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Following your passion may be a bad idea

Tired of the rat race and thinking of pursuing your passion? Read this before you quit your job


THE phrase "follow your passion" is probably one of the most common career clichés of all time.

But what seems so intuitive may not actually be good advice, says Cal Newport, assistant professor at Georgetown University and author of the best-selling book So Good They Can't Ignore You.

The reality is, true passion often comes after the long, gruelling hours are put in to become excellent at what you do. Passion alone cannot exist outside of serious, hard work, argues Prof Newport.

In short, when it comes to loving your work, what you do for a living seems to matter less than how you do it.

Danger of chasing dreams

There is a pervading belief that the working world is divided into two categories - mundane office jobs versus exciting "dream jobs". Such thinking often leads to vague daydreams of possibilities out there instead of investing in one's current work.

In a talk organised by General Assembly on "How to Design a Career You Love", Jacqui Hocking, co-founder and COO of social enterprise Gone Adventurin says that quitting a corporate job to chase dreams is "dangerous" thinking.

The reality is that most people don't know what their passions are.

"Most people think they are not passionate about their current jobs, so they are going to follow their hearts and pursue another one ... but the problem is, until they have tried it, they might come to the same conclusion and look for something else," she says.

To make a difference in the world, people don't have to quit their corporate jobs to become entrepreneurs.

She advocates becoming "intra-preneurs" instead. This means making changes within their organisations in their current capacity.

"There are so many opportunities right where you are. As a big organisation, you have so much more power to change things compared to start-ups," explains Ms Hocking.

She adds that there is no boring job - it is what one makes of it. "If you can't stand your job because you don't think it has meaning, what can you do to change it?" she asks.

Head over heart

Other problems with letting your heart rule your head include making poor business decisions and losing passion.

According to Ong Chih Ching, executive chairman of real estate group KOP Ltd, her first love is not property.

Her true passions, she shares, were watches and yachts. She dabbled in two businesses previously in those areas, but lost steam and they are now run by others.

"If you convert passion into business that you have to face every day, you risk getting sick of it after a while. I often say having too much passion kills the business," she says.

When she was running her watch business, she bought only watches she loved, but her taste was quite niche so they didn't sell well. She didn't even want to sell some of them because of sentimental value.

As a result, since the business was not proving successful, she spent less time on them and her interest dwindled.

In an ironic twist, Ms Ong says it is precisely because she is less passionate about property that she is more successful in it.

"KOP was started because I made money investing in real estate and I felt that I have good knowledge of the market. I was confident in making business decisions," she notes.

With less attachment, Ms Ong explains that she could be rational and make pure business decisions.

"It wasn't a passion like I had with watches and yachts. I wanted to own as many yachts and watches as possible, but on the other hand, I am able to part with properties quite easily when I make a profit," she adds.

Don't be a Jack of all trades

So if we don't follow our passion, what do we do?

"Dream jobs" that allow people to be creative, make a difference in the world and give you freedom over how you spend your time, are rare and valuable.

To earn them, you need to offer something rare and valuable in return, says Prof Newport in his book.

He advocates investing time and painstaking effort to develop one's career capital, which comprises rare and valuable skills, a network of relationships and a body of work.

The period prior to attaining such a level of excellence won't be enjoyable, but passion comes after mastery is achieved, argues Prof Newport.

This is because you have built enough career capital to cash in on its rewards such as recognition, higher bargaining power and greater autonomy.

Ms Hocking concurs that passion is nothing without perseverance.

"In every career, you will hate it and love it on different days. You have to keep going when everyone has quit," she points out.

"I'm not very talented, so I have to work twice as hard. I get up for work every day not just because of passion, but because this is my job and I made a decision to do it. It's the responsibility I set for myself."

From her response, it is clear that in the grand scheme of things, work excellence has little to do with the feeling of passion.

After all, feelings and passions change. But pressing on with the daily grind is a decision one makes each day to achieve a goal that is bigger than what one feels at the moment.

Few may know that the original Latin meaning of passion is actually "to suffer or to endure". It is not simply just an emotion, but a powerful force that compels action at great personal cost. Think about that.

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