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An Economics Professor Shares the Career Lesson He’s Taught 20,000 Students

Larry Smith echoes what we believe in Edukasyon.ph

Camine Galo, Bussiness Insider —Economics professor Larry Smith was surprised to learn that his blunt TED Talk on following one’s passion went viral, attracting more than 5 million views. After all, the talk “Why You Will Fail To Have a Great Career,” was the same message he’d been hammering home to his students for 35 years.


I caught up with Smith in between his classes at Ontario’s University of Waterloo to talk about his new book, “No Fears, No Excuses.”

Smith believes that having a passion for what you do isn’t just nice to have; it’s a requirement for having a great career.

“If you want to achieve a great career and you don’t have passion, you’ll fail,” he says. According to Smith, passion leads to innovation, and without innovation, careers stall.

“When you find a domain that engages your passion, you want to understand it totally; you naturally see gaps that should be filled, errors that should be corrected, and innovations that cry out for creation. I defy anyone to be innovative about a subject about which they really do not care,” he says.

Smith argues that a few decades ago, before automation began taking over many of the human skills that were once considered irreplaceable, passion was not absolutely necessary for great careers. If a person had a strong work ethic and marketable skills, they’d be OK.

Today, the economy has become more diverse and competitive, and since the pace of change is relentless, it’s an economy that rewards creative problem-solvers. “Give me a passionate problem-solver against a machine and I’ll bet on the passionate problem-solver any time,” says Smith.

Although passion is essential to having a great career, Smith is quick to point out that following your dream isn’t a “sufficient condition” for success. Communication skills are also essential.

If you cannot communicate the ideas you’re passionate about, you might still fail to have a great career. “The world needs to know why you’re different, and why this difference makes you highly valuable,” says Smith.

Smith told me a story about “Bart,” a passionate and talented landscaper. His customers say that Bart’s work is “mystical, amazing, and brilliant.” But Bart has hit a ceiling because he is reluctant to sell himself. He is shy and uses it as an excuse.

Smith was once shy himself, but developed his communication skills to become a popular teacher and TED speaker. Smith didn’t suggest that Bart undergo a radical personality transplant, but he did offer some tough love: “All of us, in some way or other, are going to have to leave familiar turf if we are going to have a great career,” he told Bart. “When you die, do you want your family and your community to remember that you were shy … or do you want them to remember your gardens?”

Bart learned to create a compelling elevator pitch, clearly explaining why his landscaping projects were different. Landscaping was his passion, and passion gave him the courage to leave his comfort zone.

Smith’s story reminds me of the day I visited one of the world’s largest technology companies. As I was walking down a corridor with a senior vice president he stopped, peered through a glass window, and pointed to an employee attending a meeting. “You see that guy?” That’s Sam. Smartest guy in the room. He should be leading the company by now but he’s been stuck in the same position for years.”

“Why?” I asked.

“He’s not very social. He can’t deliver a clear presentation. He’s not inspiring,” he said.

Sam is a good example of Smith’s thesis that passion is a requirement for a great career, but it’s not enough. Sam is passionate about engineering and solving big problems, and his passion took him far in his career. But with every advance Sam is making in computing power, he’s driving down his own value since he can’t sell himself successfully.

Many of Smith’s students have asked, “How do I pursue my passion if I don’t know what it is?” Smith says passion doesn’t always hit you head in one aha moment like you might find in a movie.

Finding your passion takes work. According to Smith, here’s what you are searching for: “You are looking for your destiny; you are looking for your life’s work; you are looking for the arena in which you will do battle; you are looking for your personal pathway to accomplishment; you are looking for the realization of your talent; you are looking for the epitaph on your tombstone. That is what a great career is.”

Do you want a good career or a great career? Passion makes all the difference. “It is an amazing feeling when you don’t really care if it’s a weekend or not,” adds Smith. “It’s so energizing to look forward to your work and not even think about retirement — why would you?”

Carmine Gallo is a keynote speaker and bestselling author of the book “The Storyteller’s Secret: From TED Speakers To Business Legends, Why Some Ideas Catch On And Others Don’t” (St. Martin’s Press).


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