May 11

Follow Your Curiosity instead of Your Passion: The Key to Success

The advice to follow your passion is one of the most meaningless platitudes we mistake for business strategies. Even though it sounds good, self-help books, TEDtalks, and graduation speeches, you're more likely to be successful if you follow your curiosity instead of your passion.

When successful people say "follow your passion," they often give this advice retrospectively. And because of survivorship bias, we think it's good advice, but it's usually not.

  • With few exceptions, most high school or college graduates don't know what they want to do with the rest of their life.
  • It's hard for anyone to know how they want to spend the rest of their life when they've only lived a fraction of it.
  • And those that think they do often discover they were wrong.

We should stop asking kids what they want to be when they grow up. Instead, we should encourage them to follow their curiosity.

Tina Seelig says that passion follows engagement. Passion isn't something you pursue. You discover your passion by following your curiosity and paying attention to what you find engaging. If you follow your curiosity instead of your passion, you're more likely to discover something you love.

5 Benefits That Accrue When You Follow Your Curiosity Instead of Your Passion

Follow Your Curiosity instead of Your Passion
Photographer: Joseph Rosales | Source: Unsplash

Steve Jobs famously said, "you can only connect the dots looking backward." But you have to accumulate a critical mass of knowledge, experiences, and dots before you can connect them. The number of dots you collect increases in proportion to your curiosity, increasing the number of opportunities at your disposal.

1. Curiosity is a Competitive Advantage

A few weeks ago, I was on a snowboarding trip with a friend from college. One night, he asked me, "aren't you worried that if you teach a course on podcasting, one of your students will become a competitor?' Personal curiosity is the filter I use to choose every podcast guest and creative project. Unless someone cuts my brain out of my head, they wouldn't be able to compete with me even if I taught them everything I know.

People tend to start things when they're in the popular consciousness. Yup. And when they're in the popular consciousness tends to be when they're too popular. Being able to look in little corners where nobody's paying attention is how you start a company ahead of the game, minimizing the amount of competition you're going to end up getting. – Julien Smith, The Unmistakable Creative Podcast

When you follow your curiosity, you learn to identify and capitalize on the biggest opportunities for success in any industry.

2. Curiosity frees you from attachment to outcomes

When you follow your curiosity, you're motivated by the intrinsic desire to learn and improve. Because you're not seeking any external result, it's easy to stay detached from the outcome. You'll learn something you didn't know before, no matter what happens.

In his book The Icarus Deception, Seth Godin said, “attachment to outcomes kills art. If you start making any art with an outcome in mind, you will sacrifice the art for the outcome.

3. Curiosity Expands Your Knowledge and Skill

You develop tacit knowledge when you follow your curiosity instead of your passion. You learn how to do things without being told what to do and develop your ability to solve problems without clearly defined solutions. You also develop transferrable skills that you can apply whatever you do in the process.

4. Curiosity is a Hallmark of People Who Have Interesting Careers

Our future is always unwritten. But when we make rigid plans about how we intend to live our lives, the options in front of us blind us to the possibilities surrounding us. You don't know where your curiosity will lead. But that's the point.

Even though we do what we can to avoid it, uncertainty makes us feel alive. Life wouldn't be exciting if you knew exactly how things would turn out.

5. Curiosity Creates Room For Serendipity

When you follow your curiosity, you create space for the possibility for meaningful experiences you could have never anticipated.

When Youtube started in the mid-2000s, my roommate Roshni and I decided to make a ridiculous parody of a Bollywood music video even though you can't trace that that pat this from video to where I am today, I've been using the internet to make things and tell stories ever since.

Before rebranding our podcast at the Unmistakable, I started a 30-day accelerated learning project and taught myself how to draw. The improvement in my skills was marginal. But, that project made me realize that I could collaborate with people like my friend Mars Dorian to create the visual voice of The Unmistakable Creative Podcast.

The 5 Stage Funnel Curiosity and Passion

Photographer: Ricardo Gomez Angel | Source: Unsplash

There are five distinct stages in which curiosity evolves into a passion. At the top of the funnel, you'll start with an expansive exploration of your interests. And the bottom, you'll narrow it down to a skill or area you can master.


Curiosity is the spark that ignites the flames of passion. And it's the first step to discovering your passion.

  • First, don't worry about whether or not your efforts lead anywhere or help you accomplish anything. The only purpose of this phase is to learn about something you find interesting.
  • Second, creative ideas that fail are detours, not dead ends. And often, these detours will lead you somewhere better than the destination you originally had in mind.
  • Third, explore a wide range of interests. By exploring a diversity of subjects and areas that interest you, it will be much easier to mix other people's ingredients for new recipes.
  • Fourth, as David Epstein discovered in his book Range, peak formers have longer sampling periods. In the early parts of their careers, they lag behind those who specialize early. But later in their careers, they leave their peers in the dust.

When I interviewed Robert Greene about Mastery, he said, "the analogy is biodiversity. The more species you have an ecosystem, the richer the ecosystem." Following your curiosity, it exposes you to more ideas, which in turn makes your thinking richer.


Since passion follows engagement, you have to pay attention to what you find engaging.

But what you find engaging is a doubled edge sword. You have to stick with something long enough that it becomes engaging, but not so long that you reach a point of diminishing returns.

You'll know you find something engaging:

  • Nobody has to motivate or cajole you into doing it
  • You continue without the need for an external reward
  • An activity consistently leads to flow

I was never passionate about podcasts. But, I found the process engaging. Eventually, that evolved into a passion for using technology to express my creativity and tell stories.


At some point, you have to commit to a path if you want to become so good they can't ignore you.

When my mentor Greg started working with me in 2013, he asked me to make a list of all things I'd been doing since I started my blog in 2009. Then he asked me how many of them I wanted to be doing in five years? When I told him that I wanted to write books and host the Unmistakable Creative, he said, "stop doing all the other things now."

Pursuing parallel paths stunts your progress in one direction. You develop your skills by going 1000 miles in one direction, not a mile in 1000 different directions.

For example, an online marketer might say, "everyone should start a podcast." But Almost nothing is universally true. And if you're an introverted but extraordinary visual artist who starts a podcast, you go from being exceptional at one thing to average at two.

You will also have to overcome what James Clear calls the plateau of latent potential. Of all the curiosity to passion funnel stages, this is the longest because it doesn't end. When you rest on your laurels, you stop evolving and growing. You can never stop improving your skills if you want to become exceptional at what you do.


The intersection of engagement and skill leads to a passion that allows you to earn a living.

Passion on the surface doesn't appear that way. It's the daily grind of a writer putting words on paper, the athlete doing drills in the gym, and the programmer laboring at writing code.

  • Passion is an emotional investment that paradoxically requires you to stay grounded in reality,
  • Paradoxically, you have to be more objective and less emotional. Lack of objectivity leads to poor decisions.

Passion can become a road to poverty instead of riches when you're not objective.


Mastering your craft is the work of a lifetime. There's no “I've made it” moment, just a series of false horizons. The Plateau of Latent Potential is something you'll repeatedly reach if you want to become world-class in any field. You'll have to continually adapt, evolve, and iterate.

  • When skill evolves into a passion and the desire for mastery, you're no longer motivated by external rewards.
  • Success becomes an infinite game in which you're primarily motivated by an intrinsic desire to learn and improve.

When you follow your curiosity instead of your passion, you can wander with purpose and discover what you like and dislike. Whether it leads to disaster or discovery, following your curiosity reduces the risk of making a long-term commitment to something you hate doing and increase the odds of discovering something you love.

Before You Go

Check out our free creative project planner that will help you explore your curiosity and make progress on your projects in less than 15 minutes a day. Click here to download. it.


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