Skip to main content


Alexander the Great
Was Alexander the Great, passionate about conquering the known world at his time, when he started his “Conquer your neighbor tour”? Was Sir Alex Fergusson, focused on establishing the greatest football team that ever came out of England when he started managing Manchester United? Was Mark Zuckerberg passionate about making Facebook a global phenomenon with 1 billion people subscribing to it, when he started it in his dorm room? Not Really! None of these people had grandiose suspicions of how far they could go.
When I started writing this article, I nearly fell into the abysmal black hole of preaching the passion mantra…which simply states, “Follow your passion… and wealth shall surely follow you”. But something nagged at the back of my mind. Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule, which states that to be good at anything you have to have spent no less than 10,000 hours on it, strung me along.    
Steve Jobs in his commencement speech at Stanford in 2005 talked about doing what you loved and not settling for anything less. In this statement belies a problem, most men (and women) on average have 40-45 years of productive career lives. If one was to seek what they were passionate about they would waste half of this time, and fail in the process.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
It takes time to be good at anything. Even the geniuses like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Garry Kasparov spent their 10,000 hours. Also if you analyze closely, some of the best people really do make a deliberate effort to improve their skills, consistently, while embracing and integrating honest feedback.
So if we put this into practice, two programmers side by side, one depends only on what they are taught in class, and the other spends his extra time reading books on the field, honing his skills, taking projects that are beyond his current comfort zone and capabilities, and planning his time well. Is there any reason why the second will not exhibit value beyond his peers? This deliberate effort the programmer has made cuts across all fields.
For this reason, I urge you to set goals in being the best person you can be in whatever you do, remember that people who are motivated at the workplace normally have these three elements; autonomy, competence and relatedness.
While most people crave to be autonomous is making decisions about what they do and how they get it done, few normally have a clue about what they are doing when they start their careers. Culturally, they are normally placed under a person, and taught the ropes. This is the wrong time to be autonomous because you will learn nothing. Autonomy is a quality directly proportional to your skills.
Then there is competence, as you do a certain thing over and over again you gain skills around it, you broaden your understanding, and if you integrate deliberate effort and practice in the whole process, you get to be better (or the best).
Finally when you begin your career, you normally know few people in your specialization, but with time networks are built, and you gravitate towards people you like and appreciate, which is important, since we are social beings. 
Simply put, the more you do something, the more likely you will be motivated by what you do.
On the other side of the coin if Mary, who has never been a software developer, decides to start developing code, because she is passionate about it, is likely to fail if she has no reference point to software development in her past. As opposed to Mark who when younger, did develop code, and had continued doing so at his spare time, as he worked as a consultant for a large tech firm. Of these two, the one who has better understanding of the market and has probably the right deliberately developed and honed valuable skills will survive in their new career while loving it.
So…sure you are passionate about Banjo playing, or football, or tennis?Please ask yourself do you have the skills to sustain your passion before you quit and follow it? If not get ready for turbulent times as you go through your 10,000 hours.

Article was written for CIO East Africa June 2013 


Popular posts from this blog

My Adorable Younger Sister

  There was a screeching wail, and a tiny alien appeared in my parent’s bedroom. I was three years old when my younger sister was born. I remember holding her and couldn’t wrap my hands all round, and nearly dropping her. Still, I insisted. “Momma let me carry her,” I said. The alien had these alert beautiful brown eyes that seemed to say, “wait till I can get my hands and legs moving, and you will see,” Those independent eyes burned through my small skull. Maybe, that’s me trying to simplify years of interacting with her. I was there when she first crawled, there when she staggered and then stood, and there when she walked. Then held my breath, remembering her burning eyes as I held her when she was younger. I forgot the reason she did all these in quick succession was to keep up with her inquisitive, troublesome older brother. For three years, she silently watched, listened, and soaked it all in. Now she trailed me everywhere. She would release a shrill if I dared leave h

My First Time At the Library

We were in class, contemplating our existence as six-year-olds when our class teacher, Mr Gitembo, walked in. Behind him was a radiant young woman wearing a dark green dress, and carrying a sizable  box. Our class teacher had a bigger box accompanied with a toothy grin. "Good morning, class?" inquired the lady. “Good Morning, Mrs...” She had a calming voice, like the auntie who you visited to eat cake and sweets. She had our attention and Mr Gitembo’s too.   "My name is Ms Claire. I work with the library near the school, and I have brought you gifts." She opened the boxes and brought our games and storybooks, then urged us to come closer. We ran to the front and picked a book, or sat down to play a game.   Up till then, my reading was a clumsy attempt.   Trying to understand my elder sister's magazines, father's newspapers, and Jehovah Witness literature left in a drawer to gather dust for years. These made no sense to me. But as I opened the boo

A Crush that Never Was, A Book Never Read

I was standing there with a rose. At least that's what Mr Patel told me it was. It was red and spiky. "Watch your hands and heart," he said. I was too flushed to say anything. The edges were wilting. I was sure I was a novice buyer for Mr Patel.     I walked into the restaurant and sat at the table closest to the door. I looked strange, a ten-year-old on a first date. My uncle had chided me for looking presentable, I wore a white shirt, trousers, socks and shoes. My nose assaulted by Brut, 'the essence of men'. So here I was nervous, and my heart pounding. This went on for a while before worry took over. "Had the girl forgotten to come? Was she held up in traffic?" Outside was a Saturday afternoon. The two streets in Nanyuki were deserted. I sighed, trying to calm down. My thoughts went back to when I had seen her. She was a new girl in our sister class, and the most beautiful person I had ever seen. Flawless dark skin, and teeth as white as dair