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Creating Successful Leaders

In his book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport makes a startling observation: “When it comes to creating work you love, following your passion is not particularly useful advice.”

How can this be? Don’t passions lead to great careers? That’s the common thinking, but Newport found that this is actually a dangerous way to search for a rewarding career. Your passions don’t always translate well from what you’re interested in to what you do for work, for one thing. For another, how can you know what a career will be like if before you’ve tried it? An aspiring musician may be passionate about music, but can they honestly say they’ll be happy with music for a career? Of course not; after all, I don’t think any of us have ever had a job that perfectly met our initial expectations of it.

Newport isn’t saying that being passionate is a bad thing. He’s instead warning us not to put too much confidence in our passions as the sure way to a rewarding career. It’s the other way around, in fact, as he explains:  “Passion is a side effect of mastery.”

It turns out that  current research (the Self-Determination Theory) has pointed to three main components that make you more motivated in your work:

Autonomy – the feeling that your actions throughout your day matter, and that you have control over your own work

Competence – knowing that you’re good at your work

Relatedness – connection to others in your place of work

These three ingredients, according to the Self-Determination Theory, enable you to achieve mastery in your work, and from there passion and happiness will naturally result. 

That’s right: rewarding careers are created through finding, refining and pursuing your skills, not your passions.

It may take a while longer to enact this principle, but I think Mr. Newport is onto something. We too often give “passion” too much credit when it comes to finding a great job and growing in it.

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Newport, Cal. So Good They Can’t Ignore You. New York: Hachette Book Group, 2012.



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