Skill over passion?

Remember the scene in the movie, Central Intelligence where Kevin Hart admits that, “I’m good at what I do, you love your job”, when his wife quizzed him on his job.

Now, lets consider a real world example . . .

Consider the impressive career of environmental journalist Bill McKibben. While at Harvard as an undergraduate, he began to write for The Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper. By graduation, he was its editor. This brought McKibben to the attention of William Shawn, editor of the New Yorker magazine. Shawn hired him to contribute to the magazine’s up-front Talk of the Town section.

“The most important skill in the age of flux is the ability to get new skills. To constantly be open to new areas of learning.”

After five years, he quit the New Yorker and moved to the Adirondacks to live in a secluded cabin where he wrote The End of Nature, which is now considered as one of the crown jewels of environmental journalism. Since then, McKibben has written numerous books and has become a well-known environmental activist. Now that is an awesome achievements.

His work-life path offers two valuable lessons for plotting a career: 

  1. “What you do for a living matters less than you think” – McKibben enjoys his life as a writer. Nevertheless, as an environmentalist, he could have achieved similar job satisfaction as a professor or as the head of a non-profit educating others about the environment. Besides his calling as a writer, what seems to matter most to McKibben is having autonomy and contributing to improving the world. This aligns with the life experiences of many successful people. What makes them most happy are not the gritty details of their work, but the satisfying high-quality lifestyle they’ve been able to attain.  
  2. Skill precedes passion – McKibben began at Harvard without any experience in journalism. As a young writer, he would overwrite his pieces many times, a common failing among people learning the writer’s craft. While at Harvard, McKibben wrote upward of 400 articles for The Crimson. He used his years at Harvard and at the New Yorker to develop and polish his skills as a writer and journalist. People who fulfill their passion first must put in the time and effort to become experts at what they do. 

“By changing your habits, you reprogram the behaviors that control most of your life and ultimately determine your success.”

A strong passion about how you want to make a living can be a positive force. But making the ability to follow your passion your only job criteria isn’t a smart strategy. Achieving career satisfaction depends on many factors besides passion.  

“Focus means changing only one habit at a time…spend at least one month exclusively on one habit.”

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Categories: Careers & Work Life Pro Tip, Personal Development

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