Stoke Your Passion and Elevate Your Career
Think back to the last thing you were passionate about. Not the thing (or things) you are passionate about right now. Rather something that you were wildly passionate about in the past. Now, think through the following questions:
- How much time did you commit to it?
- How many things did you skip for it?
- Was there anything that could dissuade you from talking about it and doing it?
The answers to these questions are indicative of your passion and commitment to it. Whether it was soccer, learning how to write computer code, or play a board game. You were committed. Nothing could deter you from your passion.
Now, think about your current passions. Do you give them the same amount of time, thought and effort?
If not, maybe these aren’t your true passions. Perhaps these are just passing fads. These are what I call mini-passions or temporary passions.
Question (semi-rhetorical) - Can we have temporary passions?
In my opinion the answer is an absolute yes.
There are times when we just need to learn something to get to the next level. These are mini-passions that may consume a lot of time for days or weeks, bur not likely years. These mini-passions may be able to be accomplished in 20 hours or less. More on that later. However, as these mini-passions consume your time they may blossom into something you really enjoy and want to do more. Along the way you will be learning and growing and perhaps even finding a true passion that you follow for your whole life.
However, if you aren’t willing to spend the hours, days and perhaps years to perfect the way you view and imbue yourself into something it may not be your passion and may not deserve your time. Only you can decide.
Passion Projects and Your Career
Question - How can a passion help you stand out in your career?
Having a passion is a good thing. It shows you care about something. It shows you can commit to something. And, finally, it shows you care enough about something to spend many, many hours learning and doing it. Having a Passion Project can help you relate to people on different levels and can help you share a common bond (and challenge) with others that may have a similar passion. Having a passion can help you stand out and excel in your personal and professional life.
Let’s talk about Time Commitments
When you are passionate about something, time seems to take a backseat to reality. Everything else may cease to exist while you pursue your passion. You will find that you can spend hours, days, weeks, months and even years chasing your passions. Generally these efforts take place in your younger years. However, the great thing about passions is that they can strike a nerve and consume you at any age. Humans are funny like that.
In theory you want to become an expert in your chosen passion. Whether that’s surfing, golfing, or playing Settlers of Catan there is a ramp up time. I know from personal experience with surfing that it can (and should) take a lifetime to become an expert. How much time you are willing to commit is related to the need to become an expert or just know how to utilize the skills.
The Question is: Do you need to become an Expert or just a Skilled Practitioner?
If you are truly passionate about something you will likely only settle for being an Expert. However, at work and for some passions you only need to become a Skilled Practitioner.
Related: How to Negotiate for What You Want
For example, if you are a woodworker and like to build cabinets you may want to become skilled in hanging doors or building drawer sliders. Unless you are doing this over and over again you will likely just need skills to do it right for a short period of time. What often happens is that we spend an inordinate amount of time learning a skill that we only need once or twice. The challenge is determining which are just transitory skills and which ones are the things we need to become an expert. As with many things these skills are stepping stones to become a well rounded expert. This is where the balancing act of 10,000 hours vs. 20 hours comes in. You can put in 500 “Skills Sessions” into becoming an expert. But, you will likely put in a lot more.
- 10,000 Hours to become an Expert - This thinking has been around for a while, but gained visibility recently when author Malcolm Gladwell brought it to the forefront. As you may have figured out 10,000 hours is 5 years of a typical full-time job (2000 hours per year = 50 weeks x 40 hours a week). Are you and your (potential) employer willing to put in 5 years to allow yourself to become an expert? In this 2 minute video he talks about his book “Outliers” and the need for creating opportunities for people to invest the time to become experts. He brings up a pretty radical idea. He suggests that companies INVEST in people so that they can take the time to become experts. This is a multi-year investment that most companies (and a lot of individuals) are not willing to make. Even if the company is not willing to make the investment. You should be willing to put in the time... if you are truly passionate about it.
- 20 hours to Learn a Skill - If you need to be proficient at a specific task for a project you may only need to put in 20 hours. That’s just 40 minutes a day for a month. For example, if you want to learn something like Pivot Tables in Microsoft Excel, how to use SalesForce.com, or the basics of a computer programming language you may be able to put in 20 hours to become a Skilled Practitioner and that’s it. You won’t be an expert. Yet you will likely be quite proficient at the chosen skill. There is an excellent TED talk by Josh Kaufman on this topic here. He talks about the steep ramp to get started, but that the core skills can often be mastered in 20 hours. There is an advantage to the 20 hour Skill Building sessions. Because the time commitment is relatively low you can try a lot of things. You can let your curiosity run wild while you explore things that interest you.
Tools and Mastery
Both of these ways of learning require the same thing... Mastery of the Tools. Mastery in the sense that you need to know how to use the tools in order to become proficient and master a task or topic. Of course, some efforts are more simple than others. It’s a lot easier to learn how to describe supply-and-demand than it is to become the go-to expert on macro economics. If your passion is just to be able to hit the high level points and not to do a deep dive into something you may be able to leverage the 20 hours model. However, if you perceive the need to have a deep level of expertise in a topic you will need to move down the path to commit the 10,000 hours. Only you can decide which model is right for you.
Tip for Work Mastery: Master the Tools of your Trade
If your workplace uses Microsoft SharePoint, SalesForce.com, and likely a combination of many different tools and systems. Take the time to learn them, master them and become extremely proficient at them. You career prospects will improve when you know the tools of your trade.
Stoking Your Passion
Everyone only has 24 hours in a given day. Using your 86,400 seconds a day wisely is the challenge each of us must face every day. By choosing your passions wisely you can elevate your career, enhance your authenticity and build your personal and professional brand.
The challenge is to decide which efforts are worthwhile and worth sticking with in the long run. This is especially true in this fast paced economy and world we live in today. Your challenge is to decide for each passion whether you need to be an Expert or it’s Just a Skill you need to learn. Whether it’s worth 20 hours or 10,000 hours.
Related: 5 Ways to Get More Respect at Work
Jeff is an expert in the Enterprise Content Management industry. He brings over 20 years of Channel Sales, Partner Marketing and Alliance expertise to audiences around the world in speaking engagements and via his writing. He has worked for Microsoft, Kodak, K2 and Gimmal. Follow him on Twitter @jshuey or on LinkedIn: in/JeffShuey.