“Follow your passion,” they said. “It will lead you to your dream job,” they said.
But, what if they were wrong? What if blindly following your passion isn’t the golden ticket to career success?
I have found an unconventional yet immensely practical approach to career development: focusing on skill development.
I. Unraveling the ‘Follow Your Passion’ Myth
The advice to follow your passion is well-intentioned, but it’s not without its flaws.
It assumes that everyone has a pre-existing passion and that this passion aligns perfectly with a viable career path.
However, in reality, this is not always the case.
In my years as a coach, I’ve seen many clients who were passionate about their field but struggled to achieve professional success. They had the enthusiasm, but they lacked the necessary skills to excel in their jobs.
This led me to believe that we need a more balanced approach to career decisions, one that gives equal weight to passion and skill development.
Professor Scott Galloway has said “Follow your Passion” is the worst advice to give young people.
“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 (an accessory item of clothing or equipment) of being great at something, the prestige, the relevance, the camaraderie, the self-worth of being great will make you passionate about whatever it is.”Scott Galloway
There is also Cal Newport, who in his book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” argues that career success and fulfillment come from skill development, accumulating career capital, and pursuing opportunities aligned with long-term goals and that passion is more likely to follow mastery and excellence in your chosen field.
Key points from the book:
- Passion isn’t enough: Newport challenges the advice to “follow your passion” and suggests that passion develops from becoming excellent at something.
- Focus on skills: Newport emphasizes developing rare and valuable skills in your field to increase your value and leverage in the job market.
- Career capital: The concept of “career capital” refers to the collection of skills, experiences, and reputation you accumulate over time, giving you more control and flexibility in your career choices.
- Importance of deliberate practice: Newport stresses the need for structured and challenging practice to become exceptional in your field.
- Reject irrelevant opportunities: Newport advises against taking jobs that don’t contribute to long-term career goals, as they distract from building career capital.
- Be patient: Career success takes time. Focus on steadily improving skills and building career capital.
- Passion follows mastery: Passion often emerges after becoming very good at something, leading to genuine enthusiasm and interest in your work.
- Control and autonomy: The value of having control and autonomy in your career is discussed. Building career capital gives leverage for better working conditions and opportunities.
- Experimentation: Engage in small experiments or “little bets” to test new career paths or interests before major changes.
- Find your “mission: Search for a deeper sense of purpose in your work once expertise and career capital are developed.
II. The Critical Role of Skills in Career Success
Skills are the building blocks of any successful career. They’re what enable you to perform your job effectively and make meaningful contributions to your field.
Let’s take the example of Michael Jordan, widely regarded as the greatest basketball player of all time. His passion for the game was undeniable, but it was his relentless focus on improving his skills that made him a legend.
Skills can open up new career opportunities, enhance your job security, and contribute to your financial stability. They’re what employers look for when hiring and promoting employees.
III. Embracing Skill Diversity in Today’s Job Market
In today’s rapidly evolving job market, having a diverse skill set is more important than ever. It increases your adaptability and makes you more attractive to employers.
Think of it this way: If you were a movie director, would you prefer an actor who can only play one type of role or an actor who can play a variety of roles?
The tech industry is a prime example of where skill diversity is highly valued.
A software engineer with skills in coding, project management, and user experience design would be a major asset to any tech company.
IV. The Balance Between Skill Development and Passion
Following your passion without developing relevant skills can lead to career stagnation.
On the other hand, focusing on skill development—even in areas outside of your immediate passion—can open up a wider range of career opportunities.
Consider the story of a client of mine, let’s call her Sarah. Sarah had a passion for cosmetology but faced challenges in establishing a successful career as a freelance hairstylist.
Determined to pursue her passion, she decided to acquire digital marketing skills to promote her services effectively. With her newfound skills, Sarah secured a position at a renowned salon where she could also showcase her cosmetology expertise. By blending her passion with skill development, Sarah successfully built a rewarding and financially stable career in the cosmetology industry.
V. How to Sharpen Your Skills
Identifying and developing your skills is a continuous process. It requires self-reflection, goal setting, and dedicated effort.
Start by identifying the skills that are in demand in your desired field. Then, set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals for each skill you wish to develop.
There are numerous resources available for skill development.
You may also like: Stepping Up: How to Prioritize Professional Development
Online courses, books, workshops, webinars, and mentorship programs are all excellent ways to learn new skills. Remember, consistency is key.
Regular practice is what turns a newly learned ability into a fully mastered skill.
VI. The Joy of Mastery
Mastering a skill can be a deeply satisfying experience. It brings a sense of accomplishment, boosts your self-confidence, and can even ignite a passion for the field.
One of my clients, John, started learning coding out of necessity for his job. However, as he got better at it, he found that he genuinely enjoyed solving coding problems. He had discovered a new passion through skill mastery.
You may find Dan Cable’s mantra of “follow your blisters” which he discusses in his Harvard Business review article titled “What You Should Follow Instead of Your Passion” interesting and relevant.
VII. Smooth Sailing Through Career Transitions
Career transitions, whether by choice or necessity, are a common part of today’s professional landscape. Here again, skills play a vital role.
The more transferable skills you have, the smoother your career transitions will be.
For instance, good communication is a skill that’s valued in nearly every profession. If you’re transitioning from a role in sales to a role in human resources, your communication skills will be a major asset.
VIII. Overcoming Obstacles in Skill Development
Skill development is a rewarding journey, but it’s not without its challenges.
Time constraints and self-doubt are common obstacles many of us face. However, with a bit of planning and a growth mindset, these challenges can be overcome.
If time is a constraint, consider microlearning—learning in small, manageable chunks. If self-doubt creeps in, remind yourself of why you’re developing this skill and how it will benefit your career in the long run.
IX. Conclusion: The Power of Skill Development
Follow your passion to provide direction and motivation, and develop skills to overcome roadblocks, boost your confidence, to unlock doors to career success.
Remember, the path to career success is not a sprint but a marathon, and each skill you develop is a step forward on this path.
Here’s to your success!