On the October Open Thread on my old blog there was a discussion on the topic of passion. Should you follow your “passion” when choosing a career? There was a strong consensus that such advice was severely misguided. Yet, the mainstream harps on and on about passion. This reminded me of a video that recently showed up in my LinkedIn feed, and to which a bunch of morons commented how inspirational it was: Go with your gut feeling by Magnus Walker as part of TEDxUCLA.
Quite frankly, some websites are a cesspool of mediocrity. Well, any popular website is, due to the simple fact that the average person is a moron. However, some sites downright celebrate mediocrity. Quora is a prime example. Another one is TED. But let’s get back to that video of Magnus Walker. Just look at that guy! Yes, he has made it, but due to a lot of luck and being in the right place at the right time. It’s great that he’s been making a lot of money, but appearing on stage and telling the average schmuck to follow his gut feeling is severely misguided. Even worse is Joe Schmuck lapping up this nonsense and believing there is something to it. Yeah, Joe, you just go ahead and quit your accounting associate role. Get back to me in 20 years and tell me how far your passion got you.
The knee-jerk response of your typical average moron or Internet marketer is that I’m a “hater” or a “Negative Nancy”. Yet, the underlying problem is survivorship bias. Are all old buildings of a very high quality? Well, the ones that still stand presumably are. But what about those that don’t stand anymore? Is it good advice to follow your gut feeling, drop out of high school, and just move to another country? Take 1,000 such guys, squeeze them in a couple of airplanes and drop them on the coast of Californa — probably a few won’t starve to death. A very small number may even, due a combination of luck and skill, eke out a decent living. Some may even win the lottery, figuratively speaking. The average high school dropout, though, won’t fare nearly as well. But don’t let this deter you, Joe, you go follow your gut feeling now! If you want to follow your passion, you better take a good hard look at the expected outcome. If your passion is statistics, you’ll be a lot better off than if your passion is rock music. Even if you are the next Axl Rose, you still depend on the average moron believing that rock is now again where it’s at so that he’ll buy your records and come to your concerts.
By the way, Magnus Walker most likely glosses over some facts. I think it is safe to assume that he got financial support from his family while he was following his gut feeling, but since this would no longer be an example of the American Dream, he constructed a story that implies that he moved to LA without a job, no money, and no prospects, living off nothing.