Georgetown Assistant Professor of Computer Science Cal Newport recently wrote an article titled “Follow a Career Passion? Let It Follow You” for the New York Times about a dilemma that most Georgetown students will face at some point during their studenthood: what is my passion and how can I follow that into a lifelong career?
Newport graduated from Dartmouth College in 2004 with Phi Beta Kappa, according to his website. He has written three books on advice for students: How to Be a High School Superstar, How to Become a Straight-A Student, and How to Win at College. He also wrote a book on career advice called So Good They Can’t Ignore You.
“Growing up, we were told by guidance counselors, career advice books, the news media and others to ‘follow our passion.’ This advice assumes that we all have a pre-existing passion waiting to be discovered,” Newport wrote. “If we have the courage to discover this calling and to match it to our livelihood, the thinking goes, we’ll end up happy.”
Yet most students will have a hard time identifying their passion, which becomes a source of anxiety. At any university, there are endless options for majors, minors, internships and future careers. Newport disagrees with the idea that a student will find his or her passion in school. He believes that enjoyment of a career is based on earning valuable skills, and generating the feeling that one is making an impact with time.
He prescribed to this belief, when, during his senior year of college, he had several options ahead of him. He was offered a place in the doctoral program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a job at Microsoft, and had just recently finished his manuscript for a nonfiction book. He had three strikingly different options in front of him and had to choose one to follow. Newport chose MIT, without too much stress, because he was confident that “all three could be transformed into sources of passion.”
However, the first few months at MIT were difficult. Yet Newport continued on, staying steady in his philosophy that he would gain skills overtime and enjoy his work more.
“Had I subscribed to the ‘follow your passion’ orthodoxy, I probably would have left during those first years, worried that I didn’t feel love for my work every day,” Newport wrote. “But I knew that my sense of fulfillment would grow over time, as I became better at my job. So I worked hard, and, as my competence grew, so did my engagement.”
Newport is now a professor and loves his job. He regularly writes in his own blog “Study Hacks,” where he seeks to decode “patterns of success” and muses on how people achieve meaning in life.
He did not know from an early age that he wanted to be a professor yet still ended up finding a job that he loved. Newport has some simple advice for all students struggling with finding that passion:
“Passion is not something you follow. It’s something that will follow you as you put in the hard work to become valuable to the world.”
Photo from Georgetown faculty website