Don’t Follow Your Heart

Mark’s spotty internet connection in the middle of Northern Ontario forest fires prevents him from posting. Here is his article. It’s a great read and a reflection coming from the one who’s been the life blood of this blog lately.


“Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.” ~ Marie Curie

We’ve all heard it before: Follow your passions. Live your dream. Do what you love. But is this really the right advice? I’m starting to think that it’s not. My change of attitude is mainly due to a book I am currently reading called “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by Cal Newport. I recommend that you read it yourself.

In his book Cal argues that following your passion is often a bad idea. He states, among other things, that: career passions are rare, developing a passion takes time, and passion is a side effect of mastery.

Science’s best understanding of what gets us passionate about a career is encapsulated in the Self-Determination Theory which states that there are three things that are important for a human to feel passionate or intrinsically motivated for their work.

Autonomy: the feeling that you have control over your day, and that your actions are important.

Competence: the feeling that you are good at what you do.

Relatedness: the feeling of connection to other people.

Building competence and autonomy takes time. These are not things that are granted to most recent hires at any company so feeling dissatisfied with a career path at first should not be a surprise to us.

Newport says that the passion mindset to a career focuses on what the world can offer you while his alternative to the passion mindset, the craftsman mindset, focuses on what you can offer the world.

This is a vital distinction.

I have, for the past 7 years or so, been obsessed with finding something that I am passionate about that will also provide me with financial stability. I want to do something that I love and that makes a difference in the lives of others. I want to wake up and be excited for the day ahead.

This quest, instead of bringing me contentment and clarity, has provided me with considerable stress as I have struggled to find a single path that I feel like I really love. I haven’t been comfortable putting all my efforts into any one pursuit for fear that it is not my true passion. I didn’t want to waste time on something that I thought would leave me feeling empty and unfulfilled. I have become pretty good at many things, but not excellent at one thing. This indecisiveness has permeated other areas of my life in terms of relationships and my own personal growth.

I have often heard that my generation is a generation that feels entitled to success. I have disagreed with this but as I grew older and tried to enter into the ‘adult workforce’ I started to feel this way. I felt as if training was something that I was passionate about. I was working hard. I was helping people. But I was burnt out. I started to become disenchanted with my new career. I thought it was because fitness and training were not my passions. Maybe I had chosen incorrectly? Maybe I had spent three years walking down the wrong path. I was upset and frustrated. I felt as if I deserved more. I felt entitled to a fulfilling career without developing the skills necessary to excel.

Because of this I decided to head north to fight forest fires for the spring and summer. It was something that I always wanted to do. It seemed challenging. It seemed adventurous. I mainly did it because I wanted a break from the distractions of the city. I needed a break from my life.

What I have learned this summer, through reading some great books, conversing with my peers and from some meditation and introspection, is that finding something that you are passionate about is not something that comes from your emotions or from your heart. What you must do is become a master at something, anything. It really doesn’t matter. Becoming a master or a craftsman will make you valuable to the world. People will want your help and they will be willing to pay for it. When people want your help and you are able to provide them with a quality service it makes you feel good.

Unfortunately people are not willing to pay you for your passion or for something that you love simply because you are passionate. If that were the case I would be getting paid to read articles on how this is finally the year for the Leafs. People pay you for things that are valuable to THEM. For things that make THEIR lives life better. The men and women that I admire and who I have chosen as my heroes and mentors all have at least one thing in common. They are all masters at their chosen craft. They have spent the time to get really really good at something and as a result they have become successful. They have deliberately pursued knowledge and experience in their chosen fields and have built up capital with which others will pay for. What I’m getting at is that it’s not necessarily what you choose to do that matters. What matters is if you’re any good at it or not.

Newport writes, “No one owes you a great career, you need to earn it, and the process won’t be easy.”, and I can’t agree more.

What I would encourage you to do, as I strive to do the same myself, is to be a focused craftsman at whatever it is you pursue. Get good at what you do. Get really good. I can’t guarantee much, but what I can guarantee is that I’ll be doing the same thing, feeling overwhelmed and scared right along with you.

I also read a great quote by Louis C.K. today that really inspired me.

“You’ll be fine. You’re 25. Feeling unsure and lost is part of your path. Don’t avoid it. See what those feelings are showing you and use them. Take a breath. You’ll be okay. Even if you don’t feel okay all the time.”


2 thoughts on “Don’t Follow Your Heart

  1. Loving this Blog Mark! Great Read and pretty much my reality right now and for the past year! Hope to catch up soon. Keep on truckin!’

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