IN the spring of 2004, during my senior year of college, I faced a hard decision about my future career. I had a job offer from Microsoft and an acceptance letter from the computer science doctoral program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I had also just handed in the manuscript for my first nonfiction book, which opened the option of becoming a full-time writer. These are three strikingly different career paths, and I had to choose which one was right for me.
For many of my peers, this decision would have been fraught with anxiety. Growing up, we were told by guidance counselors, career advice books, the news media and others to "follow our passion." This advice assumes that we all have a pre-existing passion waiting to be discovered. If we have the courage to discover this calling and to match it to our livelihood, the thinking goes, we'll end up happy. If we lack this courage, we'll end up bored and unfulfilled -- or, worse, in law school.