Sunday, October 4, 2009

Following Your Passion is Better than Doing Good

"Do good."

"Make a difference."

"Make the world a better place."

You can't go long in today's America without receiving a plea to do good or hearing a claim that some group is making the world a better place. I love to hear that. As a matter of fact, my next career step will be something that more directly impacts people's lives for the better. I expect to spend my full time doing something even more directly constructive (in my mind) than what I'm doing.

However, I feel that "doing good" is not the best end-goal. Nope. Sorry.

Sure, whatever we do should have a productive purpose. But, for example, being good isn't always enough to motivate us; in fact, I've found (after years of looking) that there are actually very few philanthropic projects that inspire me. In addition , I feel that it's important to preach what I practice, and it is not practical advice (nor good for society) to tell everyone to spend full time in charity.

So I say: follow your passion!

It may not align with what you've done before. Who cares?

It may not meet the approval of others. Who cares?

It may not make much money. Is that really more important to you?

It may be something destructive. OK, you got me. Find a different passion.

It may not be possible right now due to current commitments. Don't give up your dream: you'll be rewarded as you work toward your passion...

When I was finishing my bachelor's degree, I'd done some job interviews and had been offered a position with IBM. That was fine, but what I really wanted was to go to graduate school and go as far as I could with computer science and maybe even teach it. It seemed almost a fantasy, and part of me thought I should be practical and go with the job. I went with graduate school, stayed poor a while longer, and I've never been happier. I think even Lynnette would agree that it turned out to be a good decision. I believe it's turned out so well because that was my passion at the time.

My desires have changed, and I'm currently considering my next step in my "career" (meaning the way I spend my working hours). I have some ideas and I've done some small things that match my new-found passions. I'm not yet able to spend my full time on it, and I suspect most people are in the same boat. But I'm getting to know myself better and I'm finding things that may make it all possible.

So it's already been worth the effort. And I'm not giving up.

As great as it is to do charitable work, I believe the world will be better served if we all focus first on our greatest passions, because those passions are the things that bring the most joy to our lives. Some might say that the world would be a terrible place if we all did that; I would say that they are misconstruing the idea of true passion. If we're all brutally honest with ourselves and those around us, we'll find that by pursuing our greatest passions (while keeping the long-term point-of-view) we will arrive at the best possible world.

Good luck to us all!


Lately, I've been seeing some messages emerge from other sources that emphasize passion over "doing good".

The Boys And Girls Clubs of America put up a billboard that had the word "Passion" on it. It pointed here: (Click on Martin Sheen to see more details.)

The Utah Dairy Council has put the following phrase on billboards, next to a picture of farmers and their farms:

Our earth
Our product
My passion

Of course, there are many who have written about following their passion. Two specific writings have stood out to me recently. One is by Fred Brooks, a computer scientist quoted frequently when it comes to project management:

"To only a fraction of the human race does God give the privilege of earning one’s bread doing what one would have gladly pursued free, for passion. I am very thankful." - The Mythical Man Month, p. 291

Finally, I've been following the progress of Phil Windley, my PhD advisor, as he's been starting a new company. I thought there was one post where he explained his reasons for being involved in another startup, but I couldn't find one and I'm starting to think that I've gathered his enthusiasm from multiple posts over time. For example, in 2007 he says how you can impress people when you "express the level of your commitment"; in 2008 he says that this is what he's "passionate" about.