The Atlantic recently published a bubble-bursting article that cautions young people against the “find your passion” advice they get from parents, from educators, from valedictorians, from commencement speakers, from motivational speakers, and from countless others.

This caution brought to mind an interview I heard, years ago, with Cloris Leachman. Leachman, in addition to being a talented comedic actress, is apparently a great piano player (and has some other extraordinary skill/talent, which I cannot recall now). When asked about her multi-talent career, she replied (as I recall) “I only did stuff I found easy.”

There’s some real depth to that remark. Yes, there are grinders in every pursuit – people who don’t have the natural talent, but who manage to rise above through sheer force of will. But, generally speaking, they’re the exception, and “find your passion,” as in something you love, as the article suggests, isn’t the same as figuring out what comes easy, i.e. is a natural talent.

I’ve been to athletic events and gymnastics’ shows where my nieces and my friends’ kids have played/performed, and there’s always the kid who does stuff as if he or she is born to it. That’s not necessarily a “passion.” For all I know, those kids would love to be comic book artists. But, if they have no artistic talent, and instead are natural athletes – what’ll come easier, and what’ll be more likely to yield success?

“If something becomes difficult, it’s easy to assume that it simply must not have been your passion, after all.”

Or, maybe it’s not for you. Find the easy stuff, the stuff that comes naturally, focus on that, and excellence is that much more easily attainable. And, you will probably find that the easy stuff applies to a lot more endeavors than you might think.

I’ve had three career changes in my life. This, apparently, is the average number. I figured out, by middle school or junior high, that I wanted to be an engineer. I became an engineer, by many accounts a pretty good one, and worked in the defense industry for a decade. Through circumstances too esoteric to bother relating, I then made a sudden shift into the restaurant business. Twenty years of success support the idea that I was pretty good at that, too. Another set of circumstances, more picayune than you need be bothered with, transitioned me into the world of commercial real estate. Again, objectively, I’ve demonstrated competence therein.

And, now, I sit here, having published over 750,000 words on this blog, discussing politics on a frequent basis. Had you asked me, in high school, in college, or even in my 20s when I was working on nuclear rockets, whether I’d ever imagine this career path, you’d have witnessed me laughing my ass off. But, it remains that I did all these things, I found none of them particularly difficult, and I found that I enjoyed them. I applied the things I was good at, including math and science ability, an intuitive feel for numbers, talent at visualizing movement, et al, to all these professions wherever and however they fit. Were any of these a “passion?” Engineering was, but even including the gee-whiz aspects of what I did, at the end of the day it was a job and a career more than a “passion.” My path therein was shaped partly by circumstances, and partly by diving into the things I found easy, and doing them well. Turns out, there is more than one thing that I’ve found “easy,” and that will absolutely be true for each and every one of you.

Are there things I’ve found difficult and frustrating? Certainly. I can’t say I’ve been overwhelmed by a passion to get really good at something I’ve had no knack for, and so I can’t relate personal experience to the grinders out there, but it is fair to ask how much of that passion is inherent, vs “seeded” and encouraged (or forced) by someone else.

This isn’t a suggestion at slackery – even the most talented individuals put in vast amounts of time and effort, and even among the most naturally gifted, where you witness success, you will almost invariably find a powerful work ethic. The matter is in what do you put your time and effort – that which you’ve got a natural talent for, or that which you may consider a “passion” but have no innate ability in?

Yes, grinders can excel, and can reach the pinnacle of their passions. If a passion is that deep and that true, one may almost feel compelled to pursue it. But, if one was to play the odds in offering blanket advice, more will achieve greater success by excelling at what’s easy, rather than grinding at a passion.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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