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Should you turn your passion into a profession?


Arguments from Cal Newport’s book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”.

A mantra has gradually imposed itself in today’s society and more particularly in the professional sphere. This mantra is “Do what you like”. If this invitation is tempting, it is no less dangerous. At least that’s what Cal Newport tries to tell us in a book published in 2012. Let’s see why.

A career built on passion is rare

There are really two types of passion: one that is accessible to everyone and one that takes more time. If you ask people around you what their passions are, they’re likely to say golf, painting, horseback riding, walking or video games. How many of your friends have actually turned one of these passions into a profession? It’s a safe bet that few have. But are all the people around you unhappy at work? It’s quite unlikely.

To be happy at work, you need to build a level 2 passion, meaning it’s not as accessible as a team sport, even though it contains similar ingredients.

Passion is a collateral effect of mastery

What studies show is that the happiest people at work are those who have developed enough mastery to enjoy the fruits of it. The same may be true of a Level 1 passion, but its learning time is shorter. Perhaps you don’t remember that playing tennis is not very enjoyable at first because it is so difficult to get the ball in the right place. A job works much the same way, if you feel like jumping ship, it may be that you haven’t acquired enough skills to enjoy it. The idea is that a job can be fun when you know the rules and you dominate others in that discipline.

The Craftsman’s Mentality

Like anything else, mastering a job takes time. Some crafts take more time than others. That’s why Cal Newport urges us to adopt the craftsman’s mindset of focusing on continuously improving our skills. Deliberate practice is the best way to achieve the highest level of mastery in a field. The problem is that most people stop when they have reached a satisfactory level of skill when there is still room for improvement. Essentially, what makes people happy, whether in work or life in general, is the idea of progression. Ideally, this notion should be with you throughout your life.

A job you are passionate about is really a combination of three factors

Beyond mastery or high skill, there are two essential ingredients for a job to make you happy. These are autonomy and its relational dimension. The more a job gives you autonomy and connects you to people you enjoy, the more happiness it brings to your life. This goes beyond the simple passion of windsurfing or snowboarding, which admittedly can be done with a group approach, sometimes.

There are three stages in a job to know

Your level of commitment and mastery will have a direct impact on how well you are regarded in your job:

Food job: limited levels of skill and commitment
Career: intermediate levels of commitment and skill
Vocational job: high mastery and high commitment level. This job is an important part of your identity. It is a primary satisfaction in your life, often on par with your personal and family life.

Autonomy often decreases as your mastery increases

The paradox of this threefold factor is that two of them often work as communicating vessels for each other. If you don’t have great skill in any one area, you’re usually not asked to do anything at all. On the other hand, when you become an expert, your time is controlled because you become a valuable resource for the entities you serve. So keep in mind that although you are in a work environment that puts you in contact with interesting and caring people, the fact that you are increasing your skills may generate stagnant satisfaction simply because more control is being exerted over you. To avoid this plateau, you need to be proactive and try to put systems in place that allow you to either delegate skillfully or limit your contribution during the day so that you can use your time as you wish.

The notion of career capital

The better you become at what you do and the more experience you gain, the more you build up your career capital. This capital can later be exchanged for money, status, prestige or other types of benefits. Most often, when someone decides to make a radical career change, they do so in the name of a cause they wish to pursue. If that change involves starting from scratch, including going through the “education” box, one might be tempted to say “why not? “. However, it is time-consuming to do so and there must be good reasons for taking the plunge. Cal Newport advocates having a sufficiently high level of career capital so that it can be used to pursue a second career project that is related to our deepest aspirations without having to start from scratch.

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