Debunking the Passion Myth: Why “Follow Your Passion” Isn’t the Route to Career Success

In a world filled with clichés about pursuing our passions, it’s time to take a step back and question the effectiveness of this well-worn advice.

Over the last couple of months, I have read two books by Cal Newport, ‘Deep Work’ and ‘So Good They Can’t Ignore You’. And it’s the latter that aims to debunk the myth about “following your passion” when it comes to choosing a career.

The strapline of the book is “Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love”.

The Passion Conundrum:

Passion, though romanticised, is often an elusive and unpredictable force. It assumes that we must already possess a fully-formed passion that will lead us directly to our ideal career. However, studies show that most people don’t have a pre-existing passion that can be monetised.

The Rarity of Perfect Matches:

The notion of following your passion assumes that there is a perfect match between our interests and a specific job or industry. However, in reality, finding a career that perfectly aligns with our passions is a rare occurrence.

When questioned in a 2002 study, 84 out of 100 Canadian university students responded that they did have passions. However, most of the passions they identified had no viable relationship to available careers, but were instead hobbies such as dancing, reading and skiing. In fact, only four in 84 of the students identified passions with direct connections to work or education, such as computer programming.

Many successful professionals excel in fields they had little to no initial passion for. They discovered success and purpose by developing valuable skills and expertise, surpassing the need for a perfect passion-match.

The Power of Skill Development:

Newport argues that true professional success and fulfilment lie in the acquisition of rare and valuable skills, which he refers to as “career capital.” As we hone our skills through deliberate practice, we gain more control over our careers. By prioritising skill development, we become better equipped to negotiate favourable working conditions, pursue engaging projects, and make a meaningful impact in our chosen field.

The Quest for Autonomy and Control:

One crucial aspect of career satisfaction is having a sense of control and autonomy over our work.

Another author, Daniel Pink, covers the topic of autonomy in his book, ‘Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us’. In it, he explores the science behind motivation and argues that autonomy is a crucial factor in motivating workers. He believes that giving employees the freedom to control their work, make decisions, and pursue their interests leads to increased motivation, creativity, and productivity.

Skill acquisition empowers us to shape our careers, granting us the autonomy we crave.

Crafting the Mindset of a True Professional:

Back to Newport……  He proposes a shift from the traditional “passion mindset” to a “craftsman mindset” that fosters greater contentment. Rather than fixating on finding a pre-existing passion, he advises adopting a craftsman mindset, dedicating ourselves to deliberate practice and continuous improvement. By striving to become masters of our chosen field, we develop rare skills and find meaning and satisfaction in our work, irrespective of an initial passion.


While the idea of following our passion holds allure, it may not be the most effective strategy for choosing a career. “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” challenges this conventional wisdom and presents a convincing alternative. By prioritising skill development, embracing autonomy, and adopting a craftsman mindset, we can forge a path that leads to fulfilment and success. Instead of relying on an elusive passion, let us embrace the power of deliberate practice and skill acquisition to create a professional journey that truly resonates with our aspirations.