I have a short video course on Udemy, dedicated to Making Online Learning Stick. When new students join the course, they usually receive a personal message from me where I welcome students to the course and asked them about their Online Learning Challenges. Paul shared that he is currently taking a lot of Real Estate and Investment Courses and finds them extremely boring. By boring he means that he is not passionate about those subjects. His question was how to stay focused on topics he is not passionate about?
I personally believe that preexisting passion is extremely rare and follow your passion is a terrible advice. Because of that advice a lot of college student feel pressured to do exhausting soul searching early on. The expectation is this: once I find the subject I am passionate about, I won’t have to apply effort to learn it, it will be easy and painless. When freshmen and sophomore students think they found their passion, they switch majors instead of focusing on getting really good at something they are currently learning.
Paul thinks that if only he had a different topic to learn about, his discipline and focus would magically amplify and learning will just happen.
Paul has a reason to think that. The conventional wisdom on career success is follow your passion, but it is seriously flawed. It not only fails to describe how most people actually end up with compelling careers, but for many people it can actually make things worse: leading to chronic job shifting and unrelenting angst.
“Follow your passion” might just be terrible advice.
If “follow your passion” is bad advice, what should I do instead?
Passion is an epiphenomenon of a working life well lived. Don’t follow your passion; rather, let it follow you in your quest to become so good that they can’t ignore you. If Paul applies himself and masters Real Estate and Finance Course just like his job requires him to, he will probably end up loving his job and becoming passionate about REIT (Real Estate Investment Trusts and other investment vehicles.)
My advice is to move your focus away from finding the right learning material, toward learning right, and eventually build a love for what you do.
A universal icon, Steve Jobs, in his commencement speech to Stanford University gave this terrible advice: follow your passion and don’t settle.
If a young Steve Jobs had taken his own advice and decided to only pursue the topics he loved, he would probably have been one of the Los Altos Zen Center’s most popular teachers. But he didn’t follow this simple advice. Apple Computer was decidedly not born out of passion, but instead was the result of a lucky break — a “small-time” scheme that unexpectedly took off.
Ira Glass: “In the movies there’s this idea that you should just go for your dream, but I don’t believe that. Things happen in stages. It takes time to get good at anything” — the many years it took him to master radio to the point where he had interesting options. “The key thing is to force yourself through the work, force the skills to come; that’s the hardest phase.”
There are many complex reasons for workplace satisfaction, but the reductive notion of matching your job to a pre-existing passion is not among them.
It’s interesting to see that the strongest predictor of someone seeing their work as a calling is the number of years spent on the job. The more experience they have, the more likely they are to love their work.
The happiest, most passionate employees are not those who followed their passion into a position, but instead those who have been around long enough to become good at what they do.
My first advice to Paul is to do what Steve Jobs did and not what he said. Aka, apply himself to the lessons without thinking about the level of passion he posses for the topics.
Second advice is to stop saying that you find something boring or that you are NOT passionate about something. The only person who is affected by this statement is you and the effect is NOT a positive one. When my reading clients come to me, I tell them to stop saying that they hate reading. It feels better to read, once they stop complaining about it. Instead, we begin to say that reading is HARD. Once we identified what the problem is, we can take a look at what’s hard about. Once we know what’s hard about reading we can focus on that issue to make reading easy and enjoyable.
I tend to see that a lot of online student find courses boring when courses are hard. Well, any meaningful learning will get hard and if you change a conversation from boring to hard, we can then see what’s hard about it and focus on making it less shard or even easy.
The third advice is to get interested and go deep.
We already know that Paul has to take a finance course on investments because his job requires him to. Let’s say the course isn’t self-paced and has a start day (most MOOC’s have a start date now.) I recommend signing up early and taking a look at the table of contents. Let’s say the table of contents says: passive index. I would Google the term passive index and also ask myself : “is there an active index?”
These questions are sending probes to my mind, priming my learning, getting me interested and excited about learning.
I also like to familiarize myself with the professor — make him/her real. Send them an email, introduce yourself. Read a wiki page. I use this tactic from books. Before I read a book, I read about the author. It helps to know the time when the writer lived/lives. What are his or her key friendship and influencers.
Advice number four. Paying attention to details might also help. Uncertainty is the worst enemy of our brain. If you are just a bit unsure on what’s required of you — you will procrastinate.
Get certain about these:
How long is the course?
What’s required of you? Quizes/Reading/Writing/Exams
When does the course start?
When will I be taking the course? Where will I be (coffee shop, home, office, gym, lobby, etc.0
Put it on your schedule to take away decision making and spend that extra cognitive power on actually learning.
Lastly, master curiosity again! We all are naturally curious about things we do not know. Unfortunately, as kids we are told to suppress the innate questioning of what something is, how something works, etc. To get better at learning something that we don’t naturally share a passion for, it is a good idea to play a curious kid with that topic and go berserk with questions on what something is, why not this way, etc. Over time, this could help you develop an active interest for that topic that you began as a disinterested learner.