Are Passions Discovered or Constructed?


Cal Newport, one of my favorite bloggers, wrote an interesting article following my post, “What if You Have More Than One Passion?”

In my article, I give my thoughts on people who are passionate about many things. My feeling is that, while focusing on one pursuit to get results is good, that doesn’t mean you can’t explore others in your spare time.

Cal shares a different view. He argues that to be passionate about something requires skill in a craft. So if you have no passions, it simply means you haven’t mastered a skill sufficiently that the world rewards and recognizes you for it.

Cal’s response to the titular question in my previous article is that people don’t generally have many passions, just superficial interests that haven’t been developed yet.

The Mastery-Centric View of Passion

For the most part, I agree with Cal. Passion is a by-product of mastery.

When I first started exercising, I found it to be a struggle. Now that I’m in decent physical shape, I find exercise to be more enjoyable.

Blogging definitely became more enjoyable once I started to actually receive comments on my posts.

I also agree that this view stresses, in Cal’s words, the painstaking construction of a passion, instead of just stumbling upon it. It’s the difference between a relationship that grows with time and the expectation of love at first sight.

Passions are Constructed, Interests Aren’t

The only objection I have to the mastery-centric viewpoint is that it assumes that mastery is always the missing ingredient. If you don’t enjoy something, the solution isn’t to become better at it. Often this is a worse strategy because it’s hard to become good at something you aren’t interested in.

My split would be to say that passions are built, but interests are discovered. I agree that the person waiting for life to provide them with a passion is a fool. However, I’d say the same of the person hoping they will fall in love with a pursuit that doesn’t interest them.

As I argued in this article, if you’re trying to find out what you want to do with your life, look for sparks. If your interested in a topic, consider mastering it. You don’t need to fall head-over-heels in love with a subject to make it your primary focus. Those feelings often come with time.

Once again, I feel the approach to finding a career/life path is like finding a relationship. Most people aren’t naive enough to believe that they are going to be instantly in love from the first meeting.

But at the same time, if you aren’t at least attracted to someone, there is little potential. The interest needs to be there before you can be passionate. Arranged marriages (both literally and in career choices) won’t work if there is no initial attraction.

For the Multi-Interested

As I said in the last article, enjoy your various interests. That doesn’t mean you can’t focus on mastering one, and make it your main pursuit.

For the Lost and Confused

Worrying about finding a passion has it backwards. Tap into your interests and work to master them. Mastery creates passion out of interests.

My exception to Cal’s argument shouldn’t be taken as an attack on his approach as a whole. I thought the original article was well written and definitely worth reading if you’re interested in these ideas.

With water and sun, an acorn can become an oak. But a pebble will always be a pebble.

  • Jon

    Hey thats a great article. I feel passion is doesnt require a skill in it, who would you compare your skills to? Passion is the stuff you find yourself losing track of time over.

  • Kyle Poole

    Very interesting post Scott. I had my eyes opened when I read Cal’s post, but I felt there were holes in it. You have certainly helped fill them with this contribution.

    Now, how do you feel about passion equaling mastery, but mastery not equaling passion? For instance, a factory line worker has their skill completely mastered. I can’t imagine there would be any passion in that though.

  • Gordie Rogers

    Very interesting. I like photography as a hobby. However, I haven’t mastered it yet. If I master it then the likelihood of me becoming passionate about it goes up, right?

  • Matthew Brown

    I totally agree, web design has always been my primary interest, and the better I got, the more my passion for it grew. However, once I started running a business, I found that I have a keen interest in business in general, and so while web design remains what I do and is what I am really passionate about, I develop my business on the side and am working on a number of other small business projects on the side just for the sake of trying different business ideas that are not possible to do in my web design business. It’s been great to experiment with in my spare time and has given me many ideas in web design that I don’t think I would have come across otherwise.

  • Scott Young


    Exactly. There can be mastery without passion, interest without mastery.

    My point isn’t that mastery is unimportant (I would even agree with Cal that it is the *most* important element), just that it isn’t complete.


  • Alina

    Interesting article.

  • Andrew

    “Arranged marriages (both literally and in career choices) won’t work if there is no initial attraction.”

    Many studies show that arranged marriages often start out less passionately, and are less satisfying than marriages that occur out of the Western conception of “love”. But, over time arranged marriages become more passionate, and more satisfying than typical Western marriages. They are also more successful in terms of divorce rates.

    I think we can become passionate about almost anything given the right circumstances (or in the same way, interested in almost anything). I actually think that actively pursuing something you are passionate about or interested in is a mistake, because you end up forcing passion through habit or cognitive dissonance. I’d rather just do, and if I become a master of something so be it. Isn’t it more about the path then the destination?

  • Scott Young


    I agree that arranged marriages can work.

    However, I think there are is a great deal of cultural attitudes, expectations for marital success and others that weigh into their success. So, I disagree that pursuing things strictly on a mastery basis (while ignoring inherent attraction) is the ideal.


  • Bec

    Hi Scott,

    I’m a new reader of your blog and am thoroughly enjoying the content of your posts, but I have something to ad…I agree that interests are usually more passionately pursued as a result of mastery, but the relationship between passion and mastery, and mastery and positive feedback is more tenuous when talking about “passions”. I think that sometimes our passions, once based on mastery, are less related to the actual subject and more related to the social capital it gives us to be well-versed in something. Just my opinion, but I think it’s worth evaluating why you really are pursuing something so much more once you receive positive recognition. After all, you want your passions to be yours and not just related to other peoples ideas of what is a valuable or useless pursuit.

    For example, a friend of mine studied French for many years, but once Spanish became a more fashionable language to learn, she felt as though she’d dedicated her efforts to the wrong language. Obviously, learning any language is a fabulous thing, but she was so concerned with how her skill was perceived by others that her passion (that WAS facilitated by her gradual mastery of the language) turned into regret for time wasted once it was no longer deemed fashionable.

    Just a thought.

  • Ash

    Hey, Scott – I’ve been following you lately, and I’m totally down with your thoughts. Kudos, man! You know, I think I a lot of people have a lot of varied interests, but a much less percentage have a lot of varied passions…or something they would identify as such. My thought process leads me to believe that perhaps people, in general, aren’t aware of the potential benefits that cultivating a true passion for something will bring, and therefore don’t even consider doing the necessary work required to raise an interest to the level of a passion. Additionally, it comes as no surprise that I would argue that a majority of Americans are so focused on putting all of their energy into making as much $ as possible–and finding success by taking that route–that they don’t actually care about developing passions, which I view as an absolute tragedy.

  • Gina

    Hi Scott! I am a new reader of your blog and I really love it so far! It has been so helpful to me. I actually came across your blog as I was doing a Google search on how to find your passion in life. I see that you have quite a few posts concerning passion and I just really wanted to thank you for helping people like me try to figure ours out too ^^. Your writing is so simple yet inspiring! Keep up the great work!