There are plenty of great critiques to the idea that we must follow our passion and do work we love. All these critiques point to people who became passionate about what they did after they got good at it. Besides, few know what they’re passionate about, anyway.
On the flip side, there’s good evidence to show that interests matter. We all gravitate toward certain kinds of work. And, it is better for us to find careers in those kinds of work. I have experienced that myself – there are certain jobs that I intuitively feel more excited about over others.
My sense is that, over time, we’ll come to accept that this debate has no right answer. Instead, like all great opposing questions, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Interests matter, but don’t let yourself get fixated on which one is the right one. Instead, once you are in the proverbial ball park, cultivate that interest, get good and create options to find exactly what you’d like to do. So, if you know you gravitate toward research, go get a Masters in something that sounds interesting to you. Over time, you’ll move toward the right subject in time for your P.hD.
My thesis in this debate, aside from the strong belief that the answer lies somewhere in the middle, is that our dominant strategy is to enjoy the process of doing good work. This is irrespective of what we choose to do. You don’t have to love that boring excel spreadsheet task to put in your best effort. Neither do you have to love to march to do it well. The rush from doing good work is addictive. In time, we tend to recognize and love the process of intense preparation, sustained effort and thoughtful follow up. The results of the work matter – but, far less than we imagine. Besides, good processes ensure good outcomes in the long run anyway.
The process of doing good work is our dominant strategy because good work opens up opportunities. And, these opportunities help us get closer and closer to what we gravitate toward.
As kids, we are told that what matters is that we gave it our best shot. That advice turns out to be incredibly wise.