In FastCompany last week, Cal Newport pointed out that when looking for work we love, we might be better off doing as Steve Jobs did, not what he said.

If a young Steve Jobs had taken his own advice and decided to only pursue work he loved, we would probably find him today as one of the Los Altos Zen Center’s most popular teachers. But he didn’t follow this simple advice. Apple Computer was decidedly not born out of passion, but instead was the result of a lucky break–a “small-time” scheme that unexpectedly took off.

I don’t doubt that Jobs eventually grew passionate about his work: If you’ve watched one of his famous keynote addresses, you’ve seen a man who obviously loved what he did. But so what? All that tells us is that it’s good to enjoy what you do. This advice, though true, borders on the tautological and doesn’t help us with the pressing question that we actually care about: How do we find work that we’ll eventually love? Like Jobs, should we resist settling into one rigid career and instead try lots of small schemes, waiting for one to take off? Does it matter what general field we explore? How do we know when to stick with a project or when to move on? In other words, Jobs’s story generates more questions than it answers. Perhaps the only thing it does make clear is that, at least for Jobs, “follow your passion” was not particularly useful advice.

Well? What do you think? Should we follow Jobs’s example in throwing lots of spaghetti at the wall? Or is it better to follow your passion? Is this a false dichotomy?

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8 Responses to Open Thread Wednesday: Don’t Follow Your Passion

  1. Most of us love big. For me the best has been to make what I love the wall against which I throw the spaghetti. So, I would say: Do What You Love. And be ready to pivot.

  2. I believe that I could have done a variety of things, had those opportunities crossed my path while I was discovering my vocation. Sculpture matters less to me than significance, autonomy, engaging in creating cultural artifacts, and making the world somehow, in a small way, more beautiful. Perhaps we confuse our real passions (ie significance) with our vocations (ie specifically sculpture)?

  3. Adam Gossman says:

    GIdeon’s comment reminded me of something like a “love the one you are with” mentality. It goes a long way really- we constantly ask ourselves in life, “Am I doing what I love?” or “Do I love what I am doing?” I think we are called to be faithful, obedient and if that includes doing what we “love” that’s great. Friends worry about which “hill to die on”—- personally I don’t care as much which hill it is I die upon, but whether or not God made the hill. He made most hills, so I think the best I can do is be faithful and obedient. To answer the question- it’s not false, but not the most helpful when times get hard.

  4. Personally, I think that “following our passion” is not always great career advice – it is advice I took that I’m not always convinced was for the best, although I have no regrets. Passions change as we mature and as life events shift what is important to us. I think it is better to be passionate about how you do your job – be passionate about working with excellence, about being a good employee, about leading competently. This doesn’t mean stay at a job you hate or that you don’t feel competent to do, it doesn’t mean you have to just pick a career and do it forever, it doesn’t mean work at a job you are morally of philosophically opposed to, it doesn’t mean stay in an unhealthy work environment. If we focused more on how we did our jobs and less on the job itself, I think we would see a rise in job satisfaction.

  5. AlissatheEditor says:

    Here’s another question, then: how much can we know what we love? By which I mean, at what point in your life did you figure it out, or is that an ongoing process?

  6. Kirk Irwin says:

    I’ve heard that the male brain finishes developing about the early 30s, the female brain in the late 20s. After years of working with young people it has been the rare individual that I have met that knew what they loved even in college and after. I met more of them when I lived in NYC but still, even there many still explored and wandered for purpose. Also, I am not convinced that doing what you love is opposite of exploring or “throwing spaghetti at the wall”. Perhaps a case could be made for both?

  7. Good conversation going on here! One of the most helpful resources I know of on this topic is Jerry Sittser’s book, “The Will of God as A Way of Life.” He talks about the importance of being faithful with what we do – whatever it is – and living into that. Pursuit of passion is important, but I believe my generation (Millennials, if that’s still what they’re calling us) has made an idol of following our dreams at the expense of common sense and obedience.
    To Alissa’s point, I think what we love can and does shift from one season of life to the next. The shift may be a gradual building atop an already-laid foundation, or it may be a change of course altogether. But it does require an open and receptive posture from us, a listening to ourselves as we sense what might be coming up next or reflect on what has passed.

  8. Jeremy Chen says:

    If our lives are meant to be spent cultivating a deepening understanding of the glory of God, i think there must also be a deepening love for his multi-faceted creation – which, in my mind, implies that our passions will inevitably change in some ways. Whether that change means the broadening of our horizons to appreciate new cultures, people, & places, focusing our attention on other “loves,” or changing our opinions on things we love, our passions will undergo change. To go along with the wall metaphor as Gideon used it below, we’ll see our spaghetti-walls of things we love morph, broaden, shift.

    For how to connecting what we do and what we love, I would agree with Gideon here – Do what you love and be ready to pivot. But I would also add that the responsibility of stewarding all that we have been given requires of us the additional consideration of priority: what aspect of the flourishing of God’s kingdom should I work on? What injustices preventing such flourishing are within my means to address? How is my spaghetti-throwing connected to the greater socio-politico-economy of spaghetti-throwers? What form of power am I stewarding through my specific spaghetti-throwing endeavors, and am I managing that power in a way that ennobles & empowers those with less power in my particular sphere(s) of spaghetti-throwing?

    Ok, I think I’ve cooked that pasta metaphor thoroughly past al dente.