Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Love and Work

Love and Work
Paul Graham has a new essay up about how to do what you love. I like Paul's work a lot, but I do feel that a lot of his recent essays haven't been up to his usual quality. The overall content or message is good, but they could use a significant tightening.

For example, this latest essay runs to 5,352 words, not including footnotes. I think it could be condensed almost 90% without too much loss. For example, the following set of excerpts is under 700 words long:

"Tragically, adults teach kids that work = not fun, and that school is tedious preparation for work.

Doing what you love means doing what will make you happy in the long run (not just pursuing momentary pleasure).

If you love your work, you won't see it as something to be endured to earn the reward of "free time."

To be happy, do something you admire.* Try to do things that would make your friends say wow.

Don't worry about prestige, which is the opinion of people you don't know, but focus instead on the opinions of people whose judgment you respect. If you do something 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-- the way to do great work is to find something you like so much you don't have to force yourself to do it-- finding work you love does usually require discipline.

Try to do a good job at whatever you're doing, even if you don't like it.

Always produce. 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. "Always produce" will discover your life's work the way water, with the aid of gravity, finds the hole in your roof.

One has to make a living, and it's hard to get paid for doing work you love. There are two routes to that destination:
The organic route: as you become more eminent, gradually to increase the parts of your job that you like at the expense of those you don't. The disadvantage of this route is that it's slow and uncertain.
The two-job route: to work at things you don't like to get money to work on things you do. The two-job route is less common than the organic route, because it requires a deliberate choice. It's also more dangerous. Life tends to get more expensive as you get older, so it's easy to get sucked into working longer than you expected at the money job. Another perhaps even more dangerous problem is that anything you work on changes you. You tend to become what you do. If you work on tedious stuff for too long, it will rot your brain. And the best paying jobs are most dangerous, because they tend to require your complete attention.

Which route should you take? If you're sure of the general area you want to work in and it's something people are likely to pay you for, then you should probably take the organic route. But if you don't know what you want to work on, or don't like to take orders, you may want to take the two-job route, if you can stand the risk.

Kids who know early what they want to do seem impressive, as if they got the answer to some math question before the other kids. They have an answer, certainly, but odds are it's wrong. If you read autobiographies (which I highly recommend) you find that a lot of the most successful people didn't decide till quite late what they wanted to do. And not because they were indecisive, or didn't know themselves. It takes a long time to just to learn what different kinds of work are like.

Expect a struggle. In high school they act as if choosing a career were straightforward. Actually, finding work you love is very difficult, and most people fail. Even if you succeed, it's rare to be free to work on what you want till your thirties or forties. But if you have the destination in sight you'll be more likely to arrive at it. If you know you can love work, you're in the home stretch, and if you know what work you love, you're practically there."

* As a side note, I think that this was my greatest mistake when I was younger. The first company I started, I did just for the money. Though it was a great experience, the process of starting a company is so arduous that life is simply too short to do so with a business for which you don't feel any real passion or love.

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