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Why shouldn’t you ‘Follow Your Passion’?


I had the opportunity to speak to 8th – 12th graders about careers and life last month at Master Charter’s Career Day and Upper Darby High’s Java Programming class.  I wasn’t sure the young men and women in the classes were paying attention until I saw the pictures.  
Collage of Matt speaking, kids paying attention, and one asking a question.
We talked about the journey from dreading the “Upper Darby Cold Shower” when my Mom occasionally couldn’t pay the electric bill to willingly taking cold showers as an adult.  In between, I learned the engineering mindset of breaking down problems into manageable chunks.  I learned that an engineer’s superpower is problem-solving.  I learned I love working with engineers.   
Dilbert Marketing cartoon
Marketing is important. In fact, I’m reading more on marketing than any other topic right now. If you’re in marketing, coffee is on me. Credit:


Engineers are super-sharp, smart people.  
Engineers don’t like small talk.  
Engineers want to add value.
No fluff.  All substance.  They’re my kind of people. 
Dilbert Engineer Social Skills cartoon
It’s not all roses living with an engineer. Sorry, Bria. Credit:

Story – Introduction

The best story of the day comes from a future superstar engineer named Gurleen, a senior at Upper Darby.  I brought the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You and summarized its contrast between The Passion Hypothesis and The Craftsman Mindset.  If you can answer Matt Foley’s “Son, what do you want to do with your life?” and don’t have any kids skip to the story conclusion at the bottom. 

Passion Hypotheses

The Passion Hypotheses states that the key to occupational happiness is to:
  • first, figure out what you’re passionate about
  • and then, find a job that matches this passion.
The classic example of encouraging a mindset like this is Steve Jobs.  In a 2005 Commencement speech at Stanford Jobs said, 
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life… 
Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. 
And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. 
They somehow already know what you truly want to become. 
Everything else is secondary.
If you haven’t seen this speech before, it’s worth four minutes to watch at least 8:45, where this video starts, to 12:45.
Inspirational, but also intimidating.  
What if you don’t know what your heart wants now?  
Don’t fear.  Most people don’t.  Jobs didn’t either.  
He left a technology startup, the year before starting what would become Apple, to go to a San Francisco commune.
Most people feel intimidated by these big life decisions.  
So what’s the alternative? 

Craftsman Mindset

The Craftsman Mindset focuses on:
  • what you can offer the world, as opposed to what the world can offer you.  Paraphrased from JFK.
  • being so good at your craft, that people can’t ignore you.  Paraphrased from Steve Martin.
  • regularly asking yourself, “How can I be really good at my craft?” and then doing the work. Paraphrased from Cal Newport. 

How to Find a Craft

You may be thinking, “Well, how do I figure out what I want to be a Craftsman at?”
Don’t expect to have an epiphany today. 
A magical answer won’t fall from the sky immediately.
Start asking, “What excites me?”
Keep asking “What excites me?”
When you hear an answer, experiment.  
Try it out for a week, a month, or longer.
Your craft could be playing music, or cooking, or programming.
Your craft could be woodworking, or sales, or creating businesses.
When you’re practicing a new craft and you find – time – stands – still, hours go by without you noticing, and you’re fully absorbed in the flow of your practice – you may have found your next calling
Picture of states from Apathy to Flow diagram
Click on the picture to read about triggers to get into the Flow state.

Story – Conclusion

After all that Gurleen with his GitHub account, independent programming projects, and a sharp eye for the future steps up to me afterward with his phone in hand.
Gurleen: “Can I take a picture of the book?”
Matt: “You want a picture? Why don’t you just take the book?”
Gurleen: “No, I just want a picture so I can get a copy when I get home.”
Matt: “I know. It will be quicker if you just take it home with you.”
Gurleen: <big smile> “Thanks.”
I heard Gurleen has a hard time with other kids in his class because he spends so much time programming.  If you’re not sure whether you identify with Gurleen or the kids in the class, re-read The Craftsman Mindset and How to Find a Craft.  It’s the Gurleen’s of the world that can laugh the most in the end because Gurleen will be giving out the jobs to kids in his class. More likely, Gurleen won’t laugh.  He’ll never see those kids again, because his star will shine so bright they won’t come close enough to touch the trail he leaves in his wake.