FSU Students on Following Your Passion vs. Skill Set

By Lexie Pitzen | Photo: Randalyn Hill

At some point in their career hunt, every college student has heard, from a relative, teacher, or Twitter post, “Follow your passion.” It’s reassuring. According to this cliché, pure passion will lead us straight to success. Theoretically, if our jobs are our passions, work won’t feel like work.

Passion, in this scenario, becomes the central element of our work—more important than discipline, effort, or even skill.

In fact, choosing feelings over logic has seemingly become the default response to many important life choices. Ignoring logic, we allow our feelings to tell us where to live, what to buy, and who to marry, and our lives fall apart. Passion is a feeling. Submitting to a feeling with no concrete support is likely to end in destruction, in my opinion. How, then, can college students be expected to blindly follow passion to success?

When I surveyed fellow Florida State University students, 77% of respondents ranked passion as more important to success than skill. This predictably echoed the “follow your passion” mentality. Yet, only 69% of respondents considered their major to be their passion, while 85% considered it suitable to their skill set. And, 73% of respondents reported satisfaction with their choice of major regardless of whether or not they considered it to be their passion.

In light of these statistics, passion appears less important than society has portrayed it to be. In fact, productivity author and computer scientist Cal Newport, in his 2012 bestseller “So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love,” argued that attempting to “follow your passion” may actually lead you astray, whether you have a preexisting passion or are searching for one.

Newport, on his popular “Study Hacks” blog, wrote, “The properties we know lead people to enjoy their work—such as autonomy, mastery, and relationships—have little to do with whether or not the work matches an established inclination.” Passion, therefore, is not as important as society currently believes. Your job does not have to be your passion in order for you to enjoy it.

In “So Good They Can’t Ignore You,” Newport wrote, “If your goal is to love what you do, you must first build up ‘career capital’ by mastering rare and valuable skills, and then cash in this capital for the traits that define great work.”

What is your “career capital”? What skills are necessary to advance your field? What do your field’s top employers value? Career capital for some might be computer programming experience. For others, it might be advanced skills in public speaking. These skills and more can be learned through college, bootcamps, online programs, or work experience. Mastering skills like these, according to Newport, will result in a natural love for your work as well as long term success.

Passion, like any feeling, is fleeting. Blindly, you will follow it astray. But by choosing to practice discipline and gather skills, you can build a stable career that will make room for a visit from passion without crumbling when it’s gone.

*Views expressed in The Tally Wire’s “Opinion” section are that of each respective author’s and are not reflective of The Tally Wire staff’s views as a whole

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