The Clarity of the Craftsman
This week’s reading by Cal Newport has provoked some interesting discussion and debate as it presents a counterargument to what many of us are used to hearing in regards to working life, and that is to follow your passion.
Newport’s article had already riled up some of my classmates before I had the chance to read it myself, so I approached it with a big dollop of scepticism. I was surprised however to not find myself ticked off by Newport’s ideas as my peers were, but rather agreeing with the basic sentiment of what he was trying to say. And I think that is, hard work is what will give purpose and happiness to your career, not this abstraction of passion.
Whilst many of us like to subscribe to this ideology that a deep-rooted passion for something is what drives us, I don’t feel that that can be sustained without the satisfaction of actually being good at something. For example, you can feel passionate about films — you love watching them, appreciate the work of great directors and cinematographers — but that doesn’t mean you should be a filmmaker. If you tried to pursue this on a whim without having practiced it, you would unlikely be fulfilled by it. The quality of your work would not match that of your idols and you’d feel unsatisfied. Only through a lot hard work and practice would you be able to fulfilled in this pursuit.
It then circles back to this idea, a chicken or the egg argument (which Newport completely shuts down at the end of the chapter) of whether passion incites hard work or hard work incites passion — it’s the latter in case you’re wondering. This was the one point of the article where I felt a little uneasy by Newport’s matter-of-factness. I don’t disagree with him per se, but it’s hard for me to buy the notion that we could all be fulfilled doing any job as long as we worked really hard at it. Maybe this could be true of times since past, but I feel that we are all so exposed nowadays, through media and technology to the many possibilities of what other people are doing around the world and what success they have achieved. And perhaps this then ties into Newports “the cloud of external distractions” coined by Tice. The insecurities we feel about not being good enough and the “grass is always greener” kind of thing, and perhaps shutting these off and focusing on our own work would bring about fulfilment, but easier said than done, right?
Generally speaking, I really like Newport’s way of thinking. It seems to suggest that there are no lucky breaks, no embedded talent or passion when it comes to a successful career, nothing but hard work. And this is a comforting idea, we are all on a level playing field in some ways — the only way to get ahead, to feel satisfied in what you do, is to work damn hard at it. Whenever I feel not good enough or unsure of why I’m doing something, it’s good to remember this.