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Steve Jobs’s Complicated Views on Passion

Jobs Parses Passion

At a recent media panel, Walter Isaacson remembered the following conversation with the late Steve Jobs:

I remember talking exactly a year ago right now to Steve Jobs, who was very ill…He said, “Yeah, we’re always talking about following your passion. But we’re all part of the flow of history… you’ve got to put something back into the flow of history that’s going to help your community…[so] people will say, this person didn’t just have a passion, he cared about making something that other people could benefit from.”

Isaacson also shared his own views on the passion hypothesis:

Every baby boom generation person who has to give a college commencement talk uses the phrase “follow your passion.” But that’s why no one has written a book calling us the greatest generation. The important point is to not just follow your passion but something larger than yourself. It ain’t just about you and your damn passion.

The specific advice given above is interesting. But to me, what’s even more interesting is the general point that building a meaningful working life is damn complicated. “Follow your passion” is a nice slogan, but as Jobs and Isaacson emphasize, there’s a lot more involved in building a career you’re proud of.

Put another way, “follow your passion” is like the kiddie’s pool of life advice. It’s time to take off the floaties and dive into the deep end.

If only there was a book about how to do this…

23 thoughts on “Steve Jobs’s Complicated Views on Passion”

  1. The relevant passage for those too lazy to click:

    “6. Passion – I often hear people give advice to ‘do what you’re passionate about’ but I’m not completely sure about that any more and wonder if it should be the other way around.

    What I notice is that successful people are often ‘passionate about what they do’.

    They don’t always start with a passion to help them determine what they do… they are simply the kind of people who turn their passion to the situations that they’re in. They also don’t always start out doing things that they’re passionate about but rather the passion sometimes comes later.”

  2. Soon you won’t need to work as a prof and can pursue this blog and your other writing full time! You are so talented. I am a regular reader.

  3. I think you make a valid argument about how passion can develop as a result of dedicated pursuit rather than prior to it. However, I do think that people’s personality, values, and interests guide them when they decide on a career path. In this way, passion can be important and help them persist through difficulties. If you’re not engaged by what you’re doing or think it’s morally wrong, you would be less motivated to practice deliberately and gain mastery.

  4. I think the most dangerous thing about the “follow your passion” advice is its implication that your passion is a singular, mysterious thing. Like you were born with one, static interest and you’ve got to figure it out if you ever want to be somebody. It’s paralyzing!

  5. Cal, I only hope one day that I have a blog and/or write books which draw such curiousity & interest from my readers as yours..

    … Can’t wait for the book.

    -Take Care

  6. Cal,

    Watched your WDS talk on this. Extremely well-reasoned and down-to-earth.

    The book is on order, so I’ll really look forward to diving deeper into it hopefully sometime this week.

  7. As a career counselor, over 15 years, I’m well aware of the focus on “finding your passion” by authors as well as workers. And, it is true that finding meaningful work can be extremely complicated.

    What I’ve learned:

    – Finding one’s “calling” or “passion” is the $1,000,000 question that everyone seeks.

    – Discovering a passion doesn’t typically come from climbing a mountain and meditating on it ad nauseum.

    – Simply being talented and of value to the world does not guarantee passion at all. If a job is a bad fit with your nature, it will burn you out.

    – What you may develop a passion for is usually linked to one of your greatest “assets”, which may be a talent, or experience, or strong interest in a subject. Often something you’ve experienced and suffered from – or a problem you can solve.

    – Being passionate about something does not guarantee you will enjoy a job related to it (again, if it does not fit the rest of your nature).

    – Thinking too much about it can kill your chances of finding it. We can analyze every facet of it. We can test every consequence of following a calling, not following it, procrastinating in following it, jumping on it right away, or trading it in for another. We can spend so much time messing with definitions and possibilities and probabilities that we do little more than chase our own tails and eventually collapse, too exhausted to do anything at all.

    – It requires ACTION to make it appear.

    It is a huge need and a huge problem. I think your advice is sound for the most part and something that many passion seekers need to hear if they’re going to improve their situation.

  8. I think the most dangerous thing about the “follow your passion” advice is its implication that your passion is a singular, mysterious thing.

    Agreed! When you think about it in isolation, it’s a kind of ridiculous assumption, but we’re so used to it that we take it as a fact.

  9. Well speaking from experience I can say that your passions change and/or fade with time. To say you are passionate about something now does not necessarily mean you will enjoy it forever and to pick a career based on that probably isn’t the best way to go. I’ve said here that many students get lost in the grind of college but keeping focused and setting goals are the way to the diploma.

    That’s why it’s important to try many things during college and hopefully by the time you’re out you have a better understanding of yourself.

  10. Hi Cal,
    Greetings form India..
    I am Dr Shailesh Sharma from India and I read the regularly because I like thier ideas and the way they think about life.
    Recently on their website I read about you and your ideas. Your Research is particularly intresting to me because I also was constantly puzzled in my life with this question that what do we mean by following your passion?
    I am a medical Practitioner and I am 26 years old and I am a musician also. I am giving this information with a purpose. After I completed my Medical Graduation I worked in hospitals only to find to my dismay that I could not enjoy the working environment of Hospitals and the human resources way of tackling patients. you wont imagine what I did next, I just quit the way they worked and I sat at home for one year to think what do i really want to do? what is my passion?
    For whole one year i cud not get the answer, I just played Guitar and sang songs as it helped me relieved my career stress.
    All info is necessary for the one last line I want to tell you so please dont get bored 😛
    so the more time i spent with my guitar i more free i cud feel and more freely i cud take risk. At the end of the year I started getting interested in Economics and I took admission in Masters of Public Health in Health policy and Economics and I really feel very happy now and Although Economics is not my real passion i am cultivating this passion as you said in your articles.

    Now the conclusion of whole story comes 😛
    The basic flaw we all do in our life is we think there is only one passion for a single human when somebody says to ur follow your passion we get puzzled that is following my passion would not lead to a successful career what will i do? or how will i live in this world?
    I believe and i really have seen it in my life that there are two kinds of passion in this world. One passion is what i called the “Instinctive Passion” which is actually a kind of food for soul , in my case it is music. the instinctive passion is something sub-consious brain food. there is another kind of passion which one can cultivate by learning from concious brain it is called as ” Consious Passion”, i call them this such terminology dont exist :P. In my case the consious passion was Economics.
    Instinctive passion is very necesaary for survival as it fuels the consious passion. spending an hour on your instinctive passion is enough to sustain your consious passion.
    I have used this philosophy in my life and i feel it could be one answer to your quest about passions.
    we just have to remove one basic flaw in our thinking that there can only be one and only one passion in life 🙂

    yours truly,

  11. Following your PASSION is useful in that it leads you to the thing that gives a greater sense of contribution

    Most people do not have a clear passion to follow. A purposeful, satisfying career usually requires more than discovering what you’re meant to do and then living happily ever after. Passion is complicated and elusive. It’s more useful, ultimately, to talk about an approach to a career that cultivates passion over time, as oppose to trying treat it like a standalone entity that can be identified, cataloged, and used as the basis of career decisions.

  12. @Cal – You were featured on a Singapore news article, Nov 6 2012; I happen 2 hav been at a career crossroad – to continue in Accounting, or try / switch to sthg more on the creative side? I’ve been in midst of doing career tests to ustd my “interests” etc. Then, halted by your alternative views. I’m coming round to some preliminary conclusions, below…

    @Steve Bohler – Thks for your feedbk. 1) “Simply being talented and of value to the world does not guarantee passion at all. If a job is a bad fit with your nature, it will burn you out.” — Eg. for my case, I like what I’ll b able to learn from courses in advertising & designing, BUT the careers themselves hav to do wiv constant ‘MUST sell’, bottomline profits for company, which doesn’t fit me. 2)”Being passionate about something does not guarantee you will enjoy a job related to it (again, if it does not fit the rest of your nature).” — Eg. for my case, I like cooking & piano, BUT I don’t enjoy being leashed to the stove for many hours.

    @Shailesh – Thank you so much for sharing..

    I got this thought earlier in the day — if I were to become very wealthy, what courses would I dive into & learn from scratch? It would be fashion designing. Making my line of stylish, comfy, wearable clothes. And advertising. All to indulge my creative tendencies. (But I don’t like selling. Jus want to create.:)

    However for Now, the next best option, which can provide me longerterm practical, higher income, & career progression, is that I should continue on in Accounting. [Thankfully, I seem 2b somewhat “interested” abt auditing (investigative), which I might b able to venture into later on..] Do I “instinctively enjoy” the workscopes of accounting? Not instinctively/first choice.. Still, I can like the idea that, at the end of the day, I would’ve done my part well for the job.
    — Then later on, after many many yrs of becoming skilled at this path, perhaps I can set aside some funds to just purely learn abt those creative subjects (that is, if there’s spare funds after savings for my future kids, & after giving to missionary causes). It’s not my aim to be ‘always rushing to earn more&more money’ – not at expense of neglecting family & peoples around me. [Real life stories of money-pursuing doctors who came down with terminal cancer & died around 40++ years young — is sobering, & immediately demands us to ask ourselves, whether all the blind $$ pursuit whilst neglecting to cherish earth-times with peoples, is worth it. The most impt thing on this earthlyworld, is: people. Caring for humans; r’ships of the “love one another, as He has loved me” type.] — YAH’s Favored (“,)


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