Mark Cuban is a brilliant entrepreneur. No one makes billions of dollars without exhibiting business savvy, determination and tenacity, but on one subject, Cuban has got it all wrong.
He says that one of the biggest lies about career advice that people are told is to focus on your passions. Instead, he suggests, focus on where you spend the bulk of your time, because that’s where you are likely to find what you’re good at. Spending enough time at that activity, Cuban contends, will lead to success. To that I say, maybe, but will it lead to joy?
How many people do you know who spend a lot of time at an activity that they’ve become quite proficient at performing who really don’t derive pleasure from that activity? You probably have a long list of your own examples to point to. I’m great at organizing closets and discarding clutter, but it’s the last thing I’d want to make a career of doing.
Cuban is mistaken on two fronts: He conflates skill proficiency and passion, and he erroneously compares passions to hobbies. They couldn’t be more distinct.
Following your passions and building your career around them has a very specific look and feel. It’s the product of consistent inner work and outward effort that leads to a deep sense of connection to your daily activities. The qualities you demonstrate during that experience are unmistakable. Here’s how to know if you are following your passions:
When you work in the zone of your passions, you often find yourself intensely focused on what you’re doing, to the point where time slips away. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi would call that place “flow,” where you can access the most positive aspects of human experience and derive joy from your work. While in flow, your ability to tune out unpleasant aspects of life increases, permitting you to deeply connect with the task or process with which you’re currently engaged.
Despite setbacks and naysayers, you demonstrate relentless pursuit of your passions. The joy that you experience during moments when that pursuit pays off or provides you with the resilience you need to weather stumbling blocks or obstacles -- challenges that would normally derail you if your efforts were focused on anything other than a passion.
It’s natural to experience periods of disappointment when your plans to build a passion-linked career seem to be stalled, or the journey to express your passions is progressing more slowly than you anticipated. That’s when listening to your body, not just your brain, matters.
During such times, if you ask yourself the question: “Can I imagine doing anything other than offering this work to the world?” If it feels like every cell in your body is shouting “No!” or you feel a knot in your stomach at the thought of giving up on your plans, pay attention. This inner voice is passion acting as your guide.
Expression of self
The people I know with passion-linked careers demonstrate one common trait: They all view their work as an expression of their best self. It’s not that these accomplished people have tied their identity to their work in an unhealthy way -- quite the contrary. These individuals are highly self-actualized. They know who they are at their core, are deeply reflective, and actively using work as a platform for making a larger contribution to the world.
If you feel this way, a job is not an activity that you spend time performing for 8 hours a day -- it’s a lifestyle. And because you’re expressing who you are through your work, that lifestyle is transportable, from one company, culture or country to another. There is real comfort in that kind of freedom.
Above all, people in passion-linked careers derive a profound sense of meaning through their work. So, if you operate beyond egoism and tend to pursue goals that will deliver more substantial and far-reaching outcomes, you’re working from a place of passion. Beyond a hobby at which you excel, or a skill at which you’ve become particularly proficient, you are emanating passion that’s birthed from a deeper purpose within you. It’s what allows you to be a true difference-maker. And, what could be more fulfilling than that?
Alaina Love is chief operating officer and president of Purpose Linked Consulting and co-author of “The Purpose Linked Organization: How Passionate Leaders Inspire Winning Teams and Great Results” (McGraw-Hill). She is a recovering HR executive, a global speaker and leadership expert, and passionate about everything having to do with, well … passion. Her passion archetypes are Builder, Transformer and Healer. You can learn more about how to grow leaders, build passionate teams and leverage passion to create great customer outcomes here.
When she’s not working with her Fortune 500 client base, Love is busy writing her next book, “Passionality, The Art and Science of Finding Your Passion and Living Your Bliss,” which explores the alignment of personality, purpose and passion, and the science of how it contributes to our well being. Follow Love on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or her blog.