Sunday, July 18, 2010

Can passion exist without mastery?

On Ramit Sethi's blog post finding the right idea, I came across the following passage on passion:
But as Cal Newport puts it, passion happens when you master something:

“…passion is the feeling generated by mastery. It doesn’t exist outside of serious hard work. When Scott’s readers say “I have too many passions,” what they really mean is “I have lots of superficial interests.” When my readers complain that their major is not their passion, what they really mean to say is “I don’t have a level of mastery in this field that is earning me recognition.”

Passion for my chosen career is something I think about quite often. After years of accounting classes, studying for, taking and passing the CPA exam, and 11 years working as an Accounting Manager for a small local company, I no longer feel passionate about my work. When I think back on it, my pursuit of an accounting career was more about a path to earn a living wage and to prove I could do it, than it ever was about my passion for accounting.

If I had a more impressive accounting resume would I be more passionate?
In this economy, recruiters are the first to point out my deficiencies: I don’t have an accounting degree (I have a business degree), I don’t have public accounting experience preferably with the Big 4, and I’ve never worked for a large company. If I had all of these accomplishments would I be more passionate? Maybe, but then again maybe not.

I am on the board of a local professional organization. At our latest planning meeting, I found myself engaged as I listened to other member’s ideas as we planned our strategy for the upcoming year, but the minute we began discussing the budget I shut down no longer interested. It’s not that I don’t think the budget is important; I’m just not that interested in a 10 minute discussion about whether a $25 line item should be called miscellaneous expense.

My real strength lies in learning; all of the appropriate accounting experience is not going to make me more passionate if I’m no longer learning. I can be analytical and have attention to detail, but I have to work at it. I think:

“True passion exists when you are utilizing your strengths.”
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Can passion exist without mastery? Are you passionate about your chosen field? If not, is there anything you do to try to inspire more passion?


  1. I tend to agree more with your view of what creates passion than the view of Cal Newport (sidenote: in general I tend to disagree with a lot of the ideas posted on Ramit's blog). When I think about the things I'm passionate about, they are most definitely not things that I've "mastered." I'm passionate about things that peak my interest, present a challenge, and, yes, play to my strengths. Things that I've "mastered" or that become too simple and routine don't tend to instill me with much passion. I think part of passion comes from the journey as opposed to the end result. If you've mastered something there is not much more to get excited about.

    Even taking out my personal views, I'd say the idea that passion is mastery is flawed. Most professional athletes, musicians, etc. didn't start out as masters of their vocation, they started out with passion and excitement which lead to countless hours of practice in order to develop strengths and skills and ultimately they arrive at mastery.

  2. SGC,
    I agree with you on all points. I’ve spent so many years studying and working in accounting that I’m now bored; its time to learn/do something else. For example the "make your own lavender body products" class you recently took, sounds fun. I've been reading quite a few books/blog posts suggesting personal fulfillment comes when you create your own art. Let’s face it; unless you worked for Enron, accounting isn’t about creating art.