“Follow your passion.”
“Do what feels right. What makes you happy”
“Start your career at a blue chip company.”
“Make money early on and then call it quits.”
There are entirely too many responses to the question, “What should I do with my one wild and precious life?” Entirely too many permutations and paths to look down. Alleyways to wander.
Jim Collins, though a business strategist he may be, also provides us a glimpse in his book Good To Great about what it might look like if we took a more comprehensive approach to this question.
“What are you deeply passionate about?”
“What can you be the best in the world at?”
“What drives your economic engine?”
Or, in other words:
“What do you love to do - or at least like to do so much you could do it every day?”
“What are your natural talents and skills - or at least where do you like to improve in?”
“What can provide the financial support you desire - or at least are willing to live with?”
Where these questions intersect is likely a pretty amazing place for you to be. A place where you enjoy solving problems and learning more about a certain discipline or topic or skill set. A place where you thrive because you’re not facing uphill battles all the time trying to be great at something you’re not. A place that provides the financial foundation and scaffolding for you to build the life you want around.
When I examine ‘successful’ people that I admire in my life (and we might all define that differently), I can’t help but notice that they generally pursued one of these three questions and were eventually lead to the others. “Follow your passion” on its own seems like rather naive advice if it’s not combined with.
My grandfather, Jay, was deeply passionate about helping people through medicine. He became a doctor. At the time when he was in medical school he couldn’t afford a big apartment. The door of his apartment couldn’t open all the way because the door would hit the bed. He felt he always had to study harder than everyone in his class because he just couldn’t wrap his head around many things related to medicine. Eventually his passion carried him through - he became a better and better surgeon and he eventually made money enough to take care of his family comfortably.
One of my classmates from college, L, started off his career optimizing for making money. He was very direct about it: “I want to get to a place where I have freedom and I don’t want to be owned by a big corporation.” He hated the first two years of banking in New York city, but he gritted his teeth. He then had the opportunity to transfer to another firm in the same city with a specialization that he was far more interested in. He did it. Soon, he became known as the go-to guy for a certain type of real estate transaction. Now, he’s skilled at something and recognized for it. He’s liking the work more because he’s good at it. And he’s making plenty of money for someone his age.
I used to play sports with a guy named C. He definitely liked playing, but did not think he could ever go pro. Although he was super short, he became an incredible soccer player. As it turns out, he plays soccer professionally now in the U.S. league, Major League Soccer. His skills just got him to the point where he got good enough to go pro.
In my opinion, there isn’t just one question or one answer that should govern how we all go about choosing our various vocations, careers, lives, and pursuits. Jim Collins nicely outlines it in Good to Great - although his focus is on companies who find their sweet spot, maybe we can use the same questions to challenge ourselves to find ours.
If finding something that you’re great at, you love doing, and pays the bills to the extent that you want, isn’t worth living for, I can’t imagine what is.