Whatever it is you have never done before in your life and have no interest in doing, that’s probably what you’ll need to learn in order to keep your business running. Accounting, sales, inventory management. These are all things I’ve had to take on. These are also things that I would rather not do for the rest of my life. And while I’ll never be a crack accountant or a star salesman, it’s better to be mediocre than incompetent.
Making a choice and trying it is an important career skill. And choosing something practical, that people get paid well for, is an important life skill.
Stephen Cohen on learning:
We tend to massively underestimate the compounding returns of intelligence. As humans, we need to solve big problems. If you graduate Stanford at 22 and Google recruits you, you’ll work a 9-to-5. It’s probably more like an 11-to-3 in terms of hard work. They’ll pay well. It’s relaxing. But what they are actually doing is paying you to accept a much lower intellectual growth rate. When you recognize that intelligence is compounding, the cost of that missing long-term compounding is enormous. They’re not giving you the best opportunity of your life. Then a scary thing can happen: You might realize one day that you’ve lost your competitive edge. You won’t be the best anymore. You won’t be able to fall in love with new stuff. Things are cushy where you are. You get complacent and stall. So, run your prospective engineering hires through that narrative. Then show them the alternative: working at your startup.
Working at a startup is an alternative rather than the alternative, but the career principle is the same: learning’s good and it’s wise to choose it over just about everything else. Cf. Penelope Trunk, Annie Clark, Charlie Munger, etc.
You have to be really clear on what you are not willing to give up—because you’ll probably be giving up everything else.
People who have excitement about deciding for themselves what to read and what to learn are people who stop going to school and join the workforce. The workplace, done right, is a place for self-directed learning.
It’s no coincidence that the number-one woman on the list of self-made millionaires is Oprah. She has no kids and no husband. She’s fascinating, nice, and smart. But few of us would really enjoy her life.
Well, this is awesome. (via) Here we have an edited transcript of Jonah Weiner’s interview with Louis CK that was used for the Rolling Stone profile last fall. Lots of good stuff here. Here’s Louis CK on the importance of those early failures and growing experiences:
Stand-up, I didn’t know what that was going to feel like. I guess I thought it would feel like it does in TV shows or movies: they’re going to laugh. That’s part of it, right? You tell a joke and then they laugh. It has this feel to it that I knew, and boy, when you realize how wrong you are, that’s a fucking cold slap in the face. I think that’s true of anybody’s first time. […] You need to enter stand-up with that cold slap in the face, or you’ll never really understand what you’re doing.
This next part rang really true for me. I thought for a long time that I was headed to grad school right after college, but each fall afterward I just couldn’t bring myself to do the paperwork. That’s me sending myself a message. CK on resisting college and keeping a day job while he chased his dreams (cf. Steve Reich):
An old teacher of mine got me an interview at NYU film school, and I brought all these videos I’d made, and photographs, a portfolio – I’d gotten into photography and stuff, and they said that they would accept me to go to film school. So I quit my job with that in mind, and I’d been doing stand-up, but not well or successfully, and then I never filled in – I got these forms from this guy to fill in, on the floor of my apartment somewhere, but I couldn’t get my brain to…I was supposed to go back to my high school and get my transcripts, and the idea of doing all that, just that paperwork – going to NYU film school was this dream come true for me, but I couldn’t fill out the thing, couldn’t fill it out and go to the Xerox machine and put a stamp on an envelope, all that stuff. It made me want to vomit. That sort of thing has always been the case for me, I can’t get that done. That’s why I have an assistant. Now if I just dream up shit I want to do, I have her to take care of it.
So I decided, “Fuck it, I’m a comedian. I’m just going to do that, I’m going to stay in Boston.” That’s when I worked at the garage. I stopped working at local-access cable. I drove a cab for a while. I started taking shitty jobs so I could do stand-up, I didn’t want an all-encompassing job. I liked that, I just liked having dead-end jobs and doing stand-up. I thought, “Fuck it, that’s what I’m going to try to do.” I had an instinct that if I just kept hammering it and hammering it, I had a head start on people, I was very young, and I was resilient, I didn’t mind living stupidly, I wasn’t anxious about making a living, just played it close to the bottom for a long time, and I knew how to do that, it didn’t bother me. I liked the freedom, I didn’t have a job-job, I’m not working for a company, I’m not going to a school, I live on my own.
And, wow, on the typical sitcom plot:
With a lot of these shows, I know what’s going on, and I think the audience does, too. Here comes the part where they’re going to walk in the door while the credits are still rolling. They’re going to trade quick barbs, “What did you do?” “I went to the store to get a coffee and they had the Michael J. Fox coffee today, so they spilled it.” “Oh, ha ha ha.” “What happened to you today?” Kind of inconsequential jokes. Joke, joke, joke, then somebody goes, “Somebody was here to ask you about this” – here comes the story, and it gets quiet, and then, “Oh, I can’t go, because I have this thing,” “He’s only in town for one day,” and now we’re laying pipe and it’s getting quiet. “What are you going to do about that?” “I don’t know,” because here’s a joke about the character that is an outside world joke or observational joke, and then the blow, the big fucking blow to get out of the scene – you have to have a blow, a big enough laugh, and it’s something really contrived: people sat there in the writer’s room, fucking eating fast food and going, “Where’s the blow for this scene, I want to go home.”
Then here comes the funny character, the guest star, who’s in town, and we find out what the lead character hates about him, and then there’s the guy, the character, that carries all the jokes. He says dumb things and keeps it going, there’s this energy, he’s like a circuit or something, just does this one thing. […] So there’s a guy on every show that does that, he has his one way, he has his variety, about eight different joke formulas, and you refill them with different stuff. He’s either the dumb guy or, like, Lisa Kudrow’s character on Friends or whatever. “I thought coffee was from Brazil.” “Ugh, no the guy’s name is Coffee. He’s from Italy.” Garbage like that. Then you start building the story, then you go away on an act break. Then you build a third act that just is the train wreck of not really much fun, but it pays everything off, it leaves everybody feeling exactly the same way they left, that they felt before the show started. That’s what shows are meant to do, is leave on par and leave a few jokes behind, to be printed in Entertainment Weekly’s sound bites.
On kids and growing up:
Having kids, you don’t escape from it, you seize onto it, it’s a big, stressful, exhilarating, real life thing. And it’s permanent, it’s something that you have to evolve for. Some people don’t, but I think you have to actually change your values system, and you have to revolutionize yourself in order to do it properly, because kids can’t raise kids, and I think you’re somewhat a kid until you have them, then you really have to grow up.
Lastly on being in control, experimenting, being wrong, being interesting:
I’m not a dictator, because I’m not in control of anything, I’m just deciding what to try. To me, it’s not that I control a bunch of people, it’s just that nobody controls me. There’s nothing above me except responsibility to the product. That’s the ultimate responsibility, is if the show sucks, then what was the fucking point of being in charge? I’m right about these things on the show, and when I’m not, it’s interesting to watch me be wrong. I don’t think you have to be perfect, you just have to be compelling in the work you do.
When we say, “What do you do?” we really mean what do you learn? Because that’s what makes a person interesting – what they are learning. No one wants to answer the question what do you do if they have a job where they are not learning. That’s how you know it’s the learning that matters.
Robin Hanson on Steve Jobs’ commencement speech:
Now notice: doing what you love, and never settling until you find it, is a costly signal of your career prospects. Since following this advice tends to go better for really capable people, they pay a smaller price for following it. So endorsing this strategy in a way that makes you more likely to follow it is a way to signal your status.
It sure feels good to tell people that you think it is important to “do what you love”; and doing so signals your status. You are in effect bragging. Don’t you think there might be some relation between these two facts?
The problem is, the people who give these sorts of speeches are the outliers: the folks who have made a name for themselves in some very challenging, competitive, and high-status field. No one ever brings in the regional sales manager for a medical supplies firm to say, “Yeah, I didn’t get to be CEO. But I wake up happy most mornings, my kids are great, and my golf game gets better every year.”
She continues, talking about talking about her own awesome job with aspiring young folk:
Usually, what I tell them next is that it’s not a tragedy if they don’t do what they thought they wanted to do at 22; that they have more time than they think to figure out “what they want to do with the rest of their lives”; and that the world outside of school and words is more interesting than they probably suspect.
Similarly, Will Wilkinson on commencement advice:
“Find what you love and never settle for less” is an excellent recipe for frustration and poverty. “Reconcile yourself to the limits of your talent and temperament and find the most satisfactory compromise between what you love to do and what you need to do to feed your children” is rather less stirring, but it’s much better advice.
Fact is, we just don’t want to work that hard! We already work harder than we feel like working. We enjoy having time to lay around in the living room with the kids, reading. We like to watch a little TV after the kids are in bed. We like going to the park and visits with friends and low-key vacations and generally relaxing. Going further down our respective career paths would likely mean more work, greater responsibilities, higher stress, and less time to lay around the living room with the kids.
There’s something important here. I’m not good at keeping to them all the time, but I think I have similar ideals.
The medium chill involves what economists call satisficing: abandoning the quest for the ideal in favor of the good-enough. It means stepping off the aspirational treadmill, foregoing some material opportunities and accepting some material constraints in exchange for more time to spend on relationships and experiences.
It turns out, though, that satisficing doesn’t come easy to us human beings. We have an extremely hard time saying, “okay, this is good enough.” Why?
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“Damn, I gotta come in early tomorrow and work on my project!” There ain’t enough time when you got a career. When you got a job, there’s too much time. You’re looking at your watch, like “Ah, shit. It’s 9:08.”
You can tell if it’s your own plan by how lost you feel. People who do their own plans feel lost most of the time. People who do other peoples’ plans feel on track most of the time.
You can cut off a couple passions and only focus on one, but after a while, you’ll start to feel phantom limb pain.
This is truth.
They get one letter from me every couple of years. And basically it says, run this business like it’s the only business that your family can own for the next 100 years. You can’t sell it. But every year don’t measure it by the earnings in the quarter that year. Measure it by whether the moat around that business, what gives it competitive advantage over time has widened or narrowed. If you keep doing that for 100 years, it’s going to work out very well. Then I tell them basically if the reason for doing something is everybody else is doing it, it’s not good enough. If you have to use that as a reason, forget it.
If you want something extraordinary, you have two paths: 1. Become the best at one specific thing. 2. Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things. […] Capitalism rewards things that are both rare and valuable. You make yourself rare by combining two or more “pretty goods” until no one else has your mix.
The world is much larger than you can imagine right now. Which means, you are much larger than you can imagine.
The kids we surveyed show very little understanding about how much money different jobs actually pay. Younger children tend to grossly underestimate–on average, the 5-year-olds figure police officers make $29 annually, lawyers make $59, and dancers pull in a comparatively huge $165 a year.
Ben Casnocha infers two myths from Derek Sivers’ How to Get Hired:
The first is that we all have one or two things we are destined to do. In fact, I think you can become good (and thus) really interested in a range of things. The second is that the way to find what you “really want to do” is through inspection and reflection. In fact, introspection seems never to bear the fruit you’re promised; personal discoveries and self-knowledge seem sooner found via experiments and activity.