To be successful, should we find and follow our passion, or is doing so terrible advice?

I was reminded of this debate when reading Cal Newport’s recent blog post on how comedian “Louis C. K. Was Bad Before He Was Good.” While I always enjoy Cal’s blog, what I was most struck by were the comments, such as these:

  • “The role of passion in my mind, is NOT that it makes you pre-disposed to be good, but rather that it helps you make yourself choose to spend “another hour” practicing because you are excited about the potential outcome” ~ Chris
  • I “have no doubt that Louis CK enjoyed the process of working hard. What he had a passion for wasn’t comedy — it was learning new skills, getting better at stuff.” ~ Michael

Is passion the problem? Is grit the answer? Discipline? Persistence? Researcher and psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi would say that doing creative work is not a matter of choosing one way of thinking and acting to the exclusion of others. Instead, creativity requires the ability to choose from among seemingly discordant paths and strategies—such as passion or detachment—for whatever is needed at the moment or for a particular stage of the creative process:

“Most creative persons are very passionate about their work, yet they can be extremely objective about it as well. The energy generated by this conflict between attachment and detachment has been mentioned by many as being an important part of their work. Without the passion, we soon lose interest in a difficult task. Yet, without being objective about it, our work is not very good and lacks credibility. So the creative process tends to be a yin-yang alternation between these two extremes.” ~ Creativity, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, HarperPerennial, 1997, p. 72

Public domain image

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (public domain image)