Passion Is Bullshit

A recent post on Farnam Street drew my attention to a video of a talk by Cal Newport, ‘Follow Your Passion’ Is Bad Advice. I was reminded of Scott Adams’ book, How To Fail, etc. that I recently reviewed. Scott rather more bluntly (and with greater entertainment value, hence, my chosen title) writes “passion is bullshit”. While Scott writes about his own life, Cal according to the blurb about his book, distilled his ideas from talking to people from many different occupations. There’s a great deal of consonance in their thinking.

Scott wrote:

… objectively, my passion level moved with my success. Success caused passion more than passion caused success.

Cal maintains that early, fun encounters with a skill—learning an instrument, playing a sport, maybe you just like the teacher, whatever—create a desire to practise leading to an improvement in performance that creates increased confidence. This reinforces the desire to practise leading to further increases in skill and confidence, leading to… Well, you get the idea. Using Bill McKibben as an exemplar:

… he systematically, over a period of almost 10 years, built up a rare and valuable skill. And then used that skill as leverage to take control of his working life, and then shift it in directions that resonated with him.

Cal said:

You cannot really expect a good working life until you’re really good at something.

Scott provides advice on essential skills to create your personal brand value. Cal’s rules are:

  1. Don’t follow your passion.
  2. Be so good they can’t ignore you.
  3. Go deep.

Deep work means to focus consistently and without distraction on a cognitively demanding and valuable task.

Finally, a link to a Mike Rowe TEDTalk that was recommended by Cal in a post that I came across while I found while writing this post. It’s germane to the topic, but very funny. Here’s a quote from a story about castrating lambs:

Bite ’em. Just bite ’em off.


  1. […] been reading old posts on Cal Newport’s blog since I found it. For the background, read this post. This one contains a really great animation on the topic of work and […]

  2. […] post touches upon a topic that I have written  about before here and here. Newport discusses the work of Saras Sarasvathy into entrepreneurship. The quick […]

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