Wednesday, January 28, 2009

DON'T Do What You Love

Many people insist on careers of "doing what you love," "finding your passion," "loving your work."  

Bob Buford, author of Half Time: Moving from Success to Significance (600,000 copies sold) says they're dead wrong. 
He urges us to recognize that:

It is your duty to do what you're best at, not what you'd love to do.

I can't think of wiser counsel.


Grace said...

We should all use our real (not perceived) gifts to the full to serve society. Not everyone is good at the thing they love to do. American Idol has proved this many times over.

Doing what you love can mean many things. If I take a job I'm good at but not passionate about, I can still love it because it is 2 blocks from my home or because my work hours fit my family's schedule. Finding a job doing "what you love" can sometimes make you crazy and willing to sacrifice your overall quality of life.

Better to stop focusing on your mythical calling and start focusing on something you can do that really makes a difference. If you can do it well and if you can see how it benefits the world, you'll probably find that you love it anyway.

Jason C Johnson said...

How do I find out what I'm good at? Online tests, career counselling, or trial and error.
Please help me out with this dilemna.

Jeff Shore said...

I'm no expert, but I think the so-called "mid-life crisis" that we hear about has little to do with the idea that people just want to be young again. I don't buy the stereotype of the convertible, gold chains, affairs, etc.

I think people get to a certain point and say, "Oh, crap - my life is half over and I've not done anything really significant!" It is the fear that, staying on their current trajectory, they will one day leave the planet without having made a significant contribution. That's a scary thought - or at least it should be.

I read Half Time a few years ago (and his follow-up book, Game Plan). It really made me stop and consider how I would spend the second half of my life. Very powerful.

Marty Nemko said...

One of the best ways is to do the 7-Stories exercise. Write a one-paragraph story explaining how you accomplished each of your life's seven major accomplishments. Then look for skills and abilities that you used in a number of those accomplishments.

Another approach is simply to pick them from a list of skills. (Self-reporting is as more valid than tests.) You can find such a list at:

Grace said...

What do others say about you? Have you ever been complimented on an ability or has someone really appreciated something you have done? Is there any type of help that people keep asking of you? Perhaps these comments highlight your natural abilities. Has anyone said, "Hey, you should be a teacher/fireman/artist!" Did you just dismiss it? Maybe they saw something you didn't.

Or, you can find out what you are good at by looking at what you have been good at. Did you do well in math in high school? Explore careers that involve math. Try something and then evaluate the results. You might call it trial and error, but it's just real world education.

You can also still try following your passion as vocation as long as you evaluate to see if good is coming from it. If the job you love is the only job that actually gets you off of the couch,then go for it. But, no job is the be all and the end all. Be prepared to outgrow it.

Cornhusker said...

Thanks for the book referral. This can be a tough one. Sometimes the thing you do well is not what the market needs.

Marty Nemko said...

There's often a way to use your best skill IN a hot market--e.g., your best skill is persuasion--it can be used in any of the Obama priority areas--pushing the virtues of wind energy, for example.

F.S. said...

Marty - I think you don't read the SF Chronicle anymore, but today's Jon Carroll column had a great quote in it from artist Chuck Close that sort of relates to this topic:

“Amateurs wait for inspiration. The rest of us
just get up and go to work.”—Chuck Close

Cornhusker said...

If you are a believer in wind energy, than maybe you can sell the idea. Ironically, wind companies are would like to start wind farms in my county. The farmers are joining co-ops to determine if this is a viable idea. Personally, I do not believe this is the answer to our energy crisis. Unfortunately, I am a frustrated historian and there is not a big demand in that field.

Your career advice guide said...

Well said. But at times, it is what you love to do that you are best at. And there are many instances where people left their flourishing careers to follow a passion and are quite successful today. So, I believe that the focus should wither be on loving your job or making a profession out of what you love to do...

Marty Nemko said...

The problem is that too often, what you love is loved by so many people that 99% of people can't make even a subsistence living at it: dancing, creating computer games, acting, singing, painting, writing, fashion, being in television, even off-camera work.

Lori Lamb said...

I spent 30+ years doing what I was good at (but didn't necessarily love). I made decent money at it, and it afforded me a comfortable life. After retiring in '04 I played "happy housewife" for awhile before finding a hobby with the creative outlet I'd been missing; making decorated apparel.

Soon I was being carried away on the wave of excitement generated by people asking to buy my work and the offer of a national distributor to put my work in 200+ venues around the world. Sounds wonderful, doesn't it?

It's not wonderful at all. After the excitement wears off (that happens fast) comes the realization that it's just another job, and one that involves physical labor (which my 30 yr career did not).

My once thoroughly enjoyable hobby has turned into something I no longer enjoy, and mostly despise.

So how do I just STOP? How do I tell my oh-so-excited husband and my next-order-now distributor that I'm NOT having the time of my life and I want out?

I read my own words and I wonder if they sound as ungrateful to others as they do to myself? I know there are plenty of people who'd give an arm and a leg to have their own successful business. I'm just not one of them.

I'm blessed by being financially okay being a stay at home wife. It's just that I feel like I'm letting others down if I stop the merry-go-round ... and I'm letting myself down if I don't.

I did what I loved because I loved it ... and now ... the love affair is over.

Any advice?

Marty Nemko said...

Dear Lori,

From where I sit, you place too little value on being productive. Whether or not your husband is supporting you, your worthiness, yet worthiness, is defined heavily by how much--of merit--you produce for the world. If we all merely sought what we love, we'd produce nothing--You'd have no home, no car, no Internet, and if you got sick, you'd probably die because there were no operating rooms, doctors (willing to sit through a decade of hard courses) etc.

Yes, you should be grateful that someone wants to distribute your work.