Whether you’re a recent grad or not, it’s always interesting to watch commencement speeches, but it’s unfortunately rare that you hear insightful advice that truly hits a nerve or makes you completely rethink your career plans—which is frankly what happened to me after watching Ben Horowitz’s 2015 commencement address at Columbia University.
He said something that basically opened my eyes:
The third issue with following your passion is you’re not necessarily good at your passion. Has anyone ever watched American Idol?
Ah, shit. YES, WE KNOW EXACTLY WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT. Those people who claim their lives revolve around singing, but man, they somehow suck so much. He goes on:
Like, just because you love singing doesn’t mean you should be a professional singer.
His other points on why you shouldn’t follow your passion also resonated so strongly. (Seriously, go watch it.) But I can’t stop thinking about that third issue. Following your passion actually may be dangerous, because you may end up spending too much time following a passion that doesn’t result in meaningful or successful results or contributions.
His insight made me think about my own desire to be a tech writer. Is it really the right path? Using the same logic, just because I like using an iPhone doesn’t mean I should pursue a professional career reporting on Apple and its competitors. Despite having been so adamant on this plan of mine, there has always been that nagging feeling that I don’t and may never have enough expertise to become a great tech reporter.
Instead, the stuff I’ve been doing—blogging about my adventures around the world—has definitely created more impact than any of my tech reporting so far. Maybe I should consider pursuing this other passion of travel writing. Ben mentioned this, too—that it’s hard to determine which passion to go with. It is easier to think about what contributions I can make and what I can do really well.
At the same time, advice itself can be dangerous. Sometimes, the best advice is to ignore advice.
So at best, Ben has made me see that there is another path.
At worst, I’m still fucked. #life