Friday, November 18, 2011

Doing What You Love

It's a paradox.

Any time you hear the story of a wildly successful person, they tell you to "do what you love."

Yet for most, this advice rings hollow.

How do we reconcile these two facts?

The problem is survivorship bias.

It's probably true that people become successful by doing what they love.

But it's also probably true that most people who do what they love don't become successful.

Here's what I think is the actual mechanism of action:

1) Great success comes from doing something original.
2) By definition, the original isn't understood at first.
3) Only people who are doing what they love will persist long enough for the world to catch up.
4) But there's no guarantee that something original will ever be accepted.

I may be the first person to make chocolate sardine candy, and I may love it, but no matter how long I stick with it, I'll probably never build a successful candy business on it.

So instead of "do what you love," we should say, "Do what you love, if what you love is a) original, b) plausibly something the world will come to value (even if it doesn't value it now), c) something you won't regret doing even if you never become successful."

A bit of a mouthful, but more useful as career advice!

(Inspired by Steve Martin's excellent memoir, Born Standing Up."