12 Oct 2021, 11:55 — 5 min read
If one were to listen to a host of commencement speeches, most notably the ones made by Steve Jobs about connecting the dots, the underlying message in almost all of them would be about following your passion. The template suggests that if you follow your passion, you will find success in your career.
If you were to poll a cross-section of successful people, almost all of them would likely say they love what they do. So, you naturally conclude that if you were to do what you love, finding success is inevitable. But this need not be the only explanation of how things might work out for you. There’s a genuine probability that if you’re already doing well, you most likely are in love with what you do.
Speaking from my own career experience, I do not buy into the passion theory. When I got into banking, it wasn’t really because I was passionate about it. It seemed like a good opportunity to get to secure the lifestyle I was seeking, and I picked up on it. My passion for what I was doing evolved over several years of working at the bank, as I went along, picking up specific skills.
As I work with my kids, guiding them with their higher education options, I try to steer clear of the ‘passion narrative’. I don’t want them to feel like they have to be passionate about something in order to make their career choices. I see three elementary issues with the established idea of following your passion.
Economics or engineering, literature or philosophy, video games or sports, if I have an active interest in several areas, how do I know which to commit myself to? How do I even know what is right?
Finding your passion pre-supposes that your interests will remain the same all your life. Quite on the contrary, our interests evolve as we change and grow in life. The things that I found exciting in my twenties are vastly different from those that excite me today.
I am super passionate about Indian classical music, but I certainly have zero competence to make it in the field. The fact that I love singing doesn’t warrant a professional career.
My best insights on this subject came from Ben Horowitz’s not very famous commencement speech at the Columbia School. The central thesis of this speech is – do not follow your passion.
In his speech, Ben Horowitz, an alumnus of the Columbia School, says and I quote, “Following your passion is a very 'me' centred view of the world. When you go through life, what you’ll find is what you take out of the world over time — be it money, cars, stuff, accolades — is much less important than what you’ve put into the world. So, my recommendation would be to follow your contribution. Find the thing that you’re great at, put that into the world, contribute to others, help the world be better and that is the thing to follow.”
This advice aligns well with my own career experiences. When you commit to delivering value and contributing to your organisation, community, or family, you are more likely to experience contentment rather than appear harrowed by a passion narrative.
By looking at what you are good at — Sales or Operations, Marketing or Finance, STEM or Social Sciences — you have an organic starting point from which to base your career decisions. As you get farther along, focusing on what you are good at and growing your competence in a particular area, you will achieve career satisfaction, something that relates closely to success at the workplace. Your skills and competencies grow as you gain experience, and you’re naturally drawn to a sense of ‘passion for what you do’.
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Posted byPramod Veturi
Global leader with experience managing core banking functions with proven track record of delivering business transformation and growth.