Today I read this insightful essay by Paul Graham, about what it actually means to love your work, and how to find the work that you love. Paul Graham has for many years been kind of a role-model and inspiration for me in entrepreneurship and in life.
In summary, there are two major thresholds that prevent most of us from finding the work that we really love to do.
The first threshold is the belief that work must be hard. Even the notion hard work, I think most people link to work having to be painful in at least some respect. I know I've been a prisoner of this belief for the lion's share of my life.
With such powerful forces leading us astray, it's not surprising we find it so hard to discover what we like to work on. Most people are doomed in childhood by accepting the axiom that work = pain.
Then you have the second threshold, which might be even more alluring: prestige and money.
Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you'd like to like.
Prestige is especially dangerous to the ambitious. If you want to make ambitious people waste their time on errands, the way to do it is to bait the hook with prestige. That's the recipe for getting people to give talks, write forewords, serve on committees, be department heads, and so on. It might be a good rule simply to avoid any prestigious task. If it didn't suck, they wouldn't have had to make it prestigious.
How to know if you are working with something you enjoy, in a true sense? This is hard, but Graham offers some advice.
The test of whether people love what they do is whether they'd do it even if they weren't paid for it—even if they had to work at another job to make a living. How many corporate lawyers would do their current work if they had to do it for free, in their spare time, and take day jobs as waiters to support themselves?
And related to this, I feel obliged to recommend Steve Jobs now legendary Stanford commencement speech on this topic. His method is simple.
When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
Do you love what you are doing? Would you want to do the work you are doing now for free? Would you even be prepared to work extra at some job you hate to be able to afford to do the work you are doing now? Do you love your work so much that you sometimes forget to eat or go to the bathroom because you are so immersed in it?
If not, you are part of the absolute majority of the world's population, and I suggest you read Paul Graham's essay and watch Steve Jobs' commencement speech and start the search of your true calling. I think everyone should strive to find work they truly love some point in their life. I am not sure if I have found mine yet, but I feel I'm getting closer.
Paul Graham explains how to know if you are on the right path:
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.
Header photo by Ed Gregory (CC0).
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