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TED Talk Tuesday: The Role of Passion in a Great Career

Jeff Miller

Chief Learning Officer and Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness, Cornerstone OnDemand

This is part of our monthly TED Talk Tuesday series, spotlighting can't-miss TED Talks and their key takeaways. You can learn more about our partnership with TED here.

Professor of economics at Canada's University of Waterloo, Larry Smith works with his students to help them identify careers that they're truly passionate about pursuing. Often, he says, people settle for "good" jobs instead of going after opportunities that will enable them to reach their full potential because they're too afraid—not trying, however, is a failure in and of itself, according to Smith.

He points out that it's tempting to make excuses for not following a career dream because it's easier than persevering. But that attitude is contagious, he warns, and can stunt not only individuals' careers, but also the careers of their children, who inevitably emulate their parents' drive and determination, or lack thereof.

In his TED Talk, he explains why finding and following a passion is the only way to succeed professionally.

Watch the video below and read on for three key takeaways from his talk.

"Saying, 'I'm completely competent,' is damning yourself with the faintest of praise."

Working towards a great job calls for a leap of faith that many are too fearful to take, Smith explains. That's why employees often end up convincing themselves that they're satisfied with where they are in their careers, even if they know they can achieve more. Accepting anything less than greatness without even attempting to fight for it means cheating yourself of success, Smith says.

As new generations of workers enter the workforce, they shouldn't be afraid to take risks and look for opportunities to grow and take their careers further. Great careers aren't about luck, genius or any other secret ingredient, Smith says. Rather, a great career requires working incredibly hard on something that incites passion.

"Passion is what will help you create the highest expression of your talent."

To be passionate about something means more than to simply find it interesting, according to Smith. In human relationships, passion isn't about having things in common or striking up good conversations—it's a deeply rooted feeling that's not always easily explained or understood. The same applies to passion for work.

For employees to thrive, it's not enough for them to be at a job they like or tolerate—they should be at a company that inspires them, in a position that challenges them and on a path that they're passionate about following.

"There are many reasons why you're not going to have a great career. Unless...."

Life events such as becoming a parent can sometimes make it difficult for individuals to pursue a dream careerunless they can find the strength to overcome their obstacles. There will always be reasons not to work hard or lose sight of a passion, but the key to success is pushing past them, according to Smith.

The journey to a great career is never easy or obvious—that's what makes it so rewarding, he says.

Photo: TED

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