The Passion Hypothesis

Volumes of books have called passion, the key to life. Every budding teenager trying to search for a potential career is force fed the following advice – “you have to be passionate about something in order to make a mark in life”. The booming self help industry considers this advice to be the foundation of a successful life. But there is a small group of people who believe that “follow your passion” is bad advice. They believe that passion is not discovered but developed. In this article we would like to explore the validity of this line of thought & its application in our lives.

Traditional career counsellors suggest that we should find something we love to do & then match it to a related line of work to build a successful career. But, Cal Newport, author of How to Win at College, says that “the more emphasis you place on finding work you love, the more unhappy you become when you don’t love every minute of the work you have”. This is probably the reason why many people give up on their passion once the going gets tough. Passion does not guarantee a smooth sailing in any line of work. When we pursue any endeavour, there comes a time when making progress requires overcoming challenges & doing painfully hard work. It is during this phase that most people abandon the ship & venture out in search of a new passion. When we discover something that we like & call it our passion we assume that our passion will be the source of happiness for us throughout our lives. This assumption might not be necessarily true at all times.

According to Cal, working right is more important than finding the right work. Working right is all about having strong work ethics. Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers states the “10000 hour rule” according to which “the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours”. Only right work ethics can help one undergo the torture of such a practice. This practice leads to development of competence which then gets transformed into passion. If we look at the most successful people in the world today like Sachin Tendulkar, Amitabh Bachchan, Bill Gates, Barack Obama etc., we can notice one common characteristic in all of them and that is unwavering commitment to work. Take cricket for example, thousands of aspiring cricketers start out with passion & zest for the game, but only a handful end up making it to the national scene. Players with only passion for the game fizzle out in the face of rejection & adversities, but players with the right work ethics eventually taste success & are also able to sustain it. Thus, it is imperative to have the right attitude towards work in general to achieve success in any endeavour.

A lot of research has gone into finding out what motivates humans. According to Self Determination Theory developed by Edward Deci & Richard Ryan, “To be happy, work must fulfil three universal psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness”. Autonomy refers to the control we have over our time i.e. the choice to do what we want to do and when we want to do it. Competence refers to mastering skills that are valued by the world at large. Relatedness refers to our need to connect with others, as Deci puts it “to love and care, and to be loved and cared for”. These three elements can help build a remarkable life, which is after all the goal we want to achieve by following our passion. The search to discover what we love to do can be frustrating & at times futile, instead it is better to expose ourselves to varied interests & then turn a few interests (that the world values) into hardcore skills by undergoing deliberate practice. The skills that we master then can be termed as our passion. If we learn to love what we do by adopting strong work ethics we can be more certain of achieving success. So, “follow your passion” might not be the right advice to build a remarkable life but “develop your passion” is.

-Team Purple (Freaks)

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