Finding passion or forging mastery?

How to find your vocation? That’s a difficult question, and one that I’ve been thinking about almost non-stop for the past few years. I’ve been reading books, listening to podcasts, watching YouTube videos and talking with mentors on how to find your true passion in life. Today I want to discuss two general approaches to finding your vocation that I’ve come across so far.

The first general approach to finding one’s vocation and creating a meaningful career is what I call the passion-driven approach. According to this approach, you should first find your passion in life and then put all your effort to working on it. The basic assumption is that everyone has a passion that can be discovered and that you should make it your priority to find your passion. You can find clues about your passion in different ways. One technique that Robert Greene mentions in his book ‘Mastery’ is to go back to your childhood and reflect on what really made you excited. Whether it’s playing with Legos, drawing, or going on adventures, these early childhood memories serve as important signposts to finding what truly inspires you in life. Another method is to try out various things early in your career and see which activities, skills, and settings feel right and gets you excited, and then pursuing jobs that allow you move towards those things. Yet another method is to work on one job for an extended period, reflect on what aspects of the job you enjoy, and then try to find a new position that allows you to go deeper into those aspects.

The passion-driven feels very compelling. It resonates with a very common tendency of people to think that, “if I can just get this thing or that thing, or if I can just find x and I’ll be happy.” It also seems a very common advice to “follow your passion!” Although I think the passion-driven approach can work well for many people, there is also a great risk of falling into thinking that you need to find your passion in order to be happy in your career. Another big risk involved with the passion-driven approach is that you become too impatient, and are never able to stick to a job for extended periods. If you’re constantly assessing whether a job is making you excited or not, you might not be able to develop the patience to overcome the first months and years of learning the necessary skills that allow you to perform well in your job. As a result, you might end up switching between jobs before you truly find out if you like it or not.

However, there is another way to finding your vocation, which I call the competency-driven approach. While the passion-driven approach is founded on the assumption that passion is something intrinsic to us, and that all that we need to do is to reveal it, the competency-driven approach says that passion is forged like iron is forged at a foundry. Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work and So Good They Can’t Ignore You, argues that early in your career, you should focus on building valuable and rare skills that allow you to create value to others. As you develop these skills and increase your career capital, two things happen. Firstly, when you learn new skills and slowly approach mastery, you will derive more pleasure from learning and practicing your craft, which in turn makes you more eager to learn more. Becoming better also increases your ability to give to others, which again makes you feel good about yourself and more eager to learn. This creates a virtuous cycle of learning and giving that makes work meaningful. Secondly, with increasing career capital, more doors become open to you and you get more opportunities to steer your career to a direction that inspires you. As you become better at what you do, you will eventually find enjoyment, purpose, and dedication by focusing on mastery.

I think both approaches have merit, and using a combination of both the passion-driven approach and the competency-driven approach is probably most effective. Although the passion-driven approach emphasizes more on reflecting on what makes you excited and happy, self-reflection is also an unavoidable part of the competency-driven process as you should aim to develop those skill areas that you find enjoyable and more natural to you. However, I’ve personally found the competency-driven approach more appealing. The “follow your passion” advice is so prevalent today that I find it refreshing to think that passion can be created as opposed to seeking it like a treasure. Focusing on developing skills also appears more concrete and easier to grasp than doing seemingly endless reflection on myself.

What do you think? Please leave a comment on what approach have you used in creating a meaningful career.


What I learned from publishing an e-book

Last spring I published an e-book: Business Models for a Circular Economy: 7 Companies Paving the Way, which you can download for free here:

I learned a lot from publishing the book, and I wanted to share my thoughts. So let’s jump right in.

Start small…

To be honest, I didn’t plan on publishing an e-book. In fact, all I wanted to do was to write one blog post about a company I heard of while working as an intern at Demos Effect.

However, after publishing the first blog post, things soon started escalating in my head. This is how my internal dialogue throughout the project, condensed into one conversation, looked like:

Me: “hmm, brain, did you see that – that’s a really interesting company! Why don’t we write something about it in my blog?”

My brain: “I’m on it, but have you heard of that other company with a very similar business idea? Now that we’re soon done with the first blog, why not write a second or a third?”

Me: “Well, I don’t know about that, I have a lot of stuff on my plate already, maybe we should..?”

My brain: “… write a whole SERIES of blogs about companies with similar plans?! We’ll call it Innovative Companies with Sustainable Business Models! We’ll distribute it through LinkedIn and prospective employers will soon be knocking on your door!

Me: “NOW WAIT A MINUTE. I don’t have time to write all this – I already have a ton of other stuff going on, including a full-time job, you need to calm down…”

My brain: “you know what, while we’re at it, we might as well wrap the blog posts in a nice e-book, write an intro article about circular economy and publish it on your website! This is so exciting!!”

Me: “What! No, wait, you’re getting out of control…”

My brain: “And we’ll get guest writers, a graphical designer to do the layout, and get Sitra to fund the project”

Me: “why are you doing this to me…?”

My brain: “don’t worry, we’ll write the blogs in a way that you can repurpose them easily, it’ll be fun!”

So that conversation happened during the first 1-3 blog posts that I published on my site around 1,5 years ago. Each blog post and interview built up my appetite, and eventually I was ready for a larger vision than I started out with. However, I would have been overwhelmed had I known all the work I would end up doing to get the book published from the beginning . In smaller chunks, it was easier to trick myself to doing the work.

So start small, celebrate little wins, and build up confidence in your work first to avoid becoming overwhelmed.

…but think BIG

I like contradicting myself whenever possible, so the next piece of advice is to think BIG when you’re planning a new project, whether it’s book publishing or anything else. My publishing process was messy and many of the ideas I came up would have been much easier to implement had I planned them ahead of time. For example, had I planned on bringing in other authors, I could have contacted prospective collaborators much earlier to ensure that I have enough time for editorial work and for potentially finding even more collaborators.

Thinking big allows you to see what’s possible, search for opportunities in your environment, and look for potential allies and collaborators for your project. If you’re fixated on getting the next blog post out the pipeline, you can miss opportunities that might allow you to align different people’s motives and interest under one project. For example, I already knew that Sitra and Aalto University were involved with circular economy projects, but because I didn’t think of writing a book, I ended up contacting these valuable collaborators much later in the process. While I did get support from both, I would have gotten more done with less hassle if I had had the proper mindset from the start.

So, think big – it’ll be easier for you in the long run.

Hint: Repurpose your stuff!

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, working as a content marketing professional for a company, or blogging about your favourite cat vides on the web, I think you should have content repurposing as one of your essential tools in your content tool kit. No, I don’t mean plagiarising or just copy-pasting content to other platforms. Repurposing means that you literally find new and VALUABLE purposes for your old content, and it’s commonly used by content marketers and bloggers all over the interwebs. The new purpose needs to be somehow valuable to your audience: For example, readers can find value in reading your series of blogs in the form of one, well edited e-book or a white paper, instead of having to go through each blog individually. Remember that if you repurpose your blog in another format or publish the blog in someone else’s platform, you need to make sure that the platform owner also knows that you’re repurposing content. Some content providers might not agree to this, though. One of the more interesting businesses that is based on repurposing content is the blog: Wait but why. While you can read the blog for free, you can also buy the blog posts in a pdf format for a few dollars on Amazon.

Thinking by doing

Let’s get philosophical for a moment. Sometimes you can’t think big no matter how you try, and that’s because thinking and doing are two sides of the same coin. We humans tend to disassociate thinking from doing, and to assume that we first use rational thought to come up with designs, and then we project these design onto the world. Many business, economics, and strategy theories are built on the assumption that thinking and doing happen in neat sequences, where planning and rational decision making is followed by efficient execution. There are many scholars that disagree with this model of human action, and several approaches have been put forth as alternatives, including design thinking, agile development, the lean startup method, and many others.

With my e-book, I didn’t see the big picture until I started taking action – doing came first, not thinking. So, I wouldn’t give up planning altogether, as it definitely serves a purpose. However, in the future I will also know that action is a integral part of planning.


Creative Commons Learning is Hanging Out by Alan Levine is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Brown,Tim. (2009). Change by design: how design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation. HarperCollins. USA.

Ingold, Tim. (2013). Thinking through making. [A lecture]. Retrievable:

Pulizzi, Joe. (2016). Content Inc: how entrepreneurs use content to build massive audiences and create radically successful businesses.

Schon, Donald. (1983). The reflective practitioner. Basic Books Inc. USA.

Wait but why: new posts every sometimes. (2016). Retrievable: