A while back I discovered the Study Hacks blog. Mostly it examines strategies for students, but sometimes it takes apart common cultural assumptions about other topics, like life and work. The blog is mostly finished, and the archives are the big attraction, but every once in a while, blogmeister Cal Newport comes back to take a stab at topics like dream jobs or Romantic Era scholars in the classroom. This week he tackles The Passion Trap: How the Search for Your Life’s Work is Making Your Working Life Miserable, a re-thinking of all the “do what you love and the money will follow” type of career advice books of the last twenty years or so. As usual, some of the most provocative ideas are in the comments. Here’s one:
Mary Arrr wrote that passion became the touchstone in 1970, when going to college became the norm, and the first generation of kids raised in suburbia entered the workforce. As she wrote, “This meant that people had to decide what career they were interested in without necessarily having any knowledge of what people in that field actually did, or even any notion of what people who had jobs did all day.” It meant that people did not grow up watching their fathers work, let alone assuming that they would follow their father’s path. And the fathers, the people who had chosen to move the family out to the sociable suburbs, said, “My work is too hard.” They didn’t just say, “Become a lawyer, become a doctor,” they also said, “We’ll be behind you, no matter what you decide to do.” So young people had infinite choices, little information, and little guidance.
or conversely, “you have the capability to do anything you want to do, but we will not be behind you, no matter what you do”, a battle I am currently engaged it, again, …and the story is different it you tell it from the aspect of the mothers instead of the fathers–the values gulf between the American baby-boomer generation of daughters and their mothers is legendary….
But what happens when you chose a path for its sensibleness but don’t follow it because it lacks passion? Or if you chose a path for its passion and then lose that passion, do you continue because it is sensible? And will your path be littered with the remains of family relationships that didn’t survive because you made autonymous decisions….
Just try to look at potential projects and relationships as open-ended projects, hypotheses, and experiments. Avoid Grand Pronouncements like “Life’s Work” before you get started – reserve them for when you get older and want to tell a nice story about your life. Distrust these stories, by the way – it’s only in the rear view mirror that your life path looks obvious.
But what if you are older and closer to retirement than to the beginning of your work life–can you still maintain an open-ended attitude about work?