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David Brooks, Cal Newport and moving beyond “passion”

June 4, 2011

David Brooks’s latest column, It’s Not About You, has been making the rounds and does a great job of dispelling much of the self-indulgent exhortations that are commonplace in commencement addresses:

Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself. This is the litany of expressive individualism, which is still the dominant note in American culture.

Brooks’s takes this advice head on with the simple observation:

Most people don’t form a self and then lead a life. They are called by a problem, and the self is constructed gradually by their calling.

Cal Newport takes this even further in his own reaction to Brooks’s column. Newport has been writing for some time against the “Passion Trap”, and instead argues that you should instead develop a deep interest. A deep interest isn’t something you discover while wandering the “cool ideas” section of the library, it’s something you create through hard, sometimes menial, sometimes boring, sometimes drudgerous work, but ultimately, this focus leads to excellence, accomplishment and what you might rightly call “passion.” It’s just not something you can tell a 14 year-old to go out and find.

If you want to learn more about this idea, just yesterday, Cal gave a wonderful interview with Steve Hargadon as part of the Future of Education Series. It is definitely worth a listen.

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