how to do what you love

4 08 2006

I recently came across a very interesting article about finding the work you love to do.  Most of us separate work from fun, a trend that started in childhood.  And most of us settle for the fact that we’ll have to do work that we don’t enjoy all that much.  But does it have to be that way?  I realize we have to earn a living, to pay our bills, but does our job have to be something we don’t like very much?  Who forced us to take the job we currently have?

The author says we should find what we love to do, and that many people don’t even know what it is.  What “work” would you do if you didn’t get paid for it or gain any recognition?  Most of us choose our job based on money, prestige, or laziness.  (That doesn’t necessarily mean laziness as in not doing your job well, but in not putting forth the effort to do what you really want to be doing.)  Also, our parents tend to be conservative when encouraging us on what field to pursue a career.  They have good reasons for that, though, because they want you to have a successful career and make a good living (and they probably don’t want you moving back in and living off them).

The article describes the two main methods someone could use to try switching careers from what they do now to what they really want to do.  It’s not easy either way, and there are big risks involved.  It also requires a lot of effort and discipline.  These are probably the main reasons most people never accomplish all they would like to do.  I suspect most of us have dreams of what we’d like to do with our lives, if we could do and be anything, but we find it much easier to just dream and not really pursue those dreams.  And so many people coast through life, not making a big impact on the world around them or even the people around them.

I’m not sure if I’m doing justice to the article by my very incomplete summary above.  I highly encourage you to read it, even if you’re happy with your job, because it will challenge you and lead you to think in different directions that you aren’t accustomed to.  It can also be applied to how we help the people around us achieve their potential (especially for your children).  Very few (if any) of us are anywhere close to fulfilling our potential with our lives, so we can all benefit from being challenged and encouraged to aim higher and from the help in figuring out how to get there.

Here’s the article : How To Do What You Love.

Here’s a few quotes from it, to whet your appetite :

Although doing great work takes less discipline than people think — because the way to do great work is to find something you like so much that you don’t have to force yourself to do it — finding work you love does usually require discipline. ~ Paul Graham

Of course, figuring out what you like to work on doesn’t mean you get to work on it.  That’s a separate question.  And if you’re ambitious you have to keep them separate: you have to make a conscious effort to keep your ideas about what you want from being contaminated by what seems possible.  It’s painful to keep them apart, because it’s painful to observe the gap between them.  So most people pre-emptively lower their expectations.  For example, if you asked random people on the street if they’d like to be able to draw like Leonardo, you’d find most would say something like “Oh, I can’t draw.”  This is more a statement of intention than fact; it means, I’m not going to try.  Because the fact is, if you took a random person off the street and somehow got them to work as hard as they possibly could at drawing for the next twenty years, they’d get surprisingly far.  But it would require a great moral effort; it would mean staring failure in the eye every day for years.  And so to protect themselves people say “I can’t.” ~ Paul Graham

[A] line you often hear is that not everyone can do work they love — that someone has to do the unpleasant jobs.  Really?  How do you make them?  In the US the only mechanism for forcing people to do unpleasant jobs is the draft, and that hasn’t been invoked for over 30 years.  All we can do is encourage people to do unpleasant work, with money and prestige.  If there’s something people still won’t do, it seems as if society just has to make do without. ~ Paul Graham

Whichever route you take, expect a struggle.  Finding work you love is very difficult.  Most people fail.  Even if you succeed, it’s rare to be free to work on what you want till your thirties or forties.  But if you have the destination in sight you’ll be more likely to arrive at it.  If you know you can love work, you’re in the home stretch, and if you know what work you love, you’re practically there. ~ Paul Graham

(Just FYI : The author, Paul Graham, has a distinguished career, co-writing the first web-based application, then creating a spam filter that most current ones are based on, and he’s creating a new programming language.  His website got 8.1 million page views in 2005.)




One response

20 02 2007

I agree that we are motivated to work when our work is not considered a chore or some type of meaningless occupation. Blessed are those who enjoy working where they’re at.

Sometimes hobbies end up being occupations.

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