A couple weeks ago a friend of mine recommended the new book by Cal Newport, “So Good They Can’t Ignore You,” which argues that the best and most satisfying careers are those where your passion for the job emerges only after you’ve developed distinctive skills for it — because distinctive skills enable you to do that job with autonomy and impact, which are the only lasting sources of career satisfaction.
Cal argues that, contrary to public wisdom that you should “find your passion first” and then search for a career to match that passion, very few people actually have career-related passions in the first place. So pondering your passions in the abstract, and then filling a career around them afterward, is both unrealistic and also simply doesn’t accurately reflect how people who had spectacular careers and who were deeply passionate, like Steve Jobs, actually lived their lives.
Instead, he says, what you need to do is stick with something you have at least a basic interest in, do the hard work of building valuable skills in that field, and then once you’ve developed valuable skills, “trade them in” for work that gives you autonomy and impact in exchange. That is the recipe for a satisfying career you are passionate about. The specific field or job is irrelevant.
Cal recently gave a talk at Google about his book, with plenty of examples and insightful, engaging discussion around the topic. Highly recommend watching it here: