ignore you” says following your passion is bad advice. He calls it the “passion hypothesis” which is the idea of finding or identifying something you think you are passionate about (a pre-existing passion) and trying to match it to what you want to do for a living in the hopes of pursuing work you love. While this may sound reasonable, it may not be a good heuristic for choosing careers. Let’s look at why this may be the case.
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A quick shout out! Here's a “video version” of the article. If you are the visual type, I recommend watching the video. I bet you’ll enjoy it :)
Don’t follow your passion!
As humans, we are bad at predicting what makes us happy. Our preferences and passions are subject to change with time. Our gut feeling is very unreliable when it comes to making career choices.
There is little evidence to back, that matching a pre-existing passion to the work you do helps derive job satisfaction. We assume it’s true. In fact, most may not even have well-defined passions. People rather end up confused and anxious when they follow the “follow your passion” narrative.
Many may have passions that may not be relevant to work, passions that cannot be turned into jobs.
We underestimate our ability to develop new passions over time.
The worst advice you will ever hear…and you will hear it every week during your entire business school career… “Follow your Passion”. What utter bullshit! If someone tells you to follow your passion it means they're already rich.
How then, could I love what I do?
The answer is “getting very good at what you do”. I know. It doesn’t sound very sexy, does it? Developing valuable skills and excelling at work plays a major role in loving your job or having job satisfaction.
Stop being focused on your passion to find your dream job. “What could I get good at?” is the question to ask yourself. If you are just starting, try to find something that matches your interest (note: not passion, but interest) in some sense. Make sure to gauge whether the work you are interested in, could be a “personal-fit”.
“Personal fit in a job depends on your chances of excelling in the job if you work at it”
Personal-fit is very important, generally more important than you think it is. It determines if you have an aptitude for the job and the ability to improve skills related to your work or job.
Note: The only way to figure out personal-fit is by exploring, trying things out and doing the work.
💡TLDR - Develop rare/valuable skills and become really good at what you do. Cal Newport dubs the accumulation of skills as acquiring “Career Capital”. Becoming a master craftsman in your field helps develop passion for what you do.
Your job is to find something you're good at, and then spend the thousands of hours and apply the grit and the perseverance, and the sacrifice, and the willingness to break through hard things to become great at it. Because, once you're great at something, the economic accoutrements are being great at something, the prestige, the relevance, the camaraderie, the self-worth of being great will make you passionate about whatever it is.
Deliberate Practice - key to getting great at what you do
Research has shown that “Deliberate Practice” is key to developing expertise and becoming world-class in any field. When it comes to practice, people focus on the “number of hours” they put into practice, which by the way, is also important. It's just that “how you practice” helps determine growth.
Why is that?
Well, the more you do something or the more you repeat something, the lesser the impact it makes on you. This is called the “Repeated Bout Effect” (James Clear has written a nice piece on this, by the way). This means, just showing up and working hard would make you hit a plateau. Hours of mindless practice are not going to help you improve beyond a point.
Have a specific goal in mind. Deliberate practice is the art of focusing persistently and training systematically to excel. Challenge yourself repeatedly. Pushing through the stress to stretch beyond your comfort zone helps improve performance.
The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice is a great read to understand how you could use deliberate practice up your game.
💡Repeated deliberate practice helps accrue “career capital”.
Leverage your rare and valuable skills at work
Great jobs/careers have traits or attributes, like control/autonomy and impact among others, that are rare and valuable and make the job or work attractive. For example, more autonomy at your job makes it more engaging and fulfilling. But jobs seldom have these valuable attributes. Leverage your career capital for jobs that have these rare attributes.
The Bottom Line
Don’t fret about having pre-existing passions or matching these passions to the work you do.
Get really good at what you do. The more you excel at your job, the more you enjoy it.
Employ “deliberate practice” to get good at what you do.
Leverage your acquired skills for attributes or elements (autonomy/control) that make your job enjoyable.
You don’t go in search of a dream job. If you do it right, you end up passionate about your job.
References and further reading
Cal Newport has done some extensive research on this topic and most of what I have written in this post is a synopsis of his research assimilated in his wonderful book “So good they can’t ignore you”.
You could also learn more about this on Cal’s YouTube channel.
“80,000 Hours” is a blog dedicated to discussing key ideas around understanding how to forge a great career.