Cal Newport, in one of his articles, introduces a mastery-centric way to look at the concept of passion.
“Passion” seems to be a common source of problems. For some, they have too many passions and don’t know where to focus their energies. For others, it’s the lack of a passion or maybe a belief that their particular passion won’t bring them somewhere worth going.
Common to most peoples’ thoughts about passion are the following three foundational beliefs:
- To feel passionate about something is to be engaged and fulfilled by working on it, and to feel a desire to return to it whenever possible.
- In the course of your regular life you will develop passions for various pursuits.
- You will live a much happier life if you can align your studies as a student or career as a graduate with one of your passions.
Here’s the hypothesis I’ve been developing recently: (1) and (3) are true, but (2) is false. And it’s this common misperception that allows “passion” to wreak so much havoc.
I would offer the following alternative definition of passion and where it comes from:
Passion: The feeling that arises from have mastered a skill that earns you recognition and rewards.
Passion is the feeling generated by mastery. It doesn’t exist outside of serious hard work.
When my readers say “I have too many passions,” what they really mean is “I have lots of superficial interests.” When my readers complain that their major is not their passion, what they really mean to say is “I don’t have a level of mastery in this field that is earning me recognition.”
I submit that this concept is liberating. It frees you from obsession over whether you are doing the “right” thing with your life.
A mastery-centric view of passion says that aligning your life with passions is a good thing, but almost any superficial interest can be transformed into a passion with hard work, so there’s no reason to sweat choices such as an academic major or you first post-college career.
Your real focus should be on the long road of becoming so good they can’t ignore you.
Focus your effort on mastering the art of being a student of the topic. Clear your schedule of junk so you have abundant time to become an A* student in the topic. Become obsessive about the effectiveness of your technical study habits.
The feeling of “passion” you seek will be generated once you start kicking ass in your courses in a way that outpaces your peers and earns you the respect of the professors. Until then, of course you’re not going to feel warm and fuzzy — at this early point in your student career, becoming something is just a superficial interest. You have to build a recognized skill to transform it into something more.
There’s probably no new job that would immediately grant anyone the feeling of passion the person. That can only come from mastery.
We should consider generating a passion for our work by finding something we can master.
In a conversation between Marie Forleo and Seth Godin, Seth explains why finding your calling or passion is pointless. All that matters is the era you live in, emotions you experience, and the challenges you seek.
This whole calling, passion thing is complete nonsense. Steven Pressfield calls it the resistance. It’s a way to hide. If Van Gogh had been born 20 years later or 20 years earlier, he wouldn’t have done what he did. He wanted to do a thing but he didn’t know what the thing was. A similar thing is applicable to Steve Jobs as well.This isn’t about waiting for the right answer. Because there is no right answer. There are challenges we can sign up for and emotions we can experience. There are kinds of engagement we can seek out and ones that we don’t want to. For instance, if you are the kind of person that would rather have a small circle of people who are committed to you for a long time, find any variation in those activities. But, if you are waiting for the perfect horse on that carousel to come around, you have missed 3, 4, 5, 7 circles while you are waiting. All the horses are just as good. It’s the same carousel. Just get on the damn horse.
Your life doesn’t get more sensational when you have more followers on twitter. That’s not what you ought to be keeping score of. What we should instead keep score of is: does this interaction leave behind a trail that I am proud of? Does having the interaction make me glad that I did it and want to do it again? Bigger isn’t the point. More isn’t the point. Finding the thing that works is sufficient and that’s the challenge.
There’s no prize for originality. There are so many places where we need more of something. Choose to matter in a way that aligns with who you want to be.
The pleasures we are seeking are more mobile than initially supposed. Careful knowledge of what we love sets us free.