Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Laura Lehan and the Case Against Passion

by Asim Jalis

These thoughts are based on a talk by Laura Lehan. Laura spoke about career and personal success at the University of Washington in Bothell earlier this year. I found it interesting that Laura never used the word "passion". She didn't say find your passion, or find the thing you enjoy the most. Instead she said, find the thing you are best at. There is a subtle difference. For example, I am passionate about playing the piano, but I am also not very good at it. So it wouldn't make sense for me to change my career and become a pianist. Instead I should focus on doing what I am good at. Also, her advice was especially good here: find the thing that others have acknowledged you for or said you were good at. So it's not just the thing I think I am good at, but also the thing people have told me I am good at. By focusing on what people have told me I am automatically moving towards something that is creating value for other people, not just for myself. The problem with passion and doing things one finds interesting is that it is usually not obvious how they will create value for someone else. Now, it's possible that the thing I am good at and that is most valued by other people, is not the thing I enjoy the most. But I think this is unlikely. If I am good at something, doing that work will create a deep satisfaction, the feeling of doing my best, and of doing things that matter to other people. Laura said that as engineers we tend to focus on things that are broken rather than things that are working. So people focus more on things that they are bad at, rather than the things that they excel at.