Students tend to place too much importance on the specifics of a job, as if there was a specific knowledge work pursuit hardwired in their genes.
Wherever a process of life communicates an eagerness to him who lives it, there the life becomes genuinely significant. Sometimes the eagerness is more knit up with the motor activities, sometimes with the perceptions, sometimes with the imagination, sometimes with reflective thought. But, wherever it is found, there is the zest, the tingle, the excitement of reality; and there is ‘importance’ in the only real and positive sense in which importance ever anywhere can be.
The very type of deep work that provides the nutriment for remarkable results also defies all our instincts for how a productive day should feel. I don’t have a specific set of strategies to suggest here. Instead, I just want to point out that when it comes to our understanding of how to build towards something important in our working life, there is a lot that our current conversation about work — which focuses on themes like courage, passion and productivity — seems to be missing.
People tend to think that creative work is an expression of a preexisting desire or passion, a feeling made manifest, and in a way it is. As if an overwhelming anger, love, pain, or longing fills the artist or composer, as it might with any of us—the difference being that the creative artist then has no choice but to express those feelings through his or her given creative medium. I proposed that more often the work is a kind of tool that discovers and brings to light that emotional muck. Singers (and possibly listeners of music too) when they write or perform a song don’t so much bring to the work already formed emotions, ideas, and feelings as much as they use the act of singing as a device that reproduces and dredges them up.
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.
It is hard to contend against passion, for whatever it craves it buys with its life.
There are, for example, only two reasons for children to go to school – apart, that is, from acquiring the werewithal to earn a living: to make friends, and to see if they can find something of absorbing interest to themselves.
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.
I have to look them in the eye and decide whether they love the business or they love the money. It’s fine if they love the money, but they have to love the business more. Why do I come in at 7 every morning, can’t wait to get to work? It’s because I get to paint my own painting and I like applause.
It would be nice… if the career advice industry would frame their obsession with passion in larger sociological context, and reinforce how new a concept it really is.