Ignore Your Dream… Do What You Are Good At

Follow your dream. Do what you are passionate about. Have you ever heard advice like this? Have you ever tried to follow that advice? And have you ever seen someone who followed that advice to fail miserably? Do you have friends who are happy at their job? And if you are one of the lucky ones have you ever analyzed why you are happy when others just complain? Let me give you some answers and some more questions to think about.

I have recently finished reading an excellent book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport. It provides a rather controversial view on what makes people happy at work. Cal has done a research into the topic and some of the findings follow the work of Anders Ericsson The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance that was later on popularized by Daniel Pink in his book Drive. I immediately identified with the view Cal Newport pushes since it reflects well my own career.

Do what others are willing to pay for

Being passionate about something sounds like the best place to start when you are looking for a job. But frankly, what are the things you are passionate about and how many of them have any relation to a potential job at all? You might be passionate about collecting stamps, fishing, walking in forest and observing nature, or what about your passion for chocolate? All these sound great but you might be hard pressed to find a job where someone would be willing to pay for your passion. And if no one is willing to reward your enthusiasm then you don’t really have a job that you are passionate about and that can cover your basic needs.

Another thing to consider is that with many people you will find that their passions are their hobbies. The moment you would start rewarding them for their hobby, change the hobby to a job, they may actually lose passion. Their intrinsic motivation goes away as the external motivation (pay) increases.

Do what you are good at

So if no one is willing to pay for your passion then what do you do? Well, obviously, you need to do something that people are willing to pay for. You do what you are good at. And chances are that the better you are, the more value you bring, the more others are willing to pay in return.

This is of course rather tricky. Not only you need to figure out what you are good at, you also need some competitive advantage. Understanding the broader field you selected for your career is important first step. For example there are different ways how to become a great manager. Depending on your personality and your skills at the day of decision you can have a style more focused on numbers and metrics, you can be more focused on hard skills to get things done, more on the empathy side to mentor and coach others. There are numerous strategies that can help you to become truly great manager and you don’t need to pursue all of them. Just pick the one for which you have a competitive advantage and relentlessly work on it to hone it to a level of ultimate mastery.

Be patient and focused

Because, it is all about mastery. When you really examine the causality relationship between passion and skill you will discover that skill comes first. I urge you to consider some hobby you are really passionate about. Take running for example. I have seen this times and times again when people decided to do something for their health. Running seemed a good idea. Were they passionate about it? Not really. It was a boring, difficult and not at all enjoyable experience. They run a mile, and felt tired, miserable, out of breath. I wouldn’t describe passion this way.

But they were patient and persevered. With enough focus, energy and routine they were able to train their bodies to run longer and longer distances. They could see the improvements in their performance, their health, and that lead to more enjoyment. That fueled even more effort and dedication. They became truly passionate about running. Why? Because they became really good at it. It is not a tedious activity anymore, it is truly enjoyable and they love doing it.

Seek challenges and feedback

All humans have unlimited potential. At least that is what I chose to believe when I decided to use coaching and mentoring as my primary management style. However, most humans also have limits to what they are willing to sacrifice and how they measure greatness. We tend to do only as much as is really needed and very few of us are willing to go above and beyond.

Maybe that is why so few people become truly great at what they do. Most of us will be only “ok”. Once we get to a certain level of performance that is acceptable by others, and more importantly that satisfies us, we stop improving. We level off because we feel we are good enough. And it is good enough to be good enough. This mindset has one pitfall. Good enough today may not be good enough tomorrow. Today’s satisfaction with our performance and our job will turn to dissatisfaction, complains about lack of advancements, feeling that others are getting more opportunities, and that life is not fair.

The way to battle this and get into a loop of constant happiness and satisfaction with your professional life is to never stop learning, never accept good enough when looking at your performance and relentlessly seeks feedback on what you can improve.

And not only feedback. You need to constantly seek challenges and new tasks that are just a bit out of your comfort zone and you need to find ways to realistically gauge your performance on these tasks and improve next time. This will get you step by step to the mastery in the field of your choice.

Build a brand and goodwill

How do you build a brand? Have a mission. If you consistently, over long period of time, exhibit certain behavior, volunteer for certain type of tasks, spend time and energy on getting better at these tasks, talk about why these are important for you and find the unifying mission of your life then you will yourself into a powerful brand. You will be seen as really good at these topics and it will fuel further development. The same as with the hobbies you will become passionate about what you do and you will love it.

Keep in mind that this is not about a particular job or position. It is bigger and more lasting. For example, I could see myself as being operations or engineering manager and aspire to become a director. I could have development plans to focus more on strategic focus or leading bigger teams. But I would be in the pursuit of a title and not really in the pursuit of excellence of what I do.

So years ago I decided to have completely different paradigm. I have a mission in my professional life. “I’m the guy who builds teams, offices, and grows people.” I don’t care about what the job title is, even what the actual job description says because in whatever role I’m I will find or build the aspects aligned with my professional mission. It gives me opportunity to be better and better at what I do. That is seen by others so they give me opportunities for doing more of it. And ultimately that makes me love what I do.

Love what you do

So instead of endless jumping from job to job, from career to career, trying to find your passion. I would suggest you focus on doing whatever work you have really well. By doing a great job you will gain respect of others, more autonomy, satisfaction from job well done, and all this will feed back into the loop of excellence. And at the end people love to do what they are good at.


What is your recipe for being happy at work? What are you passionate about and do you follow your passions?

Photo: © BillionPhotos.com / Dollar Photo Club

Categories: Career, Coaching

Tags: , ,

1 reply


  1. Failing Fast Doesn’t Mean Giving Up – The Geeky Leader

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