Follow your passion. Do what you love. Chase your dreams.
This week on the Popforms email list, we talked about why we tend to find this often-shared advice pretty unconvincing, and even destructive.
Just because you love something, doesn’t mean that you will be successful, happy, or even good at your job if you make it your career.
It is much more effective (and profitable, and even satisfying) to do what you’re really good at, and focus on getting as good at that thing as you possibly can.
If your passion happens to also be the thing that you’re best at, that’s great! You’re lucky. But too often, people who find themselves in this lucky position tell other people that they should also chase their passions if they want to be as wildly successful and happy as they are. They misunderstand or miscommunicate what got them to the level of success they have achieved.
Unfortunately, not everyone’s passions align with their strengths, and trying to chase a dream just because it’s your dream will not always equal success.
You are much better off if you find the thing you’re good at and that people are willing to pay for – and then hone that strength as much as you can.
You want the biggest return on your investment
In your career, choosing to focus on and invest in your strengths – over your passions – means you will be more successful, because you are giving your energy to something that already has momentum and power.
Think about it: if I am good with numbers and I devote my energy to becoming really great with numbers, I have a leg up and can achieve greater success in that field than someone who isn’t naturally suited to that kind of job.
If I am good with numbers but spend all my time writing, I am at a disadvantage. I may still be successful, but I won’t be taking advantage of the innate power I have naturally with numbers and maximizing the time I spend at work.
When you do what you are good at, things like success, money, freedom, and recognition will come. And when you have these things, you can pursue your passion projects on the side, without the pressure of needing them to make money, get you famous, or fulfill your needs.
Your passion projects should fulfill your passion. Your work should fulfill the things work is supposed to fulfill — your income, your reputation, and your success.
When you add huge value, you get huge value back. If you choose to spend your time becoming incredible at something, you’ll get returns that equal your output.
This doesn’t mean doing a job you hate just for the money
There are a lot of ways to misconstrue this argument. Doing what you’re good at isn’t just about doing what will earn you the most recognition or money or fame, in exchange for your happiness, or your morals.
Of course you should like your job. If you’re good with numbers, it doesn’t mean you have to work for a huge hedge fund just because it’s where you could make the most money. Job satisfaction is still part of the equation; you have to factor in other things like how you do your best work, what kinds of teams you thrive in, and what corporate culture matches your working style.
It is about finding the right environment where you can excel and pursue your strengths effectively. If a certain startup has a culture you love, then you will thrive while being their go-to person for your area of expertise. If a huge corporation is where you excel and will make the biggest impact, then that is your best choice.
Emma Chapman of A Beautiful Mess wrote an excellent blog post on this topic; she describes the moment in which she decided to embrace what worked for her and pursue those things relentlessly (in spite of her original “passion job” being something completely different – and unsuccessful). For her, it meant working with her sister who she partnered with effectively and playing to her strengths like business acumen and organization.
What would it mean for you to give up on goals that don’t align with your biggest strengths? What could you accomplish?
How you can pivot your life or your career
When we decided to pivot our products Popforms, we did so because we took a long, hard look at our strengths. We write things unlike anything else on the internet. We write things people love. We write things people pay for.
It was time to stop ignoring our strengths and plowing ahead into software just because it’s what we originally said we were going to do.
It was time to pivot.
Today, I want you to look at what is working for you. Not what you are working towards or what you love the most: what is working for you right now?
Here are good questions to ask yourself (and really pause a moment and actually answer them – it will mean you get a lot more out of reading this article!):
- What do I get the most praise on?
- What do people come to me for help with?
- Where have I made the most progress over the years?
When you know where you are strongest, maximize that area in your life. It may mean giving up things you like, but investing in your greatest strengths means you are investing in your greatest potential for success.
Don’t resist finding a place to apply your talents just because your career has gone in a different direction before. As Emma Chapman said in the piece we linked to above:
“If you enjoy something but it’s not a strength of yours, it might make a better hobby than career choice. That ended up being the case for me anyway. Moving in with my parents after being a failed actress was the most cliche and embarrassing choice I’ve ever made. But it was also the BEST choice I’ve ever made.”
After years of struggling as an actress, Emma decided to focus on her strengths and join her sister in business. Just a few years later, they had their first million dollar year.
Similarly, at Popforms, we have been working for almost a year on our software tool. Now that we have decided to focus on content, one of our biggest strengths, we are about to launch a paid recurring revenue product in less than 3 weeks. And we have already sold it in bulk to companies – before we have even launched it.
When you play to your strengths, you make up for any backtracking or lost time you may have encountered from switching your focus. Focusing on your strengths makes you faster, more effective, and ultimately much more successful.
Are there goals you are working towards that don’t align with your greatest strengths? Are you on a career track that no longer applies to your needs? How can you do more of what you’re good at, and less of what you’re not?
Where can you pivot to make yourself the most profitable?
And if you liked this post you should also consider reading Cal Newport’s book So Good They Can’t Ignore You. Derek Sivers wrote an excellent review of it, too (plus Derek is just awesome, so you should read his review regardless).