Quotes from the book
If “follow your passion” is bad advice, what should I do instead?
Don’t follow your passion; rather, let it follow you in your quest to become, in the words of my favorite Steve Martin quote, “so good that they can’t ignore you.”
We’ll also return to Thomas, who after his dispiriting realization at the monastery was able to return to his first principles, move his focus away from finding the right work and toward working right, and eventually build, for the first time in his life, a love for what he does. This is the happiness that you, too, should demand.
In an interview with the public radio host Ira Glass, for example, a group of three undergraduates press him for wisdom on how to “figure out what you want” and “know what you’ll be good at.” “In the movies there’s this idea that you should just go for your dream,” Glass tells them. “But I don’t believe that. Things happen in stages.”
Noticing the stricken faces of his interviewers, who were perhaps hoping to hear something more uplifting than work is hard, so suck it up, Glass continues: “I feel like your problem is that you’re trying to judge all things in the abstract before you do them. That’s your tragic mistake.”2
Self-Determination Theory (SDT) tells us that motivation, in the workplace or elsewhere, requires that you fulfill three basic psychological needs—factors described as the “nutriments” required to feel intrinsically motivated for your work:
Autonomy: the feeling that you have control over your day, and that your actions are important
Competence: the feeling that you are good at what you do
Relatedness: the feeling of connection to other people
To summarize, I’ve presented two different ways people think about their working life. The first is the craftsman mindset, which focuses on what you can offer the world. The second is the passion mindset, which instead focuses on what the world can offer you.
(Ira Glass) “All of us who do creative work… you get into this thing, and there’s like a ‘gap.’ What you’re making isn’t so good, okay?… It’s trying to be good but… it’s just not that great,” he explained in an interview about his career. “The key thing is to force yourself through the work, force the skills to come; that’s the hardest phase,”
Hours spent in serious study of the game was not just the most important factor in predicting chess skill, it dominated the other factors. The researchers discovered that the players who became grand masters spent five times more hours dedicated to serious study than those who plateaued at an intermediate level. The grand masters, on average, dedicated around 5,000 hours out of their 10,000 to serious study. The intermediate players, by contrast, dedicated only around 1,000 to this activity.
(Geoff Colvin) Doing things we know how to do well is enjoyable, and that’s exactly the opposite of what deliberate practice demands…. Deliberate practice is above all an effort of focus and concentration. That is what makes it “deliberate,” as distinct from the mindless playing of scales or hitting of tennis balls that most people engage in.
Dan Pink’s 2009 bestselling book Drive, for example, reviews the dizzying array of different ways that control has been found to improve people’s lives. As Pink summarizes the literature, more control leads to better grades, better sports performance, better productivity, and more happiness.
(Derek Sivers) “I have this principle about money that overrides my other life rules,” he said. “Do what people are willing to pay for.”
To have a mission is to have a unifying focus for your career. It’s more general than a specific job and can span multiple positions. It provides an answer to the question, What should I do with my life? Missions are powerful because they focus your energy toward a useful goal, and this in turn maximizes your impact on your world—a crucial factor in loving what you do. People who feel like their careers truly matter are more satisfied with their working lives, and they’re also more resistant to the strain of hard work.
Hardness scares off the daydreamers and the timid, leaving more opportunity for those like us who are willing to take the time to carefully work out the best path forward and then confidently take action.
For a mission-driven project to succeed, it should be remarkable in two different ways. First, it must compel people who encounter it to remark about it to others. Second, it must be launched in a venue that supports such remarking.
Working right trumps finding the right work—it’s a simple idea, but it’s also incredibly subversive, as it overturns decades of folk career advice all focused on the mystical value of passion.
Don’t obsess over discovering your true calling. Instead, master rare and valuable skills. Once you build up the career capital that these skills generate, invest it wisely. Use it to acquire control over what you do and how you do it, and to identify and act on a life-changing mission.