The age old axiom of “do what you love and you will never work a day in your life” rings in my ears daily. A majority of self-help pundits claim that the true path to happiness lies in following your passion. However, according to economist Neil Howe, only 5% of people pick the right profession on the first try.
Each year thousands of people graduate from high schools and colleges ready to chase the great American dream based on what they perceive interests them most. If Howe’s statistic is right, within a few years, many become disillusioned and “trapped”.
It is this 95% of the population who then turn to the “experts” to find advice for their next career choices. That advice is often, “Follow your passion.”
What Are You Great At
Earlier this year, Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation, told the audience attending the Milken Global Conference that people should stop following their passions and focus on their skills.
While the audience sat in stunned silence, he continued by saying, “I believe every human being does something great. Follow that thing you’re actually really good at and it may become your passion.”
Consider people who do amazing things. Whether they are athletes, artists or other professionals, none of them began by saying they were passionate about what made them great.
Each of them started with a skill they discovered and then expanded. The more they developed the skill, the more passionate they became.
Previous generations grew up in an environment where passion wasn’t discussed. They were taught to work hard, stay with the same company for their entire careers and get a gold watch when they walked out the door for the last time.
A Philosophy Problem
Something must have been wrong with that philosophy. Those are the same people who now counsel younger generations to follow their passions, because “if you follow your passion, you will never work a day in your life”.
The problem is, we have adults telling kids to follow their passions, yet their environment doesn’t allow that. The education system doesn’t give kids the skills they need to be successful—it trains them to pass tests. Athletics doesn’t weed anyone out because everyone gets a trophy and frequently they don’t even keep score.
This “softening” of society is confusing. How can I be skilled at something when I’m artificially good at everything I do and uneducated with real world skills. We need resistance to become strong, we need challenges to get direction and we need skills to survive.
Passion does not equate to profit, but skill does. Think about people who make large amounts of money. They have skills that separate them from the rest. That is why athletes make so much money; they have skills few other people have. The same principle applies to successful entrepreneurs, they have skills which they’ve perfected.
Katzenberg may be on to something. Maybe, passion isn’t where we should start, but rather with what can you do? My dad is a great example of this perspective. He took a skill he learned while working for his father and turned it into a personally rewarding career.
One of my favorite bloggers, Penelope Trunk, sums it up nicely. When talking about following your passion she says, “When you say you want to do something you’re passionate about, you really mean, when you think about it, that you want to do something that is right for you. Something that is fulfilling and feels like the thing you should be doing with your life.”
Therein lies the key, find a skill you have, and then build on it. As you become more skilled, you will find the path leading to happiness, which may not be where you originally thought it was.