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February 21, 2019

Follow Your Skill - The True Career Capital

Joshua Oigara CEO KCB during the investor briefing held at Hilton Hotel. Photo/KARUGA WA NJUGUNA
Joshua Oigara CEO KCB during the investor briefing held at Hilton Hotel. Photo/KARUGA WA NJUGUNA

Last week, I had the privilege and absolute mind-massaging pleasure of spending Wednesday with the KCB under 30 Dream-team of Joshua Oigara. Even as we tried to impart the few life lessons we had for this amazing, driven and truly visionary team – I realised to my amazement that they found it hard to grasp the concept of following one’s skills and honing it to achieve true career capital and life satisfaction. They looked and sounded puzzled. They were prisoners of the 1970s fairytale called “follow your passion”.

I said it, then Ian Mbugua talked about it, then Janet Mbugua told her career journey and once again highlighted the need to follow your skill and hone the skill. By the time we broke for lunch we could see there were a few very puzzled faces wondering what happened to the whole “follow your passion” script.

By the time Jeff Koinange got up to speak at 4pm and once again said he worked with the skill he had, his voice and the ability for that voice to tell stories – we knew we had driven our point home – however I left there worried that Oigara’s Dream-team had gotten the memo, but very many young and young at heart people were yet to figure out the progress and succeed as what they do. Let me say this again – follow your skill and once you know and identify what you’re good at, do it so well, with so much passion that you become the undisputed champ of what you do. Let passion drive your skill.

This song and dance we have given people about “follow your passion” is such a load of crap. Without the skill to actually guide that passion, it’s a pipe dream. Listen to me – how often do you watch the auditions for TPF or American Idol and cringe at the poor soul who keeps insisting “I am passionate about music” yet they can’t hold a note. They are tone deaf and the only person who tells them they can sing is their mum. Please hear me out. Don’t mistake passion for admiration, or wishful thinking about wanting to be Beyonce or Adelle or Oprah. The question will always be the same, do you have the skill to do it. The sheer talent to stand the various hurdles and pitfalls and above all the sheer staying power not to crumble when you get a nasty review. My friend it’s skill that keeps the best at the top – passion is what drives them and helps them hone and perfect the craft.

Tom Peters has been talking about competitive advantage forever and no one listens. They think it’s a corporate thing. No silly – that edge, that competitive advantage that’s your skill. That’s how you built career capital. Follow that skill, hone that skill and you’ll be the champ in your field.

To sing you must have the skill. To Act you must have the skill, to read news to be a radio presenter you must have at the very least the ability to read, have proper dictation, an ability/skill to be captivating. Please, please don’t mistake your obsession, intrigue and pure day-dreaming with the proceeds of theatre, music, hard work or even broadcasting to be passion – it’s just that wistful, wishful, dreamy obsession – it’s not passion.

The theory that following your passion leads to success first surfaced in the '70s, and in the intervening decades it’s taken on the character of indisputable fact. It’s absolute rubbish. Yes I said it and I say it because it’s time someone stopped the madness.

This madness we have created where we tell people to transform their passions into lucrative careers via will-driven alchemy, is the reason much of today’s workforce suffers from endless job swapping and professional discontent.

People with the passion mindset ask “What do I really want?” You’ve seen them and heard them. These bitter critcis of what everyone else is doing because they seem to think they can be better than them. These nutcases become minutely aware of everything they dislike about their work and their job satisfaction and happiness plummets. By contrast, the people who understand they have a skill and they work at it have the attitude of a craftsman. Their mindset acknowledges that no matter what field you’re in, success is always about quality. Once you’re focused on the quality of the work you’re doing now rather than whether or not it’s right for you, you won’t hesitate to do what is necessary to improve it – that’s where the passion checks in.

You meet people who you wish to describe as passionate because they seem to have perfected the art of what they do. They go out of their way to improve and grow their skill and you keep chattering away about passion – total BS.

I’m not journalist, I was never trained as one and I refuse to be called one. Firstly because it’s a lie and in the lie it dishonours those who are journalists. I am a broadcaster and a columnist. I have a skill I have grown and honed over time and I’m very good at what I do. I have gone to classes and read up on how to do what I do better and that is what defines what I do. I have a skill that gives me a competitive and comparative advantage and that is what I work with. The need to keep the edge is what you define as passion, that is what fuels my talent. My skill.

I’m not known for walking away from the hard truths or not stating them as they are. So let me say this often with no apology – this follow your passion saga won’t get you anywhere but frustrated. Focus instead on acquiring unique skills and refining the quality of what you do with the focus of a devoted craftsman. Once you do that, you’ll be well on your way to cultivating not only a satisfying career, but a new, rarer kind of practical passion built on commitment, mastery, and pride.

In a world where a marketing manager at a beverage company, takes on marketing at a telecom company and then moves on to marketing at a bank or a software company with ease is because they have mastered the skill. Passion is in the execution. Skill is in the delivery of definite results. Their career capital and their competitive advantage is their skill. Case closed.

Skill is career capital – seek, build it, hone it. As Cal Newport says, be so good they can’t ignore you. Find your skill, passion will follow and combination of the two is dynamite!

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