Passion vs. profits?

Hard-time-for-jean-valjeanLike many business leaders, I've always advised college and university students, protégés and the occasional street person to follow his or her passion in life.

Whether it's anthropology, aeronautics or astronomy, I've counseled young people to become experts in the area that most interests them, and then believe the salary and career path will follow suit.

Well, according to Cal Newport, an assistant professor of computer science at Georgetown University, I'm wrong.

In a recent article in The New York Times that was excerpted from Newport's book, ‘So Good They Can't Ignore You; Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love', he says you can still be happy even if you hate your work! Say what?

Newport contends “…the notion we all have a pre-existing passion waiting to be discovered applies to only a small group of people and puts a lot of pressure on the rest of us.”

As a result, says Newport, when the going gets tough, the majority of people have “an existential moment in which they ask: is this really what I'm meant to be doing?”

The academic believes this doubt, in turn, generates anxiety and chronic job-hopping.

Newport may be right about other professions, but not public relations. I don't think many PR people hate their craft. They may hate their employer, but PR is an art, not a science. It's not like accounting, the law or Wall Street. I've always believed that one either loves or hates PR from the get-go. It either becomes part of your DNA and, yes, your passion, or it doesn't.

That's why when young people do leave Peppercomm after a year or so, most opt for an entirely different profession (teaching is far, and away, number one).

I still believe young people should pursue their passions in life. And, I disagree with Professor Newport that if one applies oneself to one's job and becomes more proficient, a sense of fulfillment will accrue over time. Lots of people make lots of money on Wall Street, but I've yet to meet one who says he's developed a greater sense of fulfillment over the years. Wall Streeters work on Wall Street for one reason: to make big bucks. And, most hate their jobs.

As far as I'm concerned, the decision is easy: follow your passion and hope you make decent bucks down the road or settle for a job you hate and learn to like it as you get better at it. Since we have only one life to lead, I couldn't imagine following Dr. Newport's advice or working at a job I hate.

4 thoughts on “Passion vs. profits?

  1. That’s a fascinating quote, Heather, considering it’s 70 years old. Clearly, PR either did, or didn’t, resonate with practitioners then and now. I knew within three months of landing my very first PR gig that I’d found the right calling.

  2. I’m researching career strategies in PR for my PhD and initial historic research clearly supports the point about having an identification with PR.
    In 1943, Averill Broughton wrote a book: Careeers in Public Relations in which he wrote (with regard to his interviews with senior PR executives at the time) that they:
    “backed into the field, as it were, by accident, and sat down. Afterwards it seemed natural enough, and their preliminary experience seemed as though it created public relations opportunity later”.
    Language of its time, but the sentiment seems to echo your views.

  3. Thanks, KensViews. Life is too short to just suck it up and do the best you can at a job you hate. I’m with you. Follow your passion.

  4. Couldn’t agree more, Steve. It wasn’t until I turned 50 that I realized that my passion was training and consulting (at PR/communications agencies), and coaching executives. I don’t regret the years I spent in the PR agency business, as that gave me the foundation to do what I’m doing today. But I sure wish I had figured this out at 45 or even 40. When I speak to young PR professionals, I tell them to turn on their “passion antenna,” because that will lead them to the career that will provide the greatest satisfaction.