Things I hear too often from other people, usually verbatim;

  • “That’s cool, but I could never do that…”
  • “I should, but I’m not that kind of person…”
  • “I’d love to, but…”
  • “I get it, but that’s really hard for me because…”
  • “I wish I could, but I don’t have enough confidence…”

… if you say so.

To be more straightforward; the identity statements you make to other people have a strong influence on who you try to become. Saying variations of “I am incapable of X,” or “I don’t have the confidence to do Y,” to other people puts you in a situation where you will probably live up to your words.

It’s no coincidence that many highly successful people come across as unwaveringly confident. Some extreme examples to consider (not role models by any standard); Donald Trump’s conviction that he’ll score the Latino vote, and pretty much anything Kanye West says or does.

Most of us, to some extent, are the main characters in our own movie. If you’re not living the life you’d like to live, try writing yourself a better script. Even if you don’t think you have the skills or confidence to do something you know you should probably do, at least cast yourself as the type of person that tries it anyway.

I recently spoke at TEDx Jamesville (Hamilton, ON) about advice young people receive when they are wondering about their future. Too often, we give and receive one-size-fits-all advice, and the majority of my talk focused on finding the nuggets of wisdom in otherwise meaningless phrases like ‘follow your passion’.

Have you ever been told to “follow your passion” before? Perhaps you were deciding on a subject to study in post-secondary, or choosing a new hobby, or talking to pretty much any adult about your future.

On the surface, this advice seems helpful; you’d never want to spend the rest of your life doing something you hate. But have you ever thought about what this advice actually means? For example…

What defines a ‘passion’? How do you know if you’re passionate about something? What if you have more than one passion? What if you don’t have a passion yet? What if your passions change over time? How do you actually follow your passion?

Here are a few things that you should know about following your passion.

Passion has Purpose

Passion for an activity is a lot like love for another human being. Vegas notwithstanding, you don’t decide to marry someone ‘just because’; you have reasons that you can articulate to them (and hopefully your/their parents).

People who are truly passionate about something are able to explain what the field/hobby/activity means to them, and how they benefit from partaking in this passion. It might be a deeper personal conviction, or a desire to change something about the world, but without one, your passion is just an interest.

Passion is Contagious

Do you find yourself talking to everyone about your passion? Do people know you as the ‘_________ person’? If so, that’s a good sign. But what then?

Find the others. They will keep you on track, and help you become better at your chosen craft. Peer groups may already exist in your city, or reside on internet forums, where you can all teach and learn together.

Passion is Incremental

It’s often said that ‘love’ is a verb, not a noun, the implication being that it needs to be practiced every day. I would suggest that the same is true for passion. True passion expresses itself in the consumption of relevant books, articles, lectures, podcasts, and interviews. It also manifests as consistent practice (perhaps even 10,000 hours of practice as Malcom Gladwell suggests).

Passion is Relentless

Are you someone who is ‘passionate’ about something, but gets solid value from your Netflix subscription instead of practicing or otherwise improving yourself? If so, your passion is probably just an interest.

If you are one of these people, and are wondering what to do with all the free time you’ll have once you unsubscribe from Netflix, here are some ideas of how to be passionate.

  • Read a book.
  • Practice.
  • Watch a documentary.
  • Listen to a podcast.
  • Start a blog and write one post a week.
  • Find a group of like-minded people who will challenge you to be better.
  • Become a teacher or mentor to someone else.
  • Find a mentor or teacher.
  • Write an article and submit it to a magazine.
  • Practice.
  • Enter a contest.
  • Exhibit at a convention.
  • Become a contributor to an online forum.
  • Subscribe to a magazine.
  • Figure out how to make money from your passion (it doesn’t have to be a full-time job!).
  • Give a TEDx Talk or public lecture.
  • Make sacrifices for your passion. Skip parties and unsubscribe from Netflix.
  • Practice.
  • Attend a lecture, concert, or masterclass from a subject expert.
  • Travel to a city known for its excellence in your field.
  • Take a class or course online.

See also: Seth Godin’s Blog, and ‘The Happiness of Pursuit‘ by Chris Guillebeau.

“The Loudness Wars” refers to a phenomenon in the music industries where CD’s have had their overall volumes progressively adjusted upwards. The conventional industry wisdom is that a ‘louder’ record will be better received by the listener, particularly in a listening environment that is dominated by radio and smaller, low-quality speakers, such as those found in cars or earbuds.

The problem with this is the fact that in order to adjust the overall volume of a track upwards, the peaks and valleys in the sound signal have to be essentially flattened to prevent massive spikes in volume. This destroys any nuances within the music for the sake of ‘loudness’.

For example, look at this before/after of a music clip after being remastered for different releases.

Photo Source: subbassdj.com/
Photo Source: subbassdj.com/

This isn’t necessarily the artist’s fault. A recording’s ‘loudness’ is determined after the fact, by the staff who master and fine-tune the track, often under the direction of record label executives.

Some artists have refused to follow this trend. The now-independent artist Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), recently released “Hesitation Marks” in both a ‘loud’ and ‘audiophile’ version. One is intended for the mass market, while the other is reserved for the small (but growing) community of people who appreciates good sound.

High-quality work doesn’t always have to be inaccessible to the masses, but it does mean you should take ownership of everything that your name is attached to.

Good people are hard to find these days, no matter what industry you’re in.

From marketing and sales to web design, music production, and even middle management, there seems to be an overabundance of bodies and a severe lack of talent entering the workforce.

The Bad News

A 2013 study of new graduates found that only 50% of young alumni felt prepared to hold down a job in their field of study. What’s worse, the same study found that only 39% of hiring managers believed that new graduates were prepared for those same jobs.

This epidemic of incompetence can – and likely will – devastate industries, as these underwhelming new hires make their way into leadership positions they are unable to hold.

The Good News

Young people with genuine, capital-P Potential may as well have a neon sign above their heads. Although the job market is flooded, employers and teachers can spot Potential from a mile away.

Note that I didn’t say talent, which is a fixed attribute that is a function of genetics and predispositions. Potential means room for growth and improvement, combined with the capacity and the drive to make changes and adjustments in order to become better.

Although I don’t claim to be an HR expert, here are some ideas of how Potential (with a capital ‘P’) manifests itself in young people.

Room for Growth & Improvement

People with Potential have an awareness that they are imperfect and have a lot to learn, which leads them to listen as much as possible and ask informed questions. The analogy of a human sponge comes to mind. They also proactively seek out mentors and experts in their fields of interest, and leverage those relationships for advice and connections.

People with Potential are naturally curious. They have a tendency to get to the root of issues and do their own research, not taking anything for granted. In some people, this might manifest itself in a very deep knowledge of one or two subjects, while others might know a lot about many different fields.

Capacity & Drive for Change

People with Potential are not afraid to test their ideas against reality, even (especially) if it means they might fail. Depending on the industry, this could mean developing a prototype of a product, proposing an A/B Split Test for a marketing campaign, debating a idea with a colleague, or volunteering for a special team/project*.

People with Potential take feedback without resentment – especially negative feedback. Furthermore, they are willing to act on that feedback, as they realize (on some conscious or unconscious level) that feedback is a reflection of their actions and not of their core being.

Pride

Finally, people with Potential take pride in their work. They have their own Mission, Vision, and Values, which provide them with a clear direction. Although a career/life path is rarely straightforward, and their Mission/Vision/Values change over time, they are in motion and going places.

*Addendum: Coincidentally, many entrepreneurs end up working for themselves because their personal capacity for change is far greater than the organizational flexibility of any company that they could work for. I believe this is also why most entrepreneurs make terrible employees, as they lack the patience to wait for change to eventually happen. This isn’t good or bad; it’s just the way things are.

Easy, worthwhile, fulfilling: choose two, but be careful.

  • Doing easy and worthwhile work is rarely fulfilling.
  • Doing easy and fulfilling work is rarely worthwhile, although it is fun.
  • On the other hand, worthwhile and fulfilling work is rarely easy.