On Dominating the World

A Perhaps Ill-Advised Talk

I recently returned from Portland, Oregon, where I was a speaker at Chris Guillebeau’s World Domination Summit. I stood in front of a crowd of 1000 energized, non-comforming, optimistic folks and told them: “follow your passion” is terrible advice.

And I somehow escaped injury.

Actually, the most common response I received: “I completely agree, but other people are going to find your message radical.” After enough people told me they agreed, I concluded something I’ve suspected for a while now: this idea is less radical than we assume.

Perhaps our generation is tired of the passion hypothesis, but just hasn’t gotten used to saying it out loud yet.

All told, I met many interesting people and was exposed to many interesting thoughts. This was not a Study Hacks crowd, but it was a crowd I was honored to join.

If You’re New Here

If you’re a WDS person visiting to find out more about passion and its discontents, I want to point you to my upcoming book, SO GOOD THEY CAN’T IGNORE YOU (pub date: September 18), which lays out my detailed case why “follow your passion” is bad advice, and what you should do instead.

Here’s my tentative call to action (I’m such a bad marketer that Chris Brogan, within an hour of meeting me, literally gave me an empty business card holder):

Will Return Soon

Anyway, I’m off to Funchal, Madeira tomorrow for a conference of an entirely different tenor (less inspirational speeches, more powerpoint slides full of equations), but I have a series of interesting posts backed up, waiting for my return.

Stay tuned…

(Photo by Chris Guillebeau)


31 thoughts on “On Dominating the World”

  1. In a recent interview with Bill Gates on BloombergTV he said that the thing that set him and other successful tech entrepreneurs was being “fanatical” about the things they were doing. Maybe that is a better alternative for those who at first can’t agree with you saying they “shouldn’t follow their passion”, although I realize it’s not the massage you’re trying to get across. Also it was a very tasty food for thought in the last couple of days as I changed my approach to a more fanatical-obsessive in some activities and in return got better results and more satisfaction.

  2. I’m probably going to get this from amazon or my local bookstore!
    You’re doing great Cal, really pushing yourself forward to succeed more and more. I think that, for me at least, is much more inspirational.

  3. Cal, I have been digging up this blog for your old to very old posts. To search through archives, I need to select the month and then get that month’s posts. This way of searching gets boring very quickly. Could you please consider listing your archives title-wise, like the archives we see on Scott H Young’s blog? It would be great to get to see a complete listing of all blog titles at once. I wonder how many of your invaluable older posts I’m missing, which are just too tedious to fish out.

  4. Nitin, What I do is use the categories on the right to find what topic I want to learn about. Then I go all the way back to the first post on that topic then bookmark that page and each day skim a few articles that catch my attention. I am also building a mindmap on my computer to help sort through all the advice, but that is a separate project.

    Now that I see Scott’s page though, I see what you mean and a list of all articles would be cool but the category system currently in place makes searching old topics easier nonetheless.

  5. Hello Cal and hello everyone, I’m new here. I’m happy to have come across a blog that is centered around academic success.
    Cal, perhaps your talk at the WDS was not controversial because in essence, it is a slight shift in perspective but not at all a radical break with the old idea that people do best when they follow their passion. Probably there are different interpretations of what “follow your passion” precisely means, but at least some of those are not in conflict with what you say. You place a lot of emphasis on developing skills and getting really good at something; Perhaps the most important aspect of “passion” is that without it, it’s nearly impossible to put in all the hours and stay focused that are necessary. It doesn’t matter so much if passion was there from the very beginning, or if you started to work on something first and passion grew as you plodded along. But if you never become passionate, how can you put in the long hours without becoming utterly miserable?
    What is probably wrong is to say “just follow your passion and everything else will magically fall into place”, because besides passion, a few other ingredients seem to be required for both success and happiness. Perhaps it was fashionable a decade or two ago (?) to write books saying that passion is somehow the magic pill, but it appears to me that most bloggers today who write about finding your path in life don’t have overly simplistic views like this.
    I would think you managed to write the right book at the right time that will find its audience who already agrees with your basic premises and be very interested in how you work out the details.

  6. I’m guessing other people have asked already, but – will a kindle version be available come Sept?


    Going to Portugal? Let me know if you pass by Lisbon, would love to drink a glass and meet you!

    I passed through Lisbon today, but just to catch a connecting flight. In Funchal, Madeira now, listening to the waves as I write.

    , I see what you mean and a list of all articles would be cool but the category system currently in place makes searching old topics easier nonetheless.

    I probably should add such a thing…

  7. Yeah, Cal, when you criticise ‘following your passion’ the p word probably meant ‘fancy’ instead:

    noun (plural fan·cies)
    1. sudden liking: an impulsive desire for something
    The hat caught my fancy.
    2. notion: an unfounded belief about something.

    The best thing is to do a comprehensive concordance study of the occurrences in the actual texts of the examples you disapprove of; then analyse the elements of that situation.

  8. Interesting… up until about 1943, such advice was not proffered at all…

    And if you look deeper at that data, the 1943 mention (and those that follow in the 50,60, and 70s), all come from the same play, and has little to do with career advice.

    It seems like 85 is the first time you start to see it in the career context.

  9. @Jacq:

    The author of the article has used the word “passion”. The person whom he was quoting, said “Follow your interests, try to identify something which really captivates you, and develop your skills to observe things and to discover structures in your data which are unusual.”

    Which does not equate to passion.

  10. Hey Cal,

    Loved hearing you speak at WDS after having read your blog for so long (and after having recommended “How to Be A High School Superstar” to justabouteveryoneImeet, haha).

    Really looking forward to Sept. 18 (like, really really!).

    Thanks for the awesomeness you bring to the world.


  11. Anyone got a leaked copy of the book? KIDDING!

    It’s a long wait until Sept 18. Cal, when you get a chance, can you make your talk public?

  12. I’m so excited that you’re putting these ideas in a book. It is about time someone stood up to the “follow your passion” mantra with sound evidence and engaging stories. Looking forward to this. Thanks Cal.

  13. Cal,

    I just want to say that I absolutely love this site and your blog. Stumbled upon it less than a week ago and have read almost every post on here. I was working on a summary of your work as it relates to me and my current situation and a word image came to me that may or may not be useful for you and that is Milo meets Sissyphus.

    Milo is the greek boy who carries a baby calf on his shoulders everyday. Eventually the calf grows to a bull but Milo is still able to carry this animal on his shoulders. It represents progressive resistance and is often used as a metaphor in the strength & conditioning field. Sissyphus is the greek hero who is condemned to roll a boulder up the hill everyday only to watch it roll back down at the end of the day.

    My key point is what I call “the tipping point.” That is the point where your skills have grown to the point where you become “so good that they can no longer ignore you.” That is when hard, deliberate practice intersects with consistent, sustained effort. That is “the tipping point.”

    Thank you for helping me achieve a degree of clarity in my life that I haven’t had in many years. Keep up the great work.

  14. Cal,

    You’re a voice I’ve been waiting to hear. Grounded in business reality rather than “follow your passion and hope for the best”. I just pre-ordered the Kindle book.

    Best wishes in your future endeavors.

  15. Well I hope the Kindle version is available in the UK at around the same time.

    I could order the US e-book version if it isn’t but it’s a PITA to swap the Kindle’s country registration settings back and forth each time I have to order from the US site.

  16. In your book (or perhaps past blog posts or research) I’m curious if you have looked at people pursuing multiple careers, whether they be related or not. I think of someone like yourself with your writing and work with Study Hacks, but also your academic career in computer science, and excelling in both. It seems that to excel in something and “get so good they can’t ignore you,” requires such a single-minded focus.

  17. Just ordered your book – looking forward to it — you and I are on VERY similar paths — I have built my career on looking for the key “patterns” to business and life success. I truly wish you every continued success and happiness – perhaps we’ll run into each other at a conference… take good care Cal and keep up the awesome work!

  18. I’m pre-ordering with my textbooks for the school year. I have and will continue to buy and read your books, as I really feel your message is relevant.
    In my opinion, if you have the skills, the passion is the icing on the cake. Only children like all icing and no cake. Skill = substance, while passion doesn’t.

  19. Cal – I can’t tell you how much I appreciated your talk at the WDS! I had been exploring, in my less-than-scientific way, what was behind all the passion talk with a small literature review. I wrote it up in my blog, Renewable Enthusiasm: Passion: hype, annoying, or…it’s complicated? and The Passionistas vs the Passion Skeptics. I started my blog to write about my experiences in finding, following, living and sustaining my own passion. Your talk was really the capstone I needed for sense-making of this whole passion thing.

    I also created a mind map of Day 1 and Day 2 of the WDS. The experience of finding brilliant creative commons licensed photos that linked up well to punctuate points from the talks restored my faith in the universe. I linked to your upcoming book and website. I’ve already pre-ordered a copy and can’t wait to dig in!

    Thank you!

  20. Hi Cal,

    I wanted to pre-order your book, but I live in Europe AND want to read it on my Kindle and that turned out to be incompatible. The kindle version isn’t available on amazon.de (German), only the hardcover and paperback versions are. On the other hand, I also can’t order on amazon.com because my Kindle is connected to my German account.
    Can you do something about this?

    Regards =)


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