If you think your talent is the key to advancing your career, think again. A new Israeli study finds that talent is actually less important than sheer passion when it comes to professional success.
The study, led by Tel Aviv University’s Dr. Daniel Heller, has found that young people with strong callings are more likely to take risks, persist, and ultimately get jobs in their chosen fields, satisfying both their personal and professional career needs. The researchers also found that those who exhibit a passion for these interests in their teens are more likely to be successful later on, regardless of their inherent talent.
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The heart vs. the head
“Given the economic reality today, people commonly face trade-offs as they make decisions that pit the two sides of careers — the ‘heart,’ or intrinsic side, and the ‘head,’ or extrinsic side — against one another,” Heller said in a statement. “We wanted to examine people who chose to follow more challenging career paths, such as those in the arts, and assess their chances of ‘making it.'”
The researchers surveyed 450 high-school music students at two elite US summer music programs over the course of 11 years (2001-2012).
“We found that participants with stronger callings toward music in adolescence were likely to assess their musical abilities more favorably and were more likely to pursue music professionally as adults regardless of actual musical ability,” Heller said in a statement.
Even so, difficulties in pursuing their dreams were still evident. According to the study, participants who were involved in music professionally, even at a minimum, earned considerably less (a gap of $12,000 per year on average) than freelancers or amateurs who pursued their musical interests outside of work. But they also reported similar or greater satisfaction with their jobs and lives.
For those with strong callings, personal rewards such as satisfaction may matter more than professional rewards such as income.
“If you experience a strong calling, you need to be cognizant of your relative preferences for intrinsic versus extrinsic rewards and potential trade-offs between the two, then decide accordingly,” according to Heller. “However, we found that, in certain fields, one’s drive or passion afforded a competitive advantage over others, even when unrelated to objective ability or talent.”
“In general, society benefits from an excess of talented people competing for a limited number of positions in winner-take-all labor markets,” he continued. “Individuals who ‘win’ in this market are exemplary. Although individuals entering this type of market eventually ‘lose’ in extrinsic terms by definition, they still benefit from intrinsic rewards and garner subjective value and well-being, such as the satisfaction derived from attempting to fulfill their calling, even for a short time.”
The study, conducted in collaboration with Dr. Shoshana Dobrow Riza of the London School of Economics, was recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. The researchers are currently examining the implications of career choices on overall well-being.