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Don’t Follow Your Passion

Herb Carver

[fusion_builder_container background_color=”” background_image=”” background_parallax=”none” enable_mobile=”no” parallax_speed=”0.3″ background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” video_url=”” video_aspect_ratio=”16:9″ video_webm=”” video_mp4=”” video_ogv=”” video_preview_image=”” overlay_color=”” overlay_opacity=”0.5″ video_mute=”yes” video_loop=”yes” fade=”no” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”” padding_top=”20″ padding_bottom=”20″ padding_left=”0″ padding_right=”0″ hundred_percent=”no” equal_height_columns=”no” hide_on_mobile=”no” menu_anchor=”” class=”” id=””][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_2″ last=”no” spacing=”yes” center_content=”no” hide_on_mobile=”no” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_position=”all” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”” padding=”” margin_top=”” margin_bottom=”” animation_type=”” animation_direction=”” animation_speed=”0.1″ class=”” id=””][fusion_text]Ben Horowitz, cofounder and partner of famed venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, delivered the commencement address at his alma mater Columbia University a few months ago and offered up some fairly unconventional career advice. The message: don’t follow your passion.

The perspective of the video is from the audience so I suppose that it’s only natural that I began assuming the role of a recent graduate as I listened.

[/fusion_text][/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_2″ last=”yes” spacing=”yes” center_content=”no” hide_on_mobile=”no” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_position=”all” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”” padding=”” margin_top=”” margin_bottom=”” animation_type=”” animation_direction=”” animation_speed=”0.1″ class=”” id=””][fusion_vimeo id=”129140444″ width=”600″ height=”350″ autoplay=”no” apiparams=”” class=””/][/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ last=”yes” spacing=”yes” center_content=”no” hide_on_mobile=”no” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_position=”all” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”” padding=”” margin_top=”” margin_bottom=”” animation_type=”” animation_direction=”” animation_speed=”0.1″ class=”” id=””][fusion_text]To Horowitz’s credit, my own college days were also somewhat different. I too went to school before the Internet – a time when the intersection of creativity, research and innovation were someplace totally different than today. I’ll admit that each of these are as important as they ever were, but I believe that too much attention has been placed on the tools that we use to foster success while too little attention is being given to actually discerning what success looks like. Consider this question as you continue: When you hear the word success, what comes to mind?

For too many of us, I’m afraid the answer is tech. Now don’t misunderstand me here, I enjoy my tech. My iPhone and iPad and iMac are all an extension of iMe. Although I’m neither obsessive nor hyper-vigilant about their location and capabilities (not anymore, anyway), they’re still an undeniable part of my every day existence. Even on my most “unplugged” of days, I must concede each is valuable to me. But I’m not successful because I have them any more than I have them in order to be successful. Perhaps too much focus has been placed on the tools lately and too little on our individual capabilities and motivations. Which brings me back to the graduation speech.

When I was getting ready to graduate from college, my engineer father sat me down and rather critically cautioned me to choose an occupation that best afforded me a chance to make a living. I was about to graduate with a degree in liberal arts (“liberal” as in “smart but with no tangible employment skills”) and, like all fathers; mine was concerned that I’d have difficulty finding a job. I didn’t appreciate it as much at the time but the conversation turned out to include all the core elements that I would use for the better part of the next decade to berate myself for poor career decision making.

To his credit, my father spent more than 30 years working for Westinghouse in energy distribution and generation. He designed substations and eventually outfitted nuclear power plants. He is both smart and frugal – he worked hard, made a lifetime habit of saving his money, and faithfully contributed to his retirement savings. And so, as he began his retirement, I remember him saying with a bit of remorse how much he was going to miss it; how lucky he felt to have worked for so long with some of his best friends. “I enjoyed it so much,” he claimed, “I would have paid them to keep doing it.”[/fusion_text][/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”2_5″ last=”no” spacing=”yes” center_content=”no” hide_on_mobile=”no” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_position=”all” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”” padding=”” margin_top=”” margin_bottom=”” animation_type=”” animation_direction=”” animation_speed=”0.1″ class=”” id=””][fusion_text]

And so my recommendation would be, follow your contribution; find the thing that you’re great at. Put that into the world. Contribute to others. Help the world be better. That is the thing to follow.”

[/fusion_text][/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”3_5″ last=”yes” spacing=”yes” center_content=”no” hide_on_mobile=”no” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_position=”all” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”” padding=”” margin_top=”” margin_bottom=”” animation_type=”” animation_direction=”” animation_speed=”0.1″ class=”” id=””][fusion_text]Me? Well, I can’t honestly say that I ended up in quite the same place. I did well enough and had plenty of stuff after 20+years in the corporate world (that’s probably a post for another day), yet I still found myself wondering why I wasn’t happy – why I didn’t feel successful even though I had all the material things that was supposed to make me happy. I’m reasonably educated – undergrad, two trips to graduate school, and even some post-graduate work – and I was familiar with the old adage about life not being about the destination, but about the journey. Still, it took an outsider to point out (repeatedly, I might add) that the adage actually applied to me. As it turns out, I’m not alone.[/fusion_text][/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ last=”yes” spacing=”yes” center_content=”no” hide_on_mobile=”no” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_position=”all” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”” padding=”” margin_top=”” margin_bottom=”” animation_type=”” animation_direction=”” animation_speed=”0.1″ class=”” id=””][fusion_text]A recent study by Glassdoor concludes that a 10% increase in employee pay is associated with only a 1% increase in overall company satisfaction. In other words, if an employee making $40,000 per year were given a raise to $44,000 per year, his or her overall employee satisfaction would increase from 77 percent to 78 percent. Since money doesn’t seem to buy happiness, the folks at Glassdoor began to examine what other factors influence job satisfaction. According to the research, an employee’s culture and values rating for the company has the biggest impact on job satisfaction. And not surprising given their salary-to-satisfaction findings, an employee’s compensation and benefits rating has the second smallest effect on overall satisfaction, only ahead of “business outlook.”

Once I began paying more attention to the conversations I was having with myself (and others) about my station, my progress, my work, and my goals, I began to realize how unfulfilled I really was. My conclusion: Enough was enough (literally, in my case). Suffice it to say; somewhere along the way I had fallen off-track. But as I listened to Horowitz’s speech I began recalling some of the “old me.”

To be fair, mine was a failure of vision not conviction. As graduation approached, I figured I’d do a variety of things maybe and the money would just show up (kind of like my allowance did). The fact that I had a degree, I reasoned, would land me my first job and that first job would land me the next one. And so it would go. That was how I got a major after all: I took the prerequisite classes which then qualified me for the upper-division classes which then qualified me for the degree. I just needed to figure out what the first “thing” was going to be, make sure it was cool, and then I’d be fine. If I started with “cool” then I reasoned I would only leave that for something “more cool.” After a few such jumps I would be approaching the “coolest” job ever. That’s solid logic, my friend.

As you might suspect, I would end up changing this plan later (please don’t tell my dad I admitted that) due to a combination of insufficient logic, insufficient maturity, and insufficient funds. I suspect that Dad has changed his position since then a bit too. And while neither of us could voice it so succinctly, we both appreciate Horowitz’s analysis of the success/enjoyment relationship.[/fusion_text][fusion_text]

“If you love what you do then you’ll be successful – or is it possible that – if your successful then you love what you do?”

[/fusion_text][/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][fusion_text]So, after watching the entire video, I called my dad just to share the fact that I was thinking about him… and it… and me… and to hear what he thought about it all these years later. He’s in his 80’s now and doesn’t have any difficulty telling people what he thinks. Come to think of it, that really has nothing to do with his age – he’s always felt it was his duty to tell you what he thinks. He just listens less to your response now – or maybe he just hears less – ok that’s probably a post for a different day. In any case, today he reports:

“I always knew that if you could find a place crazy enough to appreciate all the things you could do, you’d be successful. And you, you thought you’d have to build a place for it to be that crazy. Turns out we were both right… sort of… hang on… maybe we were both wrong. [pause for some laughter] Hell, I don’t know, but it all worked out. It seems silly that we were ever even worried about it.”

And there is the lesson: Why were we so worried about it?

As for me, I think both my father and I were wrong – or maybe not “wrong” because we were each well grounded in our conviction, but… yeah, ok… we were both wrong. Despite our differing perspectives, we each were successful when we focused on what we were good at – what we each had to give to the world.

Are you successful because you love what you do, or do you love what you do because you’re successful? Or perhaps you’re successful but hating it? Or maybe you’re not sure what your success looks like but you know it sure isn’t this? What do you think?[/fusion_text][/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Herb Carver
Herb Carver

Herb is a professional coach with a focus on meaningful adventure, mindfulness, and life/career transitions. He's the Lead-Guide for the PointAbove Explorer Program and coordinates the PointAbove Adventure tours. You can learn more about Herb & PointAbove, find his social media info, and send him a message here.

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