The Passion debate
When Jaime was a little girl, she wanted to be a millionaire when she grew up. So when she was in her twenties, she began interviewing self-made millionaires. What did they have in common? What was the secret sauce?
You can listen to all 67 of her interviews on Podcast here.
Some of what she found was predictable. For instance, there was no real correlation to education. Some of the millionaires went to college and some didn’t. Those who did go to college often made their money in a way that was unrelated to their college degrees.
One thing that did surprise me, however, is this: Based on what she learned, Jaime now advises would-be entrepreneurs not to worry about pursuing a business idea they are passionate about.
Say what? I thought we were supposed to pursue our passions in order to have great careers.
Basically, she argues that if you’re in love with your idea, you will have a very hard time adapting and pivoting when you need to.
Many of the people she interviewed made their millions in pretty un-sexy ways, doing things they weren’t even particularly interested in, because there was a demand for it.
One example: A woman who started a furniture upholstery business, even though she’d never worked on furniture before.
She makes a valid point. The reason people advise you to pursue something you’re passionate about is that entrepreneurship is very very difficult, and if you don’t have passion for your mission then you’ll probably run out of steam.
This leads me to wonder if perhaps what the millionaires are passionate about is making millions. Or perhaps, like Tim Ferris, what they’re passionate about are the activities they do with the free time that having money allows. (Well—free time after the money has been made; while you’re still setting things up you work like a dog.)
While I was mulling this over, I went to a talk by Cal Newport. Imagine my surprise when he said, “’Follow your passion’ is bad advice.”
What is this conspiracy to kill the dream?
He went on to say that if you graphed the appearances of the phrase “follow your passion” in American media, and compared it to a graph of “job satisfaction” in America, you’d find a graph like this:
You can think of it kind of like the whole love-match marriage thing. As our society embraced the romantic idea that marriages should be true love matches instead of practical business arrangements, people started expecting a little too much from marriage. They started expecting their spouses to be their “everything.” Ironically, this made people less happy with their marriages than they would have been if they’d had pragmatic expectations.
Cal Newport basically argues that telling people to “follow their passions” in their careers creates the unrealistic expectation that you can simply sit down and figure out, in the abstract, what you love and then go out and do that thing.
But the real truth is more subtle. The truth is that following your passion is a long and winding road with many twists.
Cal says what you should do instead is figure out what lifestyle elements make you happy.
- Does it make you happy to work with people, or to have hours of solitude every day?
- Do you enjoy public recognition?
- Do you enjoy writing?
- Do you enjoy building things with your hands?
- Do you enjoy mentoring?
- Do you enjoy living in a bustling urban setting or a quiet rural setting?
As you discover these preferences of yours, you let them guide your decisions about which jobs to take and which skills to cultivate.
But, he’s quick to emphasize, you have to put in the time to grow skills that are valuable to other people. This gives you leverage so that when the right opportunity comes along you can make key decisions that get you closer to living your passions.
If you want to be a writer, you probably shouldn’t just go straight from college into trying to publish novels. You should get a job that lets you learn to write, even if it’s a different type of writing than you want. Even if it’s working for someone else and you think you want to be freelance. You need to grow your connections, your life experience, and your writing chops. Then, the right moment will come along when you will be at a turning point. Then you’ll be ready for it.
In fact, don’t think of it as some big moment at all. Instead, think of your life and career as having many chapters.
Nuance: It’s something I’m coming to appreciate as I grow older and wiser.
Elements of living a remarkable life
[This post is mostly for me - notes from WDS2012. This post runs really long. But I’ve learned that word length does not deter most of you, dear readers.]
Colleague: So where are you really going?
Me: Job interview. J/k. It’s called the World Domination Summit. Haha.
Several minutes later,
Colleague: You weren’t kidding!
There were many people who excitedly and proudly told their colleagues and friends they were going to the World Domination Summit. I was not one of them. I think I actually said, “I’m going to a blogging conference,” which is only marginally less awkward to say to people with whom I’m trying to maintain a professional front.
I am not the kind of person to have World Domination plans. I mean, I have no plans to build a huge business empire or take over the world. I don’t believe in that kind of aggression. This is so not my kind of thing… except it is.
You see, this World Domination Summit is about people dominating their own lives. The WDS crowd falls into several categories with many overlaps: non-conformity, self employment, location independence, entrepreneurship, blogging, travel hacking, life hacking, and plans to change the world. To name a few.
At most other conferences, people size you up in about 10 seconds to see if you’ll be useful to them. I hate that.
At WDS, you can ask anyone, “What brings you here?” and as long as you meet their answer with curiosity, you will have an interesting conversation.
I met people who run life coaching businesses for do-gooders, at least 2 people who are DJs (one for parties, one for African music), someone who wants to help people visit Antarctica (I was apparently the third person that night who replied, “I’ve been to Antarctica!”), and so many people who have started or want to start their own business. And in a moment of loveliness while waiting at a bus stop, I fell into conversation with someone from Alberta, Canada who has been to Singapore. We talked about laksa, orh luat, and how hard it is to find good fried carrot cake.
And remarkable. In fact, the theme of the conference is:
**How to live a remarkable life in a conventional world**
I’ve been collecting my thoughts on this question since I attended the conference a week ago. Here are my 3 thoughts on remarkable living:
1. Be remarkably open
Brené Brown is a shame and vulnerability researcher / storyteller. You can get a dose of her awesomeness from her TED talk. She was even more wonderful, more personal, more present on our WDS stage.
She tells us:
Your experience here cannot exceed your willingness to be vulnerable.
She was referring to our willingness to be open and put ourselves out there at WDS, but she might as well be talking about life.
What does that really mean. So, she used this quote from Almost Famous:
The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone when you’re uncool.
I love that. “Authenticity” is one of those words that I believe has become corrupt from overuse. But in its true form, it is necessary. Being authentic always involves being vulnerable. You are taking that risk of revealing some aspect of who you really are. You are putting that piece of authentic self out there for judgment. If criticized, it will hurt.
For instance, it made me reflect on how it feels to hit publish on every single blog post here. The most common reaction I get from people who know me in real life is “I secretly read your blog.” It used to confuse me why they say it’s “secret” when I’m like, this is the first hit when you search for “ailian” on the internet! I’ve since come to realize that it’s because I write things here that more warm / fuzzy / thoughtful / introspective than what we normally discuss in real life. A lot of this is very personal, maybe even too authentic, if there is such a thing.
Well, I’m going to let you in on a secret here: I feel my stomach lurch every time I hit publish on a blog post. If you blog, you will know what I’m talking about. In fact, for the most personal ones, I actually cannot sleep well that night. I wake up a little fearful that people will tell me that the way I think or feel is silly. I’m terrified of how much it will hurt because a lot of this is how I sincerely feel.
But I still do it. I still do it because for every “I don’t really get it”, there are so many people who have basically said, “Thanks for writing that, I really identify with it.” You have no idea how rewarding that feels. Thankyouthankyouthankyou. The stomach lurching diminishes but never goes away.
I have learned that it’s good to practice vulnerability, to practice courage. Because the corollary is that it expands my capacity for joy. For as Brené says,
When we lose our ability to be vulnerable, we diminish our capacity for joy.
So, openness. If you want your self to be seen, if you want to feel joy, if you want to live a remarkable life, you need to be vulnerable.
2. Be remarkably giving
At the end of our weekend, Chris Guillebeau, who is the terrific ringleader of our non-conforming tribe, made a remarkable gesture.
He told us that he lost $30K running WDS last year. This year, thanks to better organization and the generosity of an anonymous donor, the event was going to make a profit.
Chris then told us about his fascination with fables that run along these lines: A father gives his three children a sum of money to do as they please. Each child does something different with the money. Usually one wastes it, one does okay with it, and one makes it flourish. Chris was interested in why the father would give money that way in the first place. Why give money with no strings attached, rather than tell them the best way to use their fortune.
As it happens, Chris decided he would give the profits to all of us attendees. Each of us was given an envelope with a note that we can use the funds however we please. And he included $100 in cash.
A bit of quick math made me realize, OMG he just gave away $100,000.
Most people I know would have kept the profit. Or maybe give a small percentage to charity. But instead, he gave it to us. All of it.
The funny thing is that all of us spent many times $100 to attend WDS for the weekend. $100 is not a lot in the bigger scheme of things. But I am touched by the gesture, the magnitude of generosity, the good faith in his tribe. We have been entrusted with the responsibility to go forth and do great things.
I don’t know what exactly I will do with my $100, but I want its social returns to far exceed its dollar value. Because generosity begets generosity, I want someone to receive something from my use of funds to make them feel more generous towards the world.
3. Do remarkable work
Cal Newport, computer scientist and Study Hacks blogger, told us:
“Follow your passion” is terrible advice.
At first I was like, what?? How can you say that! As someone who has gone to extraordinary lengths to switch careers to find a job that I love, this is hard for me to hear.
And then it sunk in. And I completely agreed.
Most career advice goes:
1) Find your passion
2) Match a job to your passion and do it
Cal’s advice goes:
0) The specific choice of job is less important than you think.
1) Be good at something rare and valuable.
2) Expend your “career capital” to get traits of a life that you want.
I met so many people at the conference who are trying to quit their office jobs and making a living from their passion (be it photography or music or some other kind of work, usually creative). I felt out of place admitting that I actually like my day job. Sometimes, a lot. The choice of job-lifestyle is tangential to Cal’s point, but it’s all part of the same conversation. There is more to professional fulfillment than merely following your passion.
Cal points out that for stage #1, a lot of the work will look very conformist. Getting a good formal education, working at a large professionally run company to learn the ropes, etc. It also involves toiling through a lot of things that are very difficult. If you skip stage #1, you could still succeed but you are essentially rolling dice.
Stage #2 is interesting. He says just as you get really good, just as you become invaluable, you need to find the guts to walk away from the beaten path to do work you find worthwhile. Exchange your “career capital” for autonomy, simplicity, less hours, location independence - whichever traits of a good life are valuable to you.
I am fascinated by this. He has articulated a lot of the ideas that I have been kicking around in my head. I have been writing entry after entry talking about committing to the work in order to achieve the highest craft and carve out a remarkable career. What Cal is arguing totally makes sense.
I love that he is aiming not just for autonomy, which a lot of the event emphasizes. He is going for remarkable. He has drawn out the map for those of us who want to be at the top of our craft, to reach that rarefied air, to extract real insight, to perform real art.
In all, it was an incredibly rich (un)conference experience. Am I going next year? Hell yeah. Well, I bought the super early bird ticket to give myself a deadline. I don’t know what exactly I want to have accomplished by next year, but I want a deadline and I want to do something. If I could go this year without much of an agenda and have an excellent time, by next year I want to at least have made one big stride towards remarkable living.
Thanks, Chris Guillebeau. And thanks to all 999 of you fellow World Dominators.
The Power of Trust
I had a breathtaking experience. At the very end of a business conference for entrepreneurs, called the World Domination Summit, the conference organizer gave away $100,000 of money he really didn’t have to spare, to a bunch of strangers—no strings attached.
Even as I’m describing this I know it sounds like a gimmick, but it wasn’t.
This is what happened:
The founder of the conference is a blogger named Chris Guillebeau. He earnestly believes in three big things:
- Spending your time doing things you’re passionate about
- Service to others and being part of a community
- Living life with a sense of adventure
He’s cobbled together a modest living ever since he was a young adult through various entrepreneurial activities, and currently makes a living as a writer.
To help others pursue their independence, he recently published a book called The $100 Startup. It chronicles a bunch of case studies of people who started their own businesses with as little as $100 that fully support them.
Anyway, he threw the first annual World Domination Summit last year for unconventional people like himself. Stubbornly refusing to compromise on the quality of the event, he went $30,000 in the hole to put on the event.
The event so moved one of the attendees, that he came forward and offered to anonymously donate $100,000 to the effort.
The second year that Chris put on the event was this year. He’d learned lessons from the first year, and managed to pull it off without losing money this time. It was wildly successful.
So then he had to figure out how best to use the $100,000. So, like a crazy person, he decided to give $100 to each of the 1,000 attendees.
He said he trusted that we’d do something great with it.
It’s incredible. I have a $100 bill sitting on my desk, demanding that I do something great with it. And I will, because of the power of trust.
As a business owner, I believe in the power of trust. It’s why Boiled Architecture has flexible work hours for its employees, and financial transparency.
It’s why I believe in Integrated Project Delivery. I believe that when you trust people to behave as their best selves, you inspire them to do exactly that.
Kudos to you Chris. Check back with me in one year to see what I’ve done with that $100.
lasertron x world domination summit
Last week I went to Portland, Oregon to take part in the second annual World Domination Summit, born from the mind of author and world traveler Chris Guillebeau. On Friday I stepped off the plane at 8:15am and navigated the bus system to find myself in the Pearl District in downtown Portland, where I saw pairs and small groups of probable conference attendees already flocking the streets. Perched at wire cafe tables along the sidewalks, sipping espresso and side-eyeing the passers-by: “Are you here for the same reason that I’m here?”
I was there, and I noticed people noticing me as I walked, looking for the early registration table and somewhat following the groups who looked like they knew what they were doing around the corners on the one-way streets of the Pearl. Then I changed my mind—don’t be in a hurry. It’s still morning.
I had no idea what to expect from the World Domination Summit, and like many things, it turned out that couldn’t have prepared for it if I had tried. I assumed there would be an entrepreneurial emphasis, which was true in a way, but there was none of the ego of startup-culture. It was more of a zen-like focus on self-improvement and development through an “unconventional” path.
“Unconventional” was the buzzword of the weekend, and I’d say it summarizes the philosophy that Guillebeau is best known for (just check his first book, The Art of Non-Conformity, which is how our paths first crossed). Although I think I can safely claim to live a Pretty Unconventional Life, there are still areas where I play the game according to rules set by others—my business being one of them. I think the combination of the challenge of being a woman in what I’m constantly reminded is still a man’s world, and maybe the excitement of building a startup in a culture that is so ego-driven and gamified in its own right has led me on a path of always running and chasing. Living as a work martyr—no amount of work is enough, and no amount of sleep is worth getting when you can sit with your butt in a computer chair for one more hour and level up in the game that is modern entrepreneurship.
At the World Domination Summit, I was cut off from that. There were no child hot-shot prodigies on stage explaining how they sold their first software companies for millions and traveled the world to “find themselves” thereafter. There were no investors feeling out the crowd or smugly waiting for a line to form.
Which I was not happy about at first. I was not open to the lessons of the speakers and other attendees, the messages of the weekend, or the opportunity for calm that surrounded me in one of the greenest cities in the country. I wanted a challenge. I had brought new business cards, painstakingly designed (dammit). I was prepared to get into the ring with the assholes. I came to represent Hello Holiday and I was on the hunt for anything that could benefit me, anyone whose shoulders I could stand on in the fight to Get My Startup Noticed.
Because that’s what you do at a conference.
At the World Domination Summit, I learned some new rules, and decided that maybe the whole idea of a rulebook at all was not really something I needed to worry about anymore.
It took me a day to put into words what was softly nagging me in the back of my mind: There are no hotshots here. I am here to learn. These relationships are valuable and the inspiration shared here is real. What WAS at this conference—not the investors, not the boy’s club—was an inclusive, mature, grounded discussion on life as an unconventional entrepreneur, how we best live it, and how diverse the voices that share this experience truly are.
I probably could have used one more day to take full advantage of the speakers, attendees, and atmosphere that I tried so hard to soak in, but I know the truth is that I never could have met everybody that I wanted to see. The friendships I did make, the thoughts that the World Domination Summit provoked out of me, and the time it gave me for reflection on myself was enough for me to take away.
I want to thank my dear friend Chris for giving me the opportunity to attend the conference, and for encouraging me once again to come when I thought I might not be able to. I do want to also thank publicly Laura Stock, my generous host, friend, and sister from another mister who shared her knowledge, her bed, and her home with me for the entire weekend. I can’t wait to be back next year. Because of you, I know I always have a home in Portland.
Walking back to my familiar bus stop from the Newmark Theater after the closing ceremonies, I felt an overwhelming need to get back to work. The ego and puzzle-solving and intrinsic competition I feel in this business are such a powerful motivator that I’ve used through my whole adult life to Get Things Done. I like to think that I left some of that behind at the World Domination Summit for someone else to pick up, and in its place I absorbed a little more self-knowledge, contentment, and love for all of us on our own paths, together.
All photo credits, except my little instagrams, to Armosa Studios.