Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Don't Follow Your Passion - And Stop Telling Kids to Do That

Students come to school for more than just content knowledge - they are looking to figure themselves out and find their way in the world.  On a practical level, they are on a path to their career and future life.  However, some people lament the pressure on students to make "life decisions" at the age of seventeen or nineteen .... or twenty-six?  The problem for many kids is they don't know who they are or "what they want to do with their lives."  And, too many counselors and teachers and parents and friends offer the misleading advice to "follow your passion."

People like Discovery Channel's Mike Rowe and Georgetown professor Cal Newport disagree.

Years ago, I watched Mike Rowe's "Ted Talk" in which he said following his passion was "the worst advice I ever got.  Follow your passion and go broke, right?"  And I was always fascinated by his insight - especially because I did follow my passion.  In Rowe's opinion, some people should follow their passions, some people should follow their skills, and some people should just follow the market. Certainly, that is more practical than just telling all kids to "find something you love, and then find a job that pays you to do it."  That's actually pretty weak and useless advice.  And that sentiment has been furthered with a recent op-ed in the New York Times from a professor named Cal Newport and his new book called So Good They Can't Ignore You.  Cal writes about his decision to pursue a Ph.D. in his twenties instead of taking an exciting new job or taking an advance to publish his first book.

Cal Newport certainly has a lot of great insight about making life decisions, and his books and blog are certainly worth checking out.  I am impressed with the idea behind his book - though I haven't read it yet - because I was offering similar advice to my seniors today.  My thought today was Make Yourself Indispensable, and that has become a theme in much business writing these days.  People are going to need to adapt and become more multifaceted if they want to remain employable and successful.  And I will be recommending several of Newport's books to my students.  He published his first at the age of twenty-one about how to "do college."  And he has subsequently published other bits of academic advice:

How to Win At College: Surprising Secrets For Success from the Country's Top Students

How to Be a High School Superstar: A Revolutionary Plan to Get Into College by Standing Out

How to Become a Straight A Student:  The Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use to Score High While Studying Less 

Advice like Mike Rowe's and Cal Newport's cannot be emphasized enough - especially in the contemporary world of always changing technologies and markets.

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