Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Don't Do What You Love

For many years now America’s richest and most successful businessmen have been handing out bad advice. They have been recommending that people do what they love, follow their passion or go with their gut.

From Warren Buffett to Bill Gates to Jack Welch these leaders have been happily, but unwittingly misleading the people who idolize them.

If it’s any consolation, they have shown that  you can be successful without knowing how you got to be successful.

Those of us who are older and presumably wiser have never bought it. But, young people have. They can be forgiven.

Now they need to learn that the secret to success is not to do what you love and not to follow your passion.

The advice-givers have gotten it backwards. It is one thing to do what you love; quite another to love what you do. It’s good to love what you do but you do not necessarily get there by finding out what you love and then pursuing. If you have no real talent for doing what you love you are not going to love it for very long. Or if you convince yourself that you really love making buggy whips, your passion will not pay the bills.

Keep in mind, the market always has something to say about your success. Only fools rely on sentiment.

Tom McNichol explained it well in The Wall Street Journal this morning:

The problem is that "do what you love" is incomplete advice, and sometimes misleading. Marty Nemko, a career coach and author in Oakland, Calif., says he often deals with clients who pursued a passion, only to find disappointment or financial disaster—because they went into it blinded by that love.

Ah yes… blinded by love. What a novel notion. Yet, not one of those titans of industry who has been handing out this bad advice has ever given a moment’s thought to the fact, as the poets used to say, that love is blind.

Most obviously, if you are going to end up loving what you do, you are going to have to be good at it. If you have no talent for statistics, you are not going to excel at a job that involves it… no matter how much you love numbers. If you have no creative talent you will not succeed in advertising… no matter how much you love being an ad man.

Worse yet, to be really, really good at something, to be good enough not only to make a living but to feel some real satisfaction, you will have to work at it. Malcolm Gladwell’s ten-thousand-hour-rule that I posted about last week is a good rule of thumb. No matter how natural your talent, if you do not put in the time and effort to master a skill at the highest level you will not attain the satisfaction that accompanies excellence.

Young people who are duped into thinking that they need merely to discover what they love often end up being too lazy to work hard at anything. They fail, not for lack of talent or love, but because they are suffering from a chronic case of sloth.

McNichol offers some sobering advice:

Cal Newport, an assistant professor of computer science at Georgetown University and author, thinks entrepreneurs should think about passion in an entirely different way.

Mr. Newport has spent the past several years studying the career paths of scores of workers to test whether "follow your passion" makes sense as career advice. The short answer: no. Many people believe that the best strategy is to pursue a pre-existing passion, and that will lead to career satisfaction, he explains. More often than not, he says, they find they're not actually good at it, don't like the work or can't make a go of it.

Rather than focusing on pre-existing passions, he says, people are better served thinking about how to acquire skills they can turn into careers. If you master something valuable instead of focusing on a dream that may not be marketable, he argues, love and passion will follow. And you'll have a better shot at making a successful business out of it.

What if you're already in a business, and the passion starts to wane? Mr. Newport says transforming the job is sometimes the answer. People thrive when they find the work challenging, feel recognized for their abilities and have control over how they fill their time, he says. Adjusting the work to maximize those factors will rekindle passion better than matching your job to a pre-existing inclination.

If you are working toward a career, first figure out what you are good at. Then, find a way to develop that talent toward a skill the marketplace rewards. Resolve to spend thousands of hours getting great at it. Eventually, you might love what you are doing.

Those who advise you to follow your bliss or your dreams or your passions are leading you astray.


flynful said...

As a corollary to your 10,000 hour rule, I had a law school professor who stated (too many years ago) that most people who said that they knew what they liked were all wrong. In fact, he stated, people like what they know and the more they know something the more they like it. In your words, putting the 10,000 hours in is what has to be done in order to like what you are doing.

Anonymous said...

The old joke about talent and effort goes like this.

Q: Can you play the piano?

A: I don't know! I never tried!

Memphis Steve said...

My parents were terrified that I'd try to make a living doing what I loved. I was an artist. Worse, I was an aspiring comic book artist. But I had no illusions about being able to make a living at it. They were grateful for that.

Anonymous said...

IMHO, here we have another navel-gazing preoccupation of the Equestrian Class (thanks, Lewis Lapham) trickled down to the Plebes. It's a luxury few can afford - like Free Love, McMansions, Lobbyists, & lifelong psychotherapy.

Plebes have a grittier life. They must work to survive. W/o precious concern if they like it or not. Young Plebes cannot hope to have the advantages of Elites.

My parents & grandparents were unskilled or semi-skilled. They worked at grueling dangerous jobs for long hours to support their families. I'm sure it Never occurred to them to ponder if their work was Fulfilling.

I was luckier. Worked at Knowledge jobs (is that the term for editing and writing?), sitting on my fanny.

Golly, I've become quite the Populist. Well, I live on the WI border after all. -- Rich Lara

Jeff Dorsai said...

I'd bet that most of these "titans" of indistry didn't know they would love their chosen business. They came to love it as they got better and better at it ...

most 20 somethings have no clue about what they truely love ... they should try working at any job before deciding they don't "love" it ...