The Real Reason Learning Trumps Passion

The conventional advice is that a person should find a professional they love. In this way, they will always enjoy their work. This idea is captured by the popular saying “Do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”.

The problem with this advice is that it makes a subtle but key assumption: each of us wired to enjoy certain things for work and that we’ll definitely discover one of those things. Otherwise, we’re doomed to a life of Sisyphean-like work.

For those of us not fortunate enough to stumble into a labor of love, there must be another method for discovering work that has personal value. We discover this work by pursuing education and learning. Without learning, it is impossible to discover what is worthwhile to you.

As author Cal Newportonce said, “Skills trump passion in the quest for work you love”. Most people follow the conventional wisdom stated above and in doing so, dramatically decrease their chances of finding something they are passionate about.

The reasoning behind this is simple, but not obvious: People are more likely to enjoy something they’re good at. What is obvious, but often unappreciated, is that the only way to get good at something is to spend time on it, make mistakes and learn from them.

Making mistakes is not something you become passionate about, but to get good enough at something to love it, you’ll have to make a lot of them. Now the problem with chasing passion before skills becomes apparent.

If you spend your time looking for something that you feel passionately about, there are only 2 possible outcomes. The first one is a series of lucky occurrences. A natural talent combined with incredible luck results in doing something that you love.

The second outcome is continual discouragement because you never stick with something long enough to persevere through and learn from necessary mistakes. This is because you equate the inevitable growing pains with misery. You abandon your goal because it hurts you too many times before you can fall in love with it.

This response to the pain actually makes sense because you—like most people who listen to conventional wisdom—believe that love never has painful moments. The general idea is incorrect, but it’s a sensible conclusion. After all, If you loved this thing then why would it hurt you?

The answer to that question, when searching for passion first, is that it wouldn’t. Therefore, this person gets discouraged and abandons development of a skill.

When a person makes learning more important than passion, they are more likely to find something they passionately towards. They are more likely to fall in love. As you embrace the learning process and make the mistakes necessary for improvement, your abilities increase. Increased ability gives you advantages. You feel better about yourself and thus the ability. This is how the love of a thing is forged.

While not all skills are created equal, getting past the novice stage always has a benefit. If you only stick with something because it makes you feel good, you will quickly discover that most things are not initially pleasurable. You will spend your life floating from skill to skill. You will be a jack of a trades, but not even intermediate ability at most.

Ultimately, the importance of learning is that it gives you something valuable to contribute to the world. This contribution makes you feel good about yourself. Then you can be passionate about the skill. If you seek passion first, then you will be disappointed every time the task presents difficulty and unpleasantness.

A new learning curve is steep, but if you don’t stick through initial pain and suffering then you’ll never reach the top of anything. The greatest value of learning is that it creates love in yourself. This love, being extended to your surroundings, makes the world a better place.

Stick with something and make the world a better place. The rest is up to you.

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