Don’t “Follow Your Passion”

samfloy~25 August 2018 /Advice

A conversation I’ve been having a lot recently is “what should I be doing with my life?”.

Over dinner, coffee or a hike with friends this topic keeps emerging (classic millennials) and each dialogue I have somewhat clears the haze on how to spend one’s time in a meaningful way.

Below is the latest version of thinking…

Find what you’re good at

Most people want to earn a decent living, as opposed to being a starving artist. With this as a baseline, find what the world values and exchange it for money.

You decide (sort of) how much you’d like to earn (i.e. enough to eat out 3 times/ week | pay off a mortgage by 35 | own a yacht) but really think about what are you uniquely qualified to do.

You may never be the world’s best writer, nor German speaker, nor cycling enthusiast, but layer those up on a Venn diagram and you could plausibly be Top 10 in the world of bilingual technical cycling writers.

Go find the people who acutely need this skill and you’ll be incredibly valuable to them. It’s then (ideally) a short hop to that being translated in a good level of income.

This takes you from trying to compete with an ocean of others in a general sense and focuses you on the small pool where you are exceptionally well suited.

This gives you bargaining power in negotiating a good price for your work.

Of course, you have to enjoy your work to some degree, but the key is to be guided by the intersection of your valuable talents and some corner of the world will pay for them.

Stay passionate about your passion

When most people talk of their passion, their eyes light up at the enjoyment they get from engaging in that activity.

For me, that’s cooking. From doing it lots I’m now (it would be fair to say) above average and people often ask me why I don’t go into the catering business (cookery schools etc.).

My fear is that it will change my relationship with cooking.

Right now I have it purely for enjoyment. It’s a way to relax, and even when cooking for other people there’s a selfish element of me that enjoys doing this on my terms. The passion stays alive.

If I’m forced to make a living from cooking, my relationship with it will change.

Suddenly chopping veg and deciding which spices to add will become a process to optimise and pricing matrix to fill in. Passion extinguished.

A friend recalled a story of a lady running a mindfulness retreat after she got burned out from corporate life and got big into meditation and yoga. The obvious next step was “well if I love it so much, why not start a business where I can do it all the time?!”

Now though, she has even less time to practice mindfulness.

The demands of keeping the business going mean she’s running programs for other people to be mindful and it paradoxically turned her previously blooming relationship with the practice somewhat sour.

Be valuable; enjoy your passion

From the vantage point of an uninspiring office job, becoming a chef, yoga teacher or photographer may seem like the only way to rediscover your purpose for being put on earth.

The (many) conversations I’ve had on this with cooking teachers, yogis and photographers seem to suggest that it’s very easy to overshoot the mark. There’s nuance to it.

Obviously there are ifs and buts to every situation, but if you’re puzzling with what’s next, I’d say:

  1. Find your Venn diagram sweet spot of skills/ experiences
  2. Trade those skills/ experiences with companies where you have a competitive advantage
  3. Avoid contaminating your passion with pressures to pay the rent. Just spend more time enjoying it

Despite the hours spent labouring the topic, I by no means feel qualified on the subject. If you have thoughts on any of this I’d genuinely be very interested to hear them, so please do reply.

The book I’ve been recommending to anyone with even a passing interest is Pivot, by Jenny Blake. Definitely worth a read for more of an expert opinion.

In other news…

This week’s podcast is with a really interesting company applying behavioural economics in emerging markets. Their write up on it is here:

Also, the town we were in on the weekend (Machakos) has a weird optical illusion where it is allegedly anti-gravity and water runs uphill.

We saw it too. Mind-blowing.

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