Passion or practice? Which do you need to succeed?

As I walk to my desk, I pass this orange wall:

'Be so good they can't ignore you' exhorts Steve Martin

‘Be so good they can’t ignore you’ exhorts Steve Martin

Every time I see it, I ponder what that means for me (ah, that’s what it’s supposed to do!). I wanted to find out what had inspired Steve Martin to say that. Apparently, he decided that in order to become really successful, he needed to differentiate himself from all the other comedians. By his own estimation, it took him ten years of hard work, experimentation and fine-tuning his act before he became so good they couldn’t ignore him.

So what about his passion? Where did that fit into his success? He seems to be saying that it’s not enough. He took his passion and his talent and then applied himself to craft his skills and create the role he wanted to fulfill.

In his book ‘So good they can’t ignore you – why skills trump passion in the quest for work you love’, Cal Newport offers us the idea of two different mindsets:

“The first is the craftsman mindset, which focuses on what you can offer the world. The second is the passion mindset, which instead focuses on what the world can offer you.”

Newport suggests that if we pursue the craftsman mindset, we gain clarity by identifying the skills and knowledge we need in order to do the work. It takes time, dedication, practice and effort.

His issue with the passion mindset is its ambiguity and its reliance on a profound understanding of ourselves. From talking to my coaching clients, I hear that many of them don’t sense that they have a particular passion but feel like they should do. In some instances, this leads to a frustration and creates a sense of stagnation and inability to move on, despite the fact that many of them are highly successful in their fields.

Some clients have dealt with this by scaling back from the big goal to a smaller goal – perhaps adopting a craftsman mindset – of acquiring further skills and experience in the shorter term. The benefit of this is evident in their careers: they really are so good that they cannot be ignored.

Today’s pebble for you: can a craftsman mindset help you to be so good you can’t be ignored?

What do you think?


(If you are still wondering about passion versus practice, watch Bel Pesce’s TEDtalk on 5 ways to kill your dream)

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you’d like to take action and create positive change in your work and life, why not email me to see how we could work together?

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