why passion is sometimes overrated (how to develop your own interestingness, part four)
When I first tweeted about my post the importance of being interesting(the first in this series), one of my followers/followees responded
I’m pretty sure I’m the most boring person on the planet.*
And in the comments section of my most recent post, Irving Podulsky asked the very valid question: Can one LEARN to be unique and deep? (As Irv pointed out, he was asking himself this and not me, but I’m going to take up the question anyway.)
My answer to that — and please cover your eyes if profanity offends you – is this:
As many people pointed out in both the comments section to this blog and related tweets and retweets, the key to being interesting, or having interestingness (my new favorite noun) is being passionate about something.
And this is true.
But it’s also kind of not true.
Let me explain.
Passion is one of those words that gets used so often we’re beginning to lose any real sense of what it means. So when in doubt, go to the free online dictionary:
a. Ardent love.
b. Strong sexual desire; lust.
c. The object of such love or desire.
When cast in those terms, there’s no question why passion is one of the most exquisite pleasures in the world, and key to a dynamic and exciting and meaningful life.
And yet, have you spent a lot of time around a friend who is so passionately in love that he or she talks about the beloved all the freaking time?
Would you consider that person, at least in those moments, to have interestingness?
(And if you honestly answered ‘yes’, then hell, you’re a better friend than I am.)
Enthusiasm is charming, but we tend to find it interesting when it’s connected to something that gives actual value to us: when it informs or entertains, or makes us see things in a new way.
For that to happen – and to keep happening (which is a defining characteristic of ‘interestingness’) – passion usually has to be connected to some kind of skill or knowledge that is greater than what we already possess. What maintains our interest isn’t so much that person’s enthusiasm but their enthusiastic excellence (how long do those contestants in the American Idol audition episodes keep our interest, no matter how enthusiastic they happen to be)?
But people also know that in order to master anything, in order to develop expertise, you have to put in study and practice. Which is hard to do when you don’t like what you’re doing. People also know that we tend to be passionate about the stuff that we’re naturally good at. So people stress the importance of passion because when you’re passionate about something, you get obsessed with it, and when you’re obsessed, you’re willing to put in the time and practice that is usually required to crush it, to kick ass, to dazzle and captivate, to blow people away so much and so consistently that they will pay money to experience the wondrous magic of you, doing whatever it is that you do.
So when people say passion, they’re also talking about talent.
Here’s the thing.
Studies have shown that talent is overrated.
Which means, maybe, that passion is overrated.
A very American belief is that talent – or passion – is something that you’re born with. You either have it or you don’t.
But in books like Geoff Colvin’s TALENT IS OVERRATED or Daniel Coyle’s THE TALENT CODE, the authors stress the revolutionary discovery of the power of deliberate practice. Although Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea of ten thousand hours – you have to put in ten thousand hours, which is roughly ten years, of practice in order to get excellent at something – what he didn’t say was that it had to be a specific kind of practice.
In order for practice to be deliberate, it requires the following components (and I’m taking this from one of my favorite blog posts ever from one of my favorite bloggers, Cal Newport, who in turn took and condensed this slightly from Geoff Colvin whose book you should so totally totally read):
1. It’s designed to improve performance. “The essence of deliberate practice is continually stretching an individual just beyond his or her current abilities. That may sound obvious, but most of us don’t do it in the activities we think of as practice.”
2. It’s repeated a lot. “High repetition is the most important difference between deliberate practice of a task and performing the task for real, when it counts.”
3. Feedback on results is continuously available. “You may think that your rehearsal of a job interview was flawless, but your opinion isn’t what counts.”
4. It’s highly demanding mentally. “Deliberate practice is above all an effort of focus and concentration. That is what makes it ‘deliberate,’ as distinct from the mindless playing of scales or hitting of tennis balls that most people engage in.”
5. It’s hard. “Doing things we know how to do well is enjoyable, and that’s exactly the opposite of what deliberate practice demands.”
6. It requires (good) goals. “The best performers set goals that are not about the outcome but rather about the process of reaching the outcome.”
I’ve blogged about deliberate practice before – I did a series on it – but the point I want to make here is that if talent isn’t as obvious as we all seem to think it is, maybe passion isn’t either.
If talent doesn’t announce itself with a huge neon blinking sign saying HERE I AM, I AM TALENT, WORSHIP ME –
then maybe passion doesn’t either.
So if we’re trying to find our passion, and we’re looking for that big neon sign – I AM PASSION, WORSHIP ME – and can’t find it, maybe we shouldn’t immediately think that I am the most boring person on the face of the earth.
Maybe we should realize that we’re looking for the wrong thing.
If that big bold neon sign doesn’t exist, what should we be looking for?
Here’s an answer.
— to be continued —
* Jessica! That’s so not true!
** Cal Newport makes the point that if we don’t understand how somebody accomplished something, we’re more easily impressed by it.