Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Passion Hyposthesis Turned on Its Head

So Good They Can't Ignore You - by Cal Newport
So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport.

The upshot of this straightforward and challenging book is simple: Garner skills that are valuable and income producing, become good enough at them they you can in fact, produce income with them, and then watch the passion for your work increase. This totally flies in the face of the "follow you passion and the money will follow" philosophy. In fact, that's the main apologetic of this book. Thomas is taking on the life-style designers, unschoolers and a host of others.

And I am loving it. I cut my educational teeth on the likes of John Holt, the Colfax's and Grace Llewellyn. And while they were talking about affording your kids the time and energy to build skills, cut out the extraneous carp of government school and give your kids a unique personalized education, unschoolers have morphed that philosophy into anything (including nothing) goes. I loathe that unschooling has come to mean what it has.

There has also been a bevy of articles on education in the WSJ and others that talk about the high cost of higher ed, how those with B.A.'s in Humanities are graduating with 10's of 1000's of $ worth of debt, without any, really, truly, marketable skills. They were following their passions. They didn't count the cost.

Part of what happened, imho, is that our educational system (regardless of whether you are government, private or homeshooled) has gotten long on interest and short on skills. Which is what I love about classical education. It's all about skill building, to the point of excellence. And in some ways, it flies in the face of the delight directed, passion hypothesis mentality. Not popular among the unschoolers, or a lot homeschoolers, of today. But, let's all get real. It's a global market, people, and folks without few skills and lots of entitlement issues are going to have a rough time of it.

Newport makes great points, "Compelling careers often have complex origins that reject the simple idea that all you have to do is follow your passion." Uh-huh. I love the story about Steve "Zen" Jobs at the beginning of the book. While Jobs seems to be advocating the passion hypothesis, he didn't actually follow it himself. Way to keep the proletariet's down.

Here's more, uh-huh, food for thought; "deliberate practice is often the opposite of enjoyable." I've gotten somewhat good at a few things. Not all of it's been fun. During the upward hill of the learning curve, it actually pretty much s8cked. We just don't want to acknowledge that amongst friends. We want learning to be easy, enjoyable and about having a good time. Dr. Dh has 3 earned grad degrees. Only one of them was really "fun" and the joy of that was diminished by the full time job of the other degrees, managing a family, and working at a break-neck pace while pursuing it all. That's what professionalism is...working your arse off to have specialized skills at something that might not be attainable to your average Joe. We seem to forget that. Well, I haven't and neither has Dr. Dh. I think we both still suffer a bit from educational, skill building and student loan battle fatigue.

More goodness- Be patient; Steve Martin explains his philosophy for learning to play the banjo: "I thought if I stayed with it , then one day I will have been playing for 40 years and anyone who sticks with something for forty years will be pretty good at it." Yeah, baby. Practice makes perfect. And focus does too- Martin redefines diligence so that's it's less about paying attention to your main pursuit and more about your willingness to ignore other pursuits that would distract you.

Career capital- you have to get good before you can expect good work. The entitlement ethic gives way, in the face of pragmatic real life, to a work ethic.

The law of financial viability- do what people are willing to pay for. Love this. The B.A. in Brit Lit who owes $100, 000 with somehow forgot this little nugget. Not that the cost of college isn't crazy. I get that. Believe me, I totally get that.

There's a lot more in Newport's book, including a whole list of vocab, which I've posted separately here.
But the bottom line:

Get skills, skills that are financially viable, get focused, be diligent-
and the passion will follow.


The Benson Family said...

I have a friend whose husband became a dentist. He'll have people comment on how he must have liked teeth so much in order to have pursued the career that he did. He just laughs. When my friend and him were first married, they sat down and figured out what kind of job would give them a decent income without years and years of school and not have dad gone long hours. They looked at their options and came up with dentist. So that is what he became. Skills then passion.

I keep trying to persuade my 12 year old to seriously consider doing a trade of some sort such as plumbing. So far, he doesn't want to consider it. But, that kind of skill set will be in high demand by the time he's 20.

I also have changed my mindset about schooling my kids. I've become more focused on what kind of skill they can learn from the curriculum than if they develop a passion for it. For example, my 12 year old's science. He may not be in love with the topic, but I want him to have good lab skills (including lab reports), so it makes it easier what curriculum to pick. I totally agree. Skills over passion until skills become passion.

Beth said...

What a great story about your friend, Beth. Wow- what fore-sight for a young couple! I agree about the homeschooling- we have definitely re-directed and are going the same way you are!
Thanks for commenting ; )

Susan said...

Drat...I just checked my library's catalog, I was hoping they would have this book. ;)

I agree, when learning comes easily for kids all the time and they aren't truly challenged, they don't learn to work hard at things and are easily defeated the instant they encounter something a little hard. Passion, motivation, and perseverance don't come through inborn talents, they come with hard work and sacrifice. I want to read this.

Amy Maze said...

Great food for thought! It's amazing how everything fits together so well. When I was in elementary school, I remember assemblies that were about self-esteem and the like. Of course when we got older we assumed that we deserved to go to college (with or without the money for it), and now we think that we deserve jobs (with or without the skill set). I was just thinking earlier today about how when my kids are a bit older I want to allow them the time to really get good at doing certain things (building, fixing, making, etc.) Thanks for linking this up to Trivium Tuesdays (ps. did you get my email about a month ago? I just hadn't heard back from you and wanted to make sure you even got it.)