Study Hacks Blog

Zipcar CEO’s Dangerous Advice on Passion

September 24th, 2012 · 18 comments

Problematic Passion

The Wall Street Journal’s At Work blog recently featured an interview with Zipcar CEO, Scott Griffith. The title worried me: Zipcar CEO: “If You Don’t Have Passion for Your Job, Quit.”

Sure enough, in the interview, Griffith recalls that he had an interest in technology and transportation as early as junior high school. He then generalizes widely:

[W]e all kind of know what our passions are pretty early in life, and if you can figure out a way to align your avocation with your vocation, the sky’s the limit for your career and your happiness.

This, of course, is the standard thinking on career satisfaction. As readers of my new book know, it’s also dangerous advice. To reiterate: most young people do not have a clear passion. In fact, it’s unclear what “passion” really means at this stage. Is it a hobby? An obsession? A vague interest?

Griffith is well-intentioned. And to be fair, he also precedes the above with the caveat, “it may not be that clear to everybody.” But ultimately he’s still reinforcing a dangerous trope: that we’re all hard-wired for a specific profession.

As I’ve argued, this belief leads young people to anxiety and disillusionment when the reality of work doesn’t match their dream job ideal. For most, passion must be cultivated over time, as part of a more general process of building skills and then leveraging these skills to control our career.

Put another way: passion is a great goal, but unless you’re exceptionally lucky, it requires more than just a little day dreaming in the back of a junior high classroom.


At around 6:00 pm this evening, I drew the winners for my one-on-one conversation contest. They have been notified by e-mail. Thank you everyone who entered. I wish I could speak to each of you individually, but with well over 150 book purchases submitted, I would have been glued to the phone for the foreseeable future!

In other book news, you might enjoy this excerpt from SO GOOD which ruffled some feathers over at Fast Company. Turns out people really like Steve Jobs. Who knew?

(Photo by crschmidt)

Steve Jobs’s Complicated Views on Passion

September 14th, 2012 · 23 comments

Jobs Parses Passion

At a recent media panel, Walter Isaacson remembered the following conversation with the late Steve Jobs:

I remember talking exactly a year ago right now to Steve Jobs, who was very ill…He said, “Yeah, we’re always talking about following your passion. But we’re all part of the flow of history… you’ve got to put something back into the flow of history that’s going to help your community…[so] people will say, this person didn’t just have a passion, he cared about making something that other people could benefit from.”

Isaacson also shared his own views on the passion hypothesis:

Every baby boom generation person who has to give a college commencement talk uses the phrase “follow your passion.” But that’s why no one has written a book calling us the greatest generation. The important point is to not just follow your passion but something larger than yourself. It ain’t just about you and your damn passion.

The specific advice given above is interesting. But to me, what’s even more interesting is the general point that building a meaningful working life is damn complicated. “Follow your passion” is a nice slogan, but as Jobs and Isaacson emphasize, there’s a lot more involved in building a career you’re proud of.

Put another way, “follow your passion” is like the kiddie’s pool of life advice. It’s time to take off the floaties and dive into the deep end.

If only there was a book about how to do this…

Following Passion is Different than Cultivating Passion

August 29th, 2012 · 42 comments

My article from, featuring what is arguably the creepiest photo ever associated with a discussion of career advice.

Concerning Comments

Earlier today, published an article I wrote. It summarizes the main idea from my new book: “follow your passion” is bad advice.

What interests me are the comments on the CNN website. Here’s a sample quote:

Following you passion should be a given. What’s the point of life if you’re a robot on a factory line…

As Study Hacks readers will notice, this commenter completely misunderstood my point. He thought I was arguing that you shouldn’t aim for a career that you feel passionate about. This couldn’t be more distant from the truth. I think passion is great. But it’s not something that you “follow” (which implies you can identify it in advance). It’s instead something you have to purposefully cultivate over time.

The key observation here is that the majority of the 60+ comments on the website made a similar mistake. I think this tells us something important about the American cultural conversation surrounding career satisfaction. The reason “follow your passion” has such a hold on our thinking is that many mistakenly equate this strategy with the generic and near-tautological statement that it’s good to love your job.

Of course it’s good to love your job. But “following” your passion suggests something more specific — a strategy that’s not supported by the evidence.

My challenge here is clear: To successfully spread this idea to a larger audience I need to be careful to separate the goal of developing passion from the flawed strategy of following it. (If you want to help me in this challenge, consider retweeting the CNN article with a more accurate description; e.g., “Don’t follow passion, cultivate it“).

Can I Be Happy as an Investment Banker? The Difference Between Pursuing a Lifestyle and Following Your Passion

February 18th, 2012 · 31 comments

A Nervous Sophomore

The following question came from a sophomore finance major at a well-known state university:

I have read and heard that entry-level investment bankers have to work long hours doing meaningless grunt work assigned by bosses (sometimes portrayed as evil)…How can your career craftsman philosophy be applied to high stakes fields such as finance?

This reader believed in my career philosophy and was perfectly happy to sidestep the flawed idea that he should “follow his passion.” But the option of heading into investment banking — a popular choice for his major at his university — was making him nervous.  The requirements for standing out in this field seemed brutal and he wasn’t inspired by the rewards you can obtain for banking stardom (more respect and money in exchange for more work hours and stress).

I told him not to become an investment banker.

Here’s why…

Read more »

A Major Newspaper Wants Your Thoughts On Passion

January 20th, 2012 · 8 comments

A reporter from a major national newspaper is looking to interview people about their experiences with “passion.”

In more detail, he’s looking for the following two types of people:

  1. Those who set out to follow their passion and were disappointed.
  2. Those who discovered the more complicated reality of how people actually end up loving what you do (for example…)

If either (or both) describes you, and you’re interested in being interviewed for a major national newspaper, e-mail me a brief summary of your story at author [at] and put “[Interview]” in the subject line. (I’m interested in reading your stories as well.)

As a side note, it’s nice to see that the skepticism about passion that we’ve expressed for years here on Study Hacks is starting to gain traction…

Thomas Friedman Thinks You Should Stop Whining About Your Passion and Work Harder

September 8th, 2011 · 25 comments

Last night, I watched Thomas Friedman’s interview with Piers Morgan. He was talking about his new book, That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back. At one point during the interview, when Morgan asked Friedman his advice for young workers, Friedman replied, in his trademark catchphrase style, “the Age of Average is over.”

He then continued: “You should aim to be an artisan…everything thing you do, you should be proud of, willing to put your initials on it.

This sounds an awful lot like my Career Craftsman philosophy, which argues that compelling careers are crafted (not discovered), and the fuel for this process is producing things of real value. This philosophy requires that you approach your work, to use Friedman’s term, as an artisan, worrying about what you offer the world, not what the world can offer you.

In a hyper-competitive, globalized economy (to use more Friedman terms), believing that the working world owes you a dream job is no longer tenable.

What’s interesting is that Friedman is not the first Times columnist to echo the career ideas we’ve been exploring here. Back in June, David Brooks argued that “follow your passion” is bad advice — a theme I’ve been hammering home for years.

I think there’s only one conclusion to make in light of these recent events: The Gray Lady takes it cues from Study Hacks.

(Photo by Center for American Progress)


On an unrelated note, longtime friend of Study Hacks, Scott Young, just posted a bunch of free material from his popular Learning on Steroids student advice program. To find it, click here then follow the links on the right under the heading “Bootcamp Schedule.”

Don’t Quit Your Day Job, Transform It: Why Following Your Passion is the Wrong Way to Find Occupational Happiness

August 13th, 2011 · 48 comments

Rethinking Plan B

A recent New York Times article opens with the story of Rona Economou, a young woman with a career saga that follows a familiar arc.

Rona was a lawyer at a large Manhattan law firm and worried that her job wasn’t her calling. After being laid off during the recession she realized that this was her “one chance” to follow her dreams. Inspired, she opened a Greek food stall in the Lower East Side’s Essex Street Market. She wanted to “indulge her passion, lead a healthier life, and downshift professionally.”

Almost every career blog and book on the planet would applaud Rona’s courageous decision.

She’s no longer so sure.

As the Times reports, Rona now works harder than she ever had as a lawyer. Six days a week she’s up at 5:30 am doing strenuous labor: “she hoists 20-pounds bag of flour, gets burned and occasionally slices open a finger.” Her one day off a week is dedicated to the administrative side of the business.

She makes much less money and has much less flexibility in her schedule. Something as simple as catching a cold can be a disaster: “I can’t afford to shut the shop down.”

Rona discovered that her dream job was not as dreamy as she had fantasized — and she’s not alone in recognizing this cold dose of reality. The Times article tells story after story of young people with similar experiences:

  • Mary Lee Herrington quit her $250,000-a-year law job to become a wedding planner. She exhausted herself working 17-hour days. When she crunched the numbers, she was making less than $2 an hour.
  • Charan Sachar ditched his software engineering job to sell teapots on Etsy. He was surprised to find that instead of leisurely days spent at the kiln, up to 70% of his time is now dedicated to administrative tasks.”He’s not only his own boss,” the Times notes, “he is his own accountant, sales director, marketing manager and shipping clerk.”
  • Jennifer Phelan left a marketing job to become a private pilates instructor. She found the 14-hour days to be physically exhausting. She has since returned to her old job.
  • And so on.

A Better Approach

After reading this article, I couldn’t help but think of a college friend who not that long ago was in situation similar to Rona Economou. He was a lawyer at a big firm in a big city, and he also felt that his life lacked a certain spark.

But instead of leaving the law to start from scratch, he leveraged his value as a highly-trained lawyer to take control of his career.

Read more »

Is It Possible to Feel Passionate About Being a Tax Consultant?

April 4th, 2011 · 40 comments

The (Lack of) Passion of the Tax Consultant

In the summer of 2008, I met John, a rising senior at an Ivy League college. He was worried about his impending graduation.

“What advice can you give to a student who wants to live more spontaneously?”, he asked. He didn’t know what he was looking for, but was clear about his “dreams to do something big.”

I gave John some advice, mainly centered around lifestyle-centric career planning, and then we went our separate ways.

That is, until two weeks ago, when John sent me a note.

“Well, I ignored your advice at my peril,” he began. John had taken a job as a corporate tax consultant. Though he found the work to be “sometimes interesting,” the hours were long and the tasks were fiercely prescribed, making it difficult to stand out.

“Aside from not liking the lifestyle”, John complained, “I’m concerned that my work doesn’t serve a larger purpose and, in fact, hurts the most vulernable.”

Longtime Study Hacks readers are familiar with my unconventional stance on finding work you love. I don’t believe in “following your passion.” In most cases, I argue, passion for what you do follows mastery — not from matching a job to a pre-existing calling.

John’s story, however, strains this philosophy. It poses a question that I’ve been asked many times before: can I generate a passion for any job?

In other words, is there a way for John to grow to love being a corporate tax consultant?

Here was my answer: probably not.

Read more »