Recently, I came across a book called So Good They Can’t Ignore You – Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love.  In it, Cal Newport, Ph.D from Georgetown University, claims that following one’s passion might very well be terrible advice.

Instead, he feels that we need to leverage our skills, which will then lead to ultimate job satisfaction.  Starting with passion, he states, is a dangerous path.  What if we are passionate about something that leads to a dead-end career when we were meant for something much greater?

Steve Jobs Believed That Passion Is The Key To Satisfaction

Steve Jobs believed Apple was a company built by passion.

On the other hand, late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs incessantly felt that we needed to pursue our passions first and never settle.

In his famous 2005 commencement address at Stanford University, he stated, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better as the years roll on.”

Finding Balance Within Talent Communities

Who is right? I believe both are correct. Passion is having an inherent and all-consuming interest in something.  Skill is something that you either have a natural knack for or something you can learn/acquire after practice/training.  Can’t the two be intertwined?  I believe that the evidence can be found in the world of talent communities.  One clear example is GitHub.

Many developers have projects they are passionate about outside of the "day job".

The developers on GitHub share not only passion for software development but also have some mad programming skills.  That passion may have led to acquiring great skills that can be leveraged into doing amazing things.  CNet posted an article about GitHub’s rise above traditional recruiting tools.

In the article, Will Young of Zappos Labs stated that “we love when developers see a need and just go ahead and code a solution to share with the community. We are looking for some amazing problem solvers on our team. This is hard to get from an interview or resume.”

What Does This Mean For Recruiters?

When recruiting, we have to look for people who take their passions and skills and leverage them above and beyond the standard 8-5.  My husband, for example, is a language technologies engineer.  He spends hours working on source code during his day-to-day; yet, in his spare time, he’s tinkering with electronic seismographs written in C++ and Java!

You need these kinds of people on your team.  You just have to really love what you do.  Whether it’s because you have solid skills that have been leveraged or if it was passion for some idea that led to career bliss, in the end, passion and skills can live together in perfect harmony.


Jenny Hayes Rhoten has been a leader in the technology and staffing industries for more than 10 years. She has a BA in Psychology from the University of Oklahoma and will be graduating with her MS in Organization Development from the University of San Francisco in 2013.

Views: 667

Comment by Danny Powell on April 10, 2013 at 5:50pm

Passion, Passion and more passion.  As I told myt kids when they were growing up " I don't care which career path you choose as long as you are commited and passionate about it" 

Comment by Jason Webster on April 10, 2013 at 5:52pm

Thanks Danny......I'm on the same page with you, and tell my kids the same exact thing:)

Comment by Sarah Calverley on April 10, 2013 at 7:26pm

I look at it this way: Anyone can be taught or learn a skill provided they wish to learn it.  If you don't love what you do it's hard to excel in it.

Comment by Jason Webster on April 10, 2013 at 11:16pm

Thanks for the comment Sarah. I believe certain people can master certain skills more quickly than others. However, passion is the key ingredient. You cannot teach passion. I agree that you have to love something to do well!

Comment by Vinay Johar - RChilli on April 11, 2013 at 1:59am


I agree with you.  Passion with network where he /she can hire skill will bring success. but yes you cannot ignore skill too .

Skill works as catalyst to success.  

With passion person learn with failure.  And Skill helps him/her to do risk management and less prone to failures. 

but without passion,  only skill cannot do anything. he/she may be a good follower and rely on some success of some one who is passionate. 



Comment by Amy McDonald on April 11, 2013 at 1:21pm

I completely agree with your opinion about seeking talent that leverage their skills beyond the 8 to 5, That is usually a  great indicator of passion and something you can sell. I think skills are important, but without the passion to go with it, you won't find an exceptional candidate. Anyone can provide their client with a candidate, but don't you want to have the exceptional?  Great post, Jenny!

Comment by Vinay Johar - RChilli on April 11, 2013 at 1:31pm

Thanks Amy 

Comment by Lisa J. Green on April 11, 2013 at 7:35pm

Thanks for sharing this Jason!  I agree with Amy and couldn't have said it better than she did!

I'll never forget this day - I was 20 years old and in my first 1-1 meeting with my new director. She looked at me and said "you know, of all the candidates we interviewed, you scored the lowest on most of the tests we administered". I can only imagine the look of horror on my face at that moment, and I asked her, "why did you hire me if I was the worst", and she said "not the worst...though your scores were lower than the others, you have something none of the others really had...passion, you have an incredible amount of passion".

Skills can be learned, but I don't believe passion can be ... I'll take the passion any day! :)

Comment by Jeff Dahlberg on April 14, 2013 at 7:41am

I think passions is more of a degree of love which can enhance the desire to learn or become more skilled, and skill is something learned which can increase our abilities and confidence to become more passionate. In that assessment I think one is equally as important as the other.



Comment by Vinay Johar - RChilli on April 15, 2013 at 4:39am

Agree to this, 

Did you thought of working with Passion but not focused person.  Some time too much of passion to do lot of things kills that individual. Do you agree with me ? 


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