How passion is a career-killer
Kia Ora Friend,
I'm ashamed. Whenever I get asked 'why did you become an optometrist?' I'd give an elaborate thesis on passion, helping others, and the application of my scientific knowledge for the greater good.
But the truth is... I never had a burning passion to become an optometrist. Almost a decade ago, I tried for medicine, didn't get in, and settled for optometry.
The guilt and shame really surfaces when my fellow optometrists knew what they wanted to do from the beginning.
Is there anyone in the same situation? I wonder if you feel the same?
Then, I came across a book by Cal Newport, So Good They Can't Ignore You.
In this book, we explore four rules required in career fulfillment. They include:
Seeking Passion is dangerous
Instead through building up rare and valuable skills we create what is known as career capital
We spend this career capital to build a career we want and the first step is to take control or our career
Finally, the best we can do for our career is to create a unifying mission for career to give it meaning and purpose but we can only do this with career capital
We will see why I actually lucked out with optometry. Fellow readers, if you are feeling ashamed of your career choice or wondering how can I improve my career situation, then I'm hoping this will help you.
Plain Bad Passion
Compelling careers often have complex origins that reject the simple idea that all you have to do is follow your passion.
Imagine. Your passion isn't advertising and marketing; it's teaching yoga. Conventional wisdom tells us to follow your heart. One day you are feeling particularly courageous. You take the plunge, leaving your job to pursue your passion. After hits and misses you later find yourself on government support. This is the unfortunate story of Lisa Feuer.
Working for yourself has its advantages: control over ones' time, creativity in wearing multiple hats, and seeing impact instead of being a cog in a greater machine. The problem is that Feuer gave up her skills in marketing — skills that she spend years crafting for something she had little experience. A 200-hour yoga training course is going to leave you at the bottom of the pile compared to yogis who guru'd in the field for years.
Passion is dangerous. Passion without any skill won't get us very far. In fact, trying to make something out of what we love will make us hate it more.
When I was 18, I didn't know what my passion was. I didn't think optometry was on that list. So, I couldn't really follow passion if I didn't have one. Medicine was just what everyone else was doing.
So if we don't follow our passions, what is Newport trying to teach us?
We have to think of a different approach. Instead of adopting passion, we need to think like a craft-person. We need to craft rare and valuable skills.
Introducing Career Capital
Be so good they can't ignore you
Whenever thinking of Steve Martin, I can only picture him with grey hair. Never any younger.
Why is that?
One reason could be because I'm too young. The second reason is it took him years of hard work to get to where he is today. Flying under-the-radar at the beginning, he became a household name later on in his life.
When Martin was asked the secret recipe to success, he would mention his research and yearning to becoming an exceptional performer. Martin poured over autobiographies by the greats. But there was a common trend. The way to get from the bottom to the top was omitted.
It is as if these people were born, had a unforgiving childhood, and then they were the leader of a nation, a field, or an art-form.
After experience, his conclusion: "Be so good they can't ignore you."
And how do we 'be so good they can't ignore you'? It doesn't start by pursuing our passions. Rather, we build a skill that is rare and valuable. We focus on what we can offer the world, not what the world can offer us.
Luckily optometry is one of those rare and valuable skills.
Not your everyday person can detect eye problems, provide lens recommendations, and pick frames. These skills are in demand and scarcely known.
Rare and valuable skill, as we start building then up, become currency. It becomes career capital.
Optometry has opportunity to distinguish ourselves — we are providing a service. The job is fulfilling because we are helping people with their vision.
Once you become an optometrist, the goal becomes the love of deliberate practice. Deliberate practice involves getting out of the zone of comfort. Stretching ourselves. Taking on more challenging cases, to advance your skills in different domains in optometry like contact lenses, low vision, glaucoma, children's vision, business application and so much more. This also requires patience.
We can also get better by daily reflection and being proactive in getting better.
Giving people more control over what they do and how they do it increases their happiness, engagement, and sense of fulfillment.
Traits that make up a great career include:
We have honed our rare and valuable skills. We now have career capital. The first move we can make is to take control over our careers.
However, when we take on control. We need to avoid two traps.
The first trap is taking on control without the necessary career capital. Think about taking on a investment that is beyond our risk tolerance.
Locuming as an optometrist has the advantage of deciding when and where to work. On the other hand, working in different environments would be stressful if we are freshly graduated.
Without building up our skills first, if we take on control too soon, we are dealt a difficult hand.
Say we didn't take the route of ceasing control too early. We stuck our heads in, and now we have enough career capital to get some more autonomy in our lives.
Here we meet the second trap. We might get stuck on the traditional path.
The traditional path is a cycle. More career capital equates to more value. More value and we get a bigger salary. Then, we spend more with our bigger salary. We become used to this level spending. This is lifestyle inflation. Staying in the job becomes easier. Taking control becomes harder.
One way to avoid this trap is, first, awareness. Second, do not prescribe to it. Third, if we have another pursuit, test it first.
What does 'test it first' mean?
If we have an idea, instead dropping our life-giving job in its pursuit, we see if "people willing to pay for it" (Derek Sivers).
The point is not making money for the sake of making money. The point is to test if the idea has value.
Derek Sivers, original founder of CD baby, kept his day-job only until he made more money as a musician. Again, he only moved his full-time attention to his business, CD Baby, until it became financial viable.
This idea may not directly relate to my situation. But its probably not best to drop everything in pursuit of outside interests unless its profitable (like email newsletters... yet).
To have a mission is to have a unifying focus for your career.
A mistake is to create life around your mission without the necessary career capital.
In the beginning, we know very little. Passion and mission left as blank answer boxes is completely normal.
With experience, the sharpening of our rare and valuable skills draws us closer to near mastery in our field. To get to this point requires narrow focus in our career.
The narrow focus is the small steps we take: turning up and doing the work, improving slowly.
Once we get close to mastery, our experience gives us a broad sense of our mission.
That broad sense of mission becomes more defined through small tests. Small tests can include sharing our ideas to the world. The feedback we receive — good and bad — shapes our mission.
We see if our mission is worth remark. And for our mission to be successful, it must be remarkable.
But first we need career capital, followed by the small tests of sharing our ideas out there and receiving feedback.
In my case, I'm working on my mission. I turn up to work, put my head down, reflect. I try and put my ideas out there for feedback through my writing. Only time can tell.
When thinking about mission, I am reminded of Toku Eyes CEO, Dr Ehsan Vagefi's mission. His mission, to detect eye diseases early in children using technology, may have been lifelong, but is backed up by significant career capital in eye health and artificial intelligence.
Optometry was not my first choice. Stumbling upon this occupation has lead me to much shame.
After reading Cal Newport's So Good They Can't Ignore, I now see the fortitude of optometry.
First, we must focus on rare and valuable skills. Next we must build this skill — becoming our career capital.
Once we have enough career capital, we can cash in, gaining control over our career. Control, being a necessary traits for a fulfilling career, comes with two traps. First is taking control before we have enough career capital. Second is overcoming lifestyle inflation as our career capital makes us more valuable.
The best thing we can do for our career is create a unifying mission. Our why. A mission made too early has nothing to show for it without the necessary career capital. We can test that mission but putting our ideas out there for feedback. For mission to be successful it must resonate with others.
Even though optometry was not my passion, I am fortunate it offers a pathway to a great career. Now, its time to put in hard work.
Please let me know about your career. Or if you have a similar story. Please send some feedback too. All you have to do is hit reply.
Did you find this useful? If you did, please forward this on to family and friends so they can find it useful too.
Thanks for reading and all the best for the week ahead.
Mā te wā,
My Favourite Things
Podcast The Jordan Harbinger Show, 464: Ramit Sethi | I Will Teach You to Find Your Dream Job Ramit Sethi authored one of my favourite books, I Will Teach You to be Rich. In this podcast, he along with the host Jordan Harbinger, talk about his new course, Dream Job. A harsh reality: we cannot live a passive life. We cannot turn up to work and expect rewards. We have to take charge: to negotiate, to ask for what we want. Being grateful doesn't mean you do not have to ask for more. Questions to ask yourself if you are happy in your job include: How do I feel on Sunday before work? Could you go out and have a lunch with a work friend? What was the last thing I learned in the last four weeks? If you have difficulty with the above questions, these take an invisible toll on you that goes beyond your pay. Ramit Sethi offers alternatives in making our career into a dream job.
Film Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom Directed by Justin Chadwick and based on the autobiography by Nelson Mandela of the same name, this movie goes through the life of this man. From his childhood, his early work as part of the African National Congress, his 27 stint in prison, to becoming the first black president of South Africa. Mandela didn't have the cleanest record growing up. It goes to show: the ends justify the means.
Article 5 Things that Make Optometry Stressful...How You Can Deal with Them Luke Mathers reflects on stress and his career in optometry while authoring his book, Stress Teflon. Key takeaways for me included when he talks about autopilot. Autopilot is handy when it comes to doing our testing, getting us through refraction and prepping for tonometry. Autopilot can take the stress out of difficulty in performing the test. On the other hand, the stress that comes with autopilot is boredom and repetition. It is important to switch out of autopilot when you engage with the patients on a deeper level. At the end of the day, we are there to connect with people, show empathy and solve their eye related concerns. Another point is that as an optometrist, we do make a difference. Because what we do is almost trivial to us but can make a world a difference for another person, so "catch yourself helping people"
Videos for the Week
Book of the Week
So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport — www.goodreads.com So Good They Can't Ignore You book. Read 2,736 reviews from the world's largest community for readers. In this eye-opening account, Cal Newport debunks t...
Kindle Highlight of the Week
Basically, we are the safest and most prosperous humans in the history of the world, yet we are feeling more hopeless that ever before.
Mark Manson, Everything is F*cked