Ben Horowitz, cofounder and partner of famed venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, delivered the commencement address at his alma mater Columbia University last month and offered up some pretty unconventional career advice. The gist: don’t follow your passion.
If you poll a thousand people who are successful, they’ll all say that they love what they do. And so the broad conclusion of the world is that if you do what you love, then you’ll be successful. That might be true. But it also might be the case that if you’re successful, you love what you do. So which one is it?
Horowitz broke down a few reasons why blindly following your passion in hopes of finding success and fulfillment can be inadvisable:
Passions are hard to prioritize. Are you more passionate about math, or engineering? Are you more passionate about history, or literature? Are you more passionate about video games, or K-Pop? On the other hand, what are you good at? That’s a much easier thing to figure out.
Passions change. What you’re passionate about at 21 is not necessarily what you’re going to be passionate about at 40.
You’re not necessarily good at your passion. Has anybody ever watched American Idol? Just because you love singing doesn’t mean you should be a professional singer.
Following your passion is a very me-centered view of the world. What you take out of the world over time, be it money, cars, stuff, accolades, is much less important than what you put into the world.
And so my recommendation would be, follow your contribution; find the thing that you’re great at. Put that into the world. Contribute to others. Help the world be better. That is the thing to follow.
His advice is a variation on the classic Venn diagram for business success, which aims to identify what business idea satisfies the following three requirements: what you’re good at, what you love, and what there’s market demand for. Passion is just one third of that equation. Honing in on what you feel fired up about is important in internally searching for a career path that will sustain you financially and intellectually, yes; but it shouldn’t override factors like what you’re the most talented at and what there’s a need for in the world.
You know that saying “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life”? Here’s the thing: what makes you love what you do isn’t just a deep-seated passion for the work. It’s also a certainty that what you’re doing is making an impact and is a positive contribution to the planet.