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Doing What You Love

Why it is important you do what you love and what this really means



  • Do what you love doesn't mean do what you would like to do most this second. Even Einstein probably had moments when he wanted to have a cup of coffee, but told himself he ought to finish what he was working on first.
  • As a lower bound, you have to like your work more than any unproductive pleasure. You have to like what you do enough that the concept of "spare time" seems mistaken. Which is not to say you have to spend all your time working. You can only work so much before you get tired and start to screw up. Then you want to do something else—even something mindless. But you don't regard this time as the prize and the time you spend working as the pain you endure to earn it.

Key Points

The rule about doing what you love assumes a certain length of time. It doesn't mean, do what will make you happiest this second, but what will make you happiest over some longer period, like a week or a month.
Unproductive pleasures pall eventually. After a while you get tired of lying on the beach. If you want to stay happy, you have to do something.

Source: How to Do What You Love

  • “Always produce” is also a heuristic for finding the work you love. If you subject yourself to that constraint, it will automatically push you away from things you think you're supposed to work on, toward things you actually like.
  • To be happy I think you have to be doing something you not only enjoy, but admire. You have to be able to say, at the end, wow, that's pretty cool.
  • Figuring out what you like to work on doesn't mean you get to work on it. That's a separate question. And if you're ambitious you have to keep them separate: you have to make a conscious effort to keep your ideas about what you want from being contaminated by what seems possible.

The ‘Yearning Octopus’

Source: How to Pick a Career (That Actually Fits You)

The yearning octopus represents the different facets people want in a career. It is made up by:

  • Personal Yearnings: a reflection of our specific personality and our values, and it bears the burden of probably the most complex and challenging human need: fulfillment.
    • It’s also in the shit dealing with not only our current selves, but a bunch of our past selves too;
    • Your fear of death sometimes emerges on the personal tentacle, all needy about you leaving your mark and achieving greatness and all that;
    • And yet, the personal tentacle is also one that often ends up somewhat neglected;
      • Because the fears of this tentacle aren’t scary in an immediate way—they creep in out of the background over time;
      • This neglect can leave a person with major regrets later on once the dust settles;
      • An unfulfilled Personal Yearnings tentacle is often the explanation, for example, behind a very successful, very unhappy person—who may believe they got successful in the wrong field.
  • Social Yearnings: Our most primitive, animal side, with its core drive stemming back to our tribal evolutionary past
    • Craving acceptance and inclusion and being well-liked, while likewise being petrified of embarrassment, negative judgment, and disapproval;
    • An ego which wants to be admired, desired, and fawned upon;
    • That people are aware of how smart and talented you think you are;
    • A want to please someone with psychological power over you (e.g. a parent).
  • Lifestyle Yearnings: Mostly wanting really pleasant, enjoyable days
    • Concerned with your life in the big picture being as great as possible;
    • Life should be full of fun times and rich experiences, but it should also roll by smoothly, without too much hard work and as few bumps in the road as possible;
    • Even if you place a high priority on your lifestyle yearnings, it’s pretty difficult to keep the whole tentacle happy at the same time
      • The part of the tentacle that just wants to sit around and relax will hold you back from sweating to build the kind of career that offers long-term flexibility and wealth;
      • The part of the tentacle that only feels comfortable when the future feels predictable will reject the exact kinds of paths that may generate the long-term freedom another part of the tentacle longs for
  • Moral Yearnings: While the other tentacles fantasize about what you would do with your life if you had a billion dollars in the bank, the moral tentacle fantasizes about the kind of impact you could make if you had a billion dollars to deploy.
  • Practical Yearnings: At its basic level, your practical tentacle wants to make sure you can eat food and wear clothes and buy the medicine you need and not live outside
    • It doesn’t really care how these things happen—it just wants them to happen.

The Why Game

Desires, beliefs, values, and fears don’t materialize out of nowhere. In the Why Game, you’ll ask your initial Why—Why is this something I want?—and get to some kind of Because. Then you’ll keep going. Why did that particular Because lead you to want what you now want? If you continue with this, you’ll usually discover one of three things:

  1. You’ll trace the Why back to its origin and reveal a long chain of authentic evolution that developed through deep independent thought
  2. You’ll trace the Why back to an original Because that someone else installed in you
  3. You’ll trace the Why back and back and get kind of lost in a haze of “I guess I just know this because it’s true!”
  • This could be an authentic you thing, or just another version of #2, in an instance where you can’t recall the moment this feeling was installed in you. Somewhere deep in you, you’ll have a hunch about which it is.

Prestige traps

  • Prestige is just fossilized inspiration. If you do anything well enough, you'll make it prestigious.
  • 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.
  • Although doing great work takes less discipline than people think—because the way to do great work is to find something you like so much that you don't have to force yourself to do it—finding work you love does usually require discipline.
  • If you admire two kinds of work equally, but one is more prestigious, you should probably choose the other. Your opinions about what's admirable are always going to be slightly influenced by prestige, so if the two seem equal to you, you probably have more genuine admiration for the less prestigious one.
  • 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.
  • Constraints give your life shape. Remove them and most people have no idea what to do: look at what happens to those who win lotteries or inherit money. Much as everyone thinks they want financial security, the happiest people are not those who have it, but those who like what they do. So a plan that promises freedom at the expense of knowing what to do with it may not be as good as it seems.