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Oct 12

Growing passion

Pete sent me a link to this article in the NY Times which takes a different stance to the “find your passion” school of thought.

If we have the courage to discover this calling and to match it to our livelihood, the thinking goes, we’ll end up happy. If we lack this courage, we’ll end up bored and unfulfilled — or, worse, in law school.

Hah. The article then goes on to say:

As I considered my options during my senior year of college, I knew all about this Cult of Passion and its demands. But I chose to ignore it. The alternative career philosophy that drove me is based on this simple premise: The traits that lead people to love their work are general and have little to do with a job’s specifics. These traits include a sense of autonomy and the feeling that you’re good at what you do and are having an impact on the world. Decades of research on workplace motivation back this up. (Daniel Pink’s book “Drive” offers a nice summary of this literature.)

These traits can be found in many jobs, but they have to be earned. Building valuable skills is hard and takes time. For someone in a new position, the right question is not, “What is this job offering me?” but, instead, “What am I offering this job?”

The author, a CS prof at Georgetown, tries to divorce “a job’s specifics” from whether people love their work. However, two of the things he then goes on to list in the very next sentence – sense of autonomy and having an impact on the world – are inextricably tied with a job’s specifics. Foxconn factory line workers put in long hours and some are doubtless really good at their jobs. But try and find autonomy and world-changing qualities to that job, and it’s blood from a stone.

I kind of see what he’s getting at, although he’s not really saying it explicitly – it’s a commitment issue with our generation. Employment mobility is really high, and it’s more common than not for Gen Ys to skip through 3-4 jobs over the course of a decade. Sometimes it takes time to grow into a job, so people need to give themselves enough chance to skill up – once you know how to do things, things usually do get better. But some jobs require years and years to skill up, and what happens if you get 6 or 7 years down that path and the passion doesn’t arrive?

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