If you ask a friend about what you should do with your life, the phrase “follow your passion” will probably come up at some point.
It’s the internet’s favourite piece of career advice, as evidenced by the 1,300 business books about “passion” on Amazon.
It’s also misguided.
Take it from “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” author Cal Newport.
In a recent post, Newport referenced Steve Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson, who recalled an exchange he had with Jobs shortly before he passed.
“Yeah, we’re always talking about following your passion,” Jobs reportedly said, “but we’re all part of the flow of history.”
You’ve got to put something back into the flow of history that’s going to help your community, help other people …
so that 20, 30, 40 years from now … people will say, this person didn’t just have a passion, he cared about making something that other people could benefit from.
Put more academically, Jobs is asking that people take a more high context approach to thinking about their careers.
In anthropology, a high-context culture is one characterised by being “relational, collectivist, intuitive, and contemplative. This means that people in these cultures emphasise interpersonal relationships.” China, Japan, and other East Asian countries are high context.
A low-context culture is characterised by being “logical, linear, individualistic, and action-oriented. People from low-context cultures value logic, facts, and directness.” North America and Western Europe are usually thought to be low context.
In a low-context society, people consider themselves to be individuals in relative isolation from one another, as evidenced by the boom in single-person homes in Europe (in Denmark, 45% of households are a single person.) In a high-context society, people think of themselves more as a part of a constellation of relationships (in China, not taking care of your parents is a criminal offence).
So Jobs, by way of Isaacson and Newport, was asking that we become slightly more collectivist: Instead of seeing our lives as separate from the course of society, seeing them as a part of it — and doing great work from there.
Funnily enough, this is a Western ideal — anciently so.
“Where the needs of the world and your talents cross,” Aristotle said some 2,5000 years ago, “there lies your vocation.”
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