I was destined to be Jeremy Lin before there was a Jeremy Lin. Passionate about basketball? Check. Practice daily? Check. Obsessed about reading and watching anything related to basketball? Check. Tall? Not really, but look, I can almost touch the net. Skilled? Check. I dominated games in the neighborhood, though the kids are years younger, overweight, and haven’t hit their growth spurt yet. With my diehard passion and devotion to the sport, I was destined to be THE “Jeremy Lin” a decade before him.
It’s too bad that a back and ankle injury sent me to an early retirement. Lack of speed, height, jumping ability, hand-eye coordination, and general physical talent may have contributed as well, but I’ll never know for sure.
I’ve always had a difficult time aligning my own experience with basketball with numerous popularized quotes around passion. Years of my life was spent playing, thinking and dreaming about basketball, yet it amounted to so little in the end.
“Follow your passion. It will lead you to your purpose.” Oprah Winfrey
“Follow your passion and success will follow.” Terri Guillemets
And so many other quotes that I read growing up gave the same message. How should I think about following passions?
Recently, a friend, Jacob Hsu, gave advice that helped me wrap my head around my basketball experience. He advised people to not follow their passions. Yes, don’t follow your passion! “They are usually fleeting and frivolous. It’s better to focus on a big and personal problem that bothers you. The bigger the problem, the better it’s going to be because solving big problems creates big value. What’s something that you are willing to bang your head against every day. Something that’s going to make you relentless and unforgiving. That’s going to give you more energy and drive than any passion you may have.”
For myself, that advice rang true. My consulting jobs were training grounds and I saw it as such. The food businesses were opportunities that I saw could lead to amazing experiences. None of them were true problems that I felt deeply personal about until Uber came along. Not being a naturally interested driver and being stranded without a ride so often made transportation a problem I understood and was bothered by. Being part of the solution was energizing and powered me through difficult moments.
Yet, how do I align that sensible advice with how I should approach the topic with my kids? If they have similar basketball dreams (and talent) like I had, do I ask them to not follow it and focus on identifying a problem that bugs them? Or is passion a nice-to-have?
What do you think about the advice “follow your passion”?