Over the summer, I was at a luncheon with incoming orientation student advisors. The purpose was for everyone to meet and chat with as many BU staff members as possible, so students rotated every few minutes in a ‘speed networking’ style. It was a lot of fun, with lively conversations. Then one young woman asked me a great question point blank:
“What is your one piece of career advice?”
What I told her is the same thing I’ll tell you: hone a craft.
Worry less about following your passion or doing what you love. Because if you’re like most people, you have several interests, none of them white hot (and therefore not really passions). Moreover, they’re likely to evolve over time (research shows that our interests don’t stabilize until age 25), and many of them are best pursued in the context of leisure time or personal relationships.
The worry, of course, is that if honing a craft takes hard work over many years (which it does), and if your interests are an uncertain and unreliable indicator of the craft that’s right for you (which they are), then how on earth do you choose a craft?
The answer is…nobody really knows. Welcome to adulthood!
But lots of professionals have studied the question, developed theories and approaches, and offered thoughtful, yet tentative answers.
The one I find most persuasive is that if you spend less time worrying about finding the one right career for you, and more time getting good at something that people are willing to pay you to do, then you are most likely to (a) cultivate a passion for it, and (b) reap the chief benefits of a good career: challenge and autonomy.
In short, my one piece of career advice is to read So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, by Cal Newport.