Google returns over 406 million results in a simple search to follow your passion.

Ignore them all.

New data out of Stanford, in a paper that is forthcoming in Psychological Science, suggests that pursuing a path to follow your passion may actually make you less successful.

In a series of laboratory studies- conducted by psychologists Carol Dweck and Gregory Walton, along with the help of former Stanford postdoctoral fellow Paul O'Keefe- researchers examined belief systems that lead people to succeed or fail.

Here's how.

A total of 470 participants were divided into two groups - those who self-identified with "techy"- passionate about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and those who self-identified with "fuzzy"- passionate about humanities and the arts.

Subjects watched videos and read articles on topics that both matched and mismatched their interests.  They also filled out a survey determining how much they agreed with the idea that people's core interests don't change over time.

Members of the group who possessed a deep interest in just one topic, proved less likely to complete and comprehend materials.

Researchers also concluded that having a "fixed" theory of interests - following a single passion - made their interests less diverse and less likely to pursue new areas that don't align with their previously stated passions.  Walton says, "many advances in sciences and business happen when people bring different fields together, when people see novel connections between fields that maybe hadn't been seen before. Possessing a close-minded view can be detrimental to the success of both the individual and to the success of communities."

What's more alarming, is that buying into a single passion, can cause people to quit. In one portion of this study, the students who interests were fixed were also less likely to think that pursuing a passion would be difficult at times. Instead, they thought it would provide "endless motivation."

It concluded that mantras like, "follow your passion" imply an artificial ease in doing so and a false sense of reality. And those believers of said notions are therefore more likely to give up too easily when challenges arise.

This week alone, I have given seven startup founders and contemplative career switchers advice from something I've written about in my column- inspired by Dweck's  model of a fixed versus a growth mindset - asking two simple questions,

1.     "What if you approached your craft as a student versus an expert? " -and-

2.     "What if you followed your strengths versus your passion?"

Inevitably, your thirst for knowledge would never be quenched, thus consistently evolving your skills.  And against these new data, you have a greater likelihood of success and are more open to collaborative thinking and therefore, possibilities.

Apparently, I'm not alone in this advice.

As part of the Amazon Insights for Entrepreneurs series, Mark Cuban states, "One of the great lies of life is 'follow your passions,'" said Cuban.  "Everybody tells you, 'Follow your passion, follow your passion.'"

"I used to be passionate to be a baseball player. Then I realized I had a 70-mile-per-hour fastball," jokes Cuban. Competitive major league pitchers throw fastballs in the range of 90-plus miles per hour."

"When you look at where you put in your time, where you put in your effort, that tends to be the things that you are good at. And if you put in enough time, you tend to get really good at it," he says. "If you put in enough time, and you get really good, I will give you a little secret: Nobody quits anything they are good at because it is fun to be good. It is fun to be one of the best."

When approaching your own pursuit of a career or fulfillment, use these data and advice and think about it differently.  An unexpected pitch may be in your rotation.

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Published on: Aug 2, 2018
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