New graduates, for the love, "follow your passion" is not a sound career strategy

Yeah, I know commencement speeches abound with thoughts of defying consensus and following your dreams. Then, there is that quote often attributed to Confucius: “find a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life,” to which I might add, “unless no one is willing to pay you for that job; in that case, you’ve found a hobby.” Not as inspiring?

Even Warren Buffett, who has clearly earned the right to give career advice, said, “I always tell college students to take the job that you would take if you were independently wealthy. You’re going to do well at it.” But if you look underneath the surface of Buffett’s wonderfully pithy statement, you realize that it’s not that simple. Sure, Buffet is passionate about investing, but he also happens to be among the best in the world at it. And, investing happens to be a field that comes with phenomenal financial rewards. What about the rest of us mortals?

Passion is essential, but it’s only one-third of a good career strategy. Those who seek to add logic and practicality to their passion would be well-served to add two criteria to their assessment. Figuring out the right career is about negotiating the tension between three attributes: passion, ability, and market need. At the intersection of these three things, you’ll find what you were meant to do.

WARNING: if you only have two of the three attributes, your job won’t last. Here’s what happens when you find work that has only two of the three:

Passion + ability with no market need = hobby

Passion + market need with no ability = under-performing your potential

Ability + market need with no passion = accounting (just kidding…sort of)

I prefer this model to the "just follow your passion" one because it recognizes the give and take that exists in most careers. You may not, for example, reach your ultimate “passion” of playing in the NBA (see the “ability” section), but broadening your scope a bit to working in the sports industry, or even working in an environment that gives you the thrill of competition, can still satisfy your “passion” requirement. If you can be less rigid about the passion component, a world of possibilities will open to you. Now, you are free to marry something you enjoy with something you are good at--and even make a living along the way. Now, that's something I can get passionate about!

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