There is the common saying to “Follow your passion,” but there is an equally common saying to “Not let your passion be your profession.” Which is correct? Perhaps both phrases are correct to a degree. I think it’s important to understand why this is.
Psychologists have been studying intelligence and talent for decades, and their conclusions have always been murky. Is it genes or environment that propel leaders in their field? Are they born with amazing brains, or are their brains molded through unique opportunities in their environments? It’s really both. One quote I am particularly fond of is “Human behavior is 100 percent under the control of genes and 100 percent under the control of the environment,” by Nobel Laureate Peter Medawar. You really need both to excel.
But another favorite quote that is equally compelling is that by Thomas Edison: “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” And this is where psychologists commonly agree. It takes a lot of hard work to be a genius in one’s field. When looking at the accomplishments of people such an Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison, they spent hundreds and even thousands of hours honing in on their craft.
Because of this fact, the conclusion that has been made by most people is that genius is the result of hard work, and anyone who works really hard can reach the level of expertise as these people at the top of their fields. An interesting book attesting to this fact came out a few years ago called “Talent is Overrated – What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else,” by Geoff Colvin. This book examined in depth some of the greatest talent in human history, including people such as Mozart and Tiger Woods.
The conclusion was that the talent is developed over time, and that none of these individuals showed exceptional talent at an early age – Mozart’s early work was mostly plagiarized work of his father, for example. But I think a key element to this debate is missing. It is that there must be some internal quality that makes people WANT to study or practice one area in such depth. And that is where one’s genes play a role. I believe we all possess a genius gene. You need to find that gene or passion so you can develop it.
Once you determine what you truly love to learn and do, then spending the grueling hours perfecting your knowledge and skills will not be a chore. Instead, you’ll love to do it, and you’ll be successful at it as well. But you need to have opportunities in your environment to develop your passion into something useful and needed in the world. Thomas Edison may have been fascinated by electricity, but he spent many hours, and failures, creating a light bulb out of his work.
You need to find your passion, but you also have to spend the time and effort to make something out of that passion. Our educational system needs to have more opportunities for people to hone in and develop their passions. With specialized learning through Distance Learning courses, specialized independent work over the Internet, and work/practice with mentors in the field, people will increasingly be able to do this. Find out your passion, and then make a plan to develop that passion, and you will be successful, and happy as well at what you do.