Do Not Follow Your Passion

I liked what VC Ben Horowitz (who wrote the excellent Hard Thing About Hard Things which I really enjoyed) has to say in this commencement address about why 'follow your passion' (something that has become a very popular convention) may not actually be the best career advice. 

Whilst doing what you love may work out for some, it likely won't for everyone and may be less successful than you think. Passions are hard to prioritise, may well change over time, might be in areas that you're not actually good at, and it's a pretty egocentric way of approaching the world. Instead, says Ben, we should focus on what we can contribute and align that with our passions:

'Find the thing that you’re great at, put that into the world, contribute to others, help the world be better and that is the thing to follow'.

I'd also add that it's not always as easy as it seems to find what your real driving passion is. I'm not sure that I ever really knew what it was in my early career but I'm lucky enough to have found something that I'm good at and that I find fulfilling. Which has been less about following a passion, and more about developing one.

The Modern Blight of Overwork


'...the long hours...may be the byproduct of systems and institutions that have taken on lives of their own and serve no one’s interests. That can happen if some industries have simply become giant make-work projects that trap everyone within them.'

Lots of truth in this New Yorker opinion piece about the modern blight of overwork, and how many industries become victim to 'arms races that create work that is of dubious necessity'. Whilst the promise of technology has for so long been about greater efficiency leading to a surfeit of leisure time for us all, somehow we've ended up with the opposite becoming a reality.

One of the great enigma's of modern working is that despite having more workers and being more productive than ever we are still working longer hours. Rather than focus on workers’ decisions and incentives, Tim Wu is suggesting that we should instead focus on the system - how technology is removing the kind of limitations that created natural boundaries and barriers to excessive working, and how white-collar work in many industries seems to expand infinitely through the creation of 'false necessities' - practices that evolve and develop and become entrenched ways of working yet create little value.

Overburdensome processes that cultivate over time, avoidable meetings, reply all emails, needless reporting, work that feeds systems that have become outmoded. Like Tim, I think there has to be a better way.

On Worrying


As I said here, I don't necessarily think that I worry more than most (but then who knows, and this is the second time I've written about worrying in two years) but I do dislike how self-sabotaging and unproductive it can be. Which is one of the reasons that I loved this commencement address by poet and author Mary Karr which contains lots of quotable nuggets like this:

'The real purpose of poetry, W.H. Auden said, is disenchantment. Not to throw fairy dust in somebody's eyes, it's stripping away what's false so you can see what's true underneath. I like to say poetry has to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed.'

...and pieces of wisdom like this:

'That's how fear works though, isn't it? Getting what you want can often scare you more than not getting it.'

...that makes a powerful point about how to deal with negative feelings:

'almost every time I was super afraid it was of the wrong thing. And stuff that first looked like the worst, most humiliating thing that could ever happen almost always led me to something extraordinary and very fine.'

And then co-incidentally (as is so often the way) on the same day I happened across one of Eric Barker's typically succint but comprehensive takes on how to stop worrying which, even if you don't think you worry too much, is full of good, insightful advice.

On To-Do Lists


I rather liked this approach to doing a To-Do list from Peter Bregman, taken from this write up (found via Fraggl) of his 18 Minute plan to managing your day and finding focus. What I particularly like about it is the more comprehensive way in which it is inclusive of elements that sit outside of work tasks. It's easy (particularly when running your own business I find) for the time for these non-work related tasks to get squeezed, and this is a good way of allocating them at least equal prominence and so being more disciplined about making them happen. It's a point made well by Paul Graham in this short post about changing the defaults in life to make sure you don't forget about the really important stuff.

Coming to Australia

Odf_logoI'm posting this somewhat later than intended (it's been one of those weeks) but I'll be coming over to Sydney next week for meetings and to begin the planning for an exciting (but for now secret-squirrel) work-related project. I'm always keen to meet ODF readers and subscribers when I travel so if you're in Sydney and would like to catch up over a coffee do drop me note.