Why Skills Trump Passion
Cal Newport (2012)
"The more I studied examples of control, the more I encountered people who had made ... mistakes. Jane’s story, for example, is just one of many from the growing lifestyle-design community. This movement argues that you don’t have to live life by other people’s rules. It encourages its followers to design their own path through life—preferably one that’s exciting and enjoyable to live. It’s easy to find examples of this philosophy in action, because many of its disciples blog about their exploits.
At a high level, of course, there’s nothing wrong with this philosophy. The author Timothy Ferriss, who coined the term “lifestyle design,” is a fantastic example of the good things this approach to life can generate (Ferriss has more than enough career capital to back up his adventurous existence). But if you spend time browsing the blogs of lesser-known lifestyle designers, you’ll begin to notice the same red flags again and again: A distressingly large fraction of these contrarians, like Jane, skipped over the part where they build a stable means to support their unconventional lifestyle. They assume that generating the courage to pursue control is what matters, while everything else is just a detail that is easily worked out.
One such blogger I found, to give another example from among many, quit his job at the age of twenty-five, explaining, “I was fed up with living a ‘normal’ conventional life, working 9–5 for the man [and] having no time and little money to pursue my true passions… so I’ve embarked on a crusade to show you and the rest of the world how an average Joe… can build a business from scratch to support a life devoted to living ‘The Dream.’ ” The “business” he referenced, as is the case with many lifestyle designers, was his blog about being a lifestyle designer. In other words, his only product was his enthusiasm about not having a “normal” life. It doesn’t take an economist to point out there’s not much real value lurking there. Or, put into our terminology, enthusiasm alone is not rare and valuable and is therefore not worth much in terms of career capital. This lifestyle designer was investing in a valuable trait but didn’t have the means to pay for it.
Not surprisingly, things soon turned bleak on this fellow’s blog. After three months of posting several times a week about how to fund an unconventional life through blogging—even though he wasn’t making any money himself from his own site—some frustration crept into his writing. In one post, he says, with evident exasperation, “What I noticed is that [readers] come and go. I’ve put in the hard yards, writing quality posts and finding awesome people… but alas many of [you] just come and go. This is as annoying as trying to fill up a bucket with water that has a bunch of holes in it.” He then goes on to detail his ten-point plan for building a more stable audience. The plan includes steps such as “#2. Bring the ENERGY” and “#4. Shower Your Readers with Appreciation,” but the list still excludes the most important step of all: giving readers content they’re willing to pay for. A few weeks later, the posts on the blog stopped. By the time I found it, there hadn’t been a single new post in over four months.
This story provides another clear example of the first control trap: If you embrace control without capital, you’re likely to end up like Jane, Lisa, or our poor frustrated lifestyle designer—enjoying all the autonomy you can handle but unable to afford your next meal. This first trap, however, turns out to be only half of the story of why control can be a tricky trait to acquire. ...[E]ven after you have the capital required to acquire real control, things remain difficult, as it’s exactly at this point that people begin to recognize your value and start pushing back to keep you entrenched in a less autonomous path."
[Also see: Scott Adams on Passion]
[Also see: Scott Adams on Passion]