Work you love vs. Love your work

There are plenty of great critiques to the idea that we must follow our passion and do work we love. All these critiques point to people who became passionate about what they did after they got good at it. Besides, few know what they’re passionate about, anyway. 
 
On the flip side, there’s good evidence to show that interests matter. We all gravitate toward certain kinds of work. And, it is better for us to find careers in those kinds of work. I have experienced that myself – there are certain jobs that I intuitively feel more excited about over others
 
My sense is that, over time, we’ll come to accept that this debate has no right answer. Instead, like all great opposing questions, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Interests matter, but don’t let yourself get fixated on which one is the right one. Instead, once you are in the proverbial ball park, cultivate that interest, get good and create options to find exactly what you’d like to do. So, if you know you gravitate toward research, go get a Masters in something that sounds interesting to you. Over time, you’ll move toward the right subject in time for your P.hD.
 
My thesis in this debate, aside from the strong belief that the answer lies somewhere in the middle, is that our dominant strategy is to enjoy the process of doing good work. This is irrespective of what we choose to do. You don’t have to love that boring excel spreadsheet task to put in your best effort. Neither do you have to love to march to do it well. The rush from doing good work is addictive. In time, we tend to recognize and love the process of intense preparation, sustained effort and thoughtful follow up. The results of the work matter – but, far less than we imagine. Besides, good processes ensure good outcomes in the long run anyway. 
 
The process of doing good work is our dominant strategy because good work opens up opportunities. And, these opportunities help us get closer and closer to what we gravitate toward.
 
As kids, we are told that what matters is that we gave it our best shot. That advice turns out to be incredibly wise.

Heavy bags on long hikes

If you’ve ever gone on long hikes, you know that heavy bags don’t work. Every extra bit of weight on your bag weighs heavily on your shoulder in the long run.

It turns out life works the same way. On this hike, the longest of them all, every bit of mental or emotional baggage weighs us down.

So, if you’re finding yourself taking baggage into the weekend – annoyances, frustrations, grudges and the like – this is a great time to reset and drop them off.

The lighter we travel, the easier it is to enjoy this journey.

When teams and organizations become corporations

We have all done business with small company teams. We know everyone working on the team and hope they succeed and grow.

Over time, they do succeed and grow bigger. Now, they’ve become an organization as they’ve got people in specialized roles working to serve us well. Along the way, they’ve added a few extra policies and procedures – some of which don’t really improve the experience. But, for the most part, we still care about them. As a customer, we know we matter to them.

Then, one day, they make a decision – sometimes implicit – to stop treating us as people and start treating as numbers. We always had a customer number or ID. But, now, that ID is central. It doesn’t matter if we come or go. We’re just a statistic. Writing to them doesn’t matter because employees don’t have to time to waste with the average customer.

The same corporations, if successful, continue to grow so big that they also begin to treat their employees the same way. And, over time, that results in their inevitable decline. They might still be large behemoths for an extra few decades given their sheer size. But, their obituary has already been written.

Teams and organizations become corporations the day everyone in their organizations is taught to treat customers as numbers. As a result, the relevant question for most successful teams and organization that are doing well is not – “Can we scale?”

It is – “Can we scale while still treating our customers and employees as people?”

That’s the question great organizations are built on.

Will this matter in 10 years?

There’s a good chance that you’re faced with one of the following today –

  • An opportunity to be annoyed about something trivial
  • A realization that someone upset you
  • Awareness about someone you don’t like who seems to have gotten ahead in their careers or gotten rich
  • Frustration at something that didn’t go your way
  • A desire for a quick fix to a problem that requires thought

When any of this happens, just ask – “Will this matter in 10 years?”

It is amazing what happens when we react to short term emotions by thinking about the long term. Most things that annoy, upset, or worry us don’t matter in the long term. We realize that, in the long term, we’ll likely only care about having learnt and grown through our journey, done our best to do work that matters and built a few strong, trusting, relationships.

The rest is gravy.

When in doubt, optimize for the long term.

Self taught and self talk

As we grow, the proportion of our learning that is self taught increases. There are a few reasons for this.

First, completing formal education removes formal teachers and cohorts who’re going through what we go through. Second, work doesn’t lend itself naturally to coaching. So, it is on us to teach ourselves the skills we need. And, finally, we hopefully understand ourselves more and our able to absorb what we need from the world and tailor our curriculum to suit our needs.

The good news is that, with a bit of practice, we can become pretty good teachers. But, the bad news is that it requires us to master the art of good self talk.

We’ve all experienced this with our teachers. We’ve had great teachers who have so much wisdom to dispense that we hang on to every word they say. But, we’ve also had teachers who’ve played havoc with our self esteem.

Well, we can have the same effect on ourselves except ours is multiplied by a million given the amount of time we spend with ourselves.

There’s a lot that can be written about self talk. But, it boils down to one question – how do you respond to going through something disappointing? 

There tend to be three responses – running away from the situation, accepting the facts and beating ourselves up or focusing on the learning and moving on. The most important first step is understanding which of these is your default response. Not too long ago, mine involved beating myself up. And, as you might imagine, the consequences of understanding it and, over time, fixing it, are immense.

The war against coal is over

Scott Pruitt, the Chief of the Environment Protection Agency, said today that “The war against coal is over.” He would be rolling back a rule to limit greenhouse emissions from existing power plants today. They can go back to producing coal.

He is right in a sense. The war against coal is indeed over – but, for reasons different than he thinks.

As Stanford Professor Tony Seba explains, The cost of solar has moved from $100/Watt in 1970 to $0.33/Watt in 2012 – a 303x decline. Solar prices go down roughly ~11% every year. Compared to fossil fuel sources which have gotten more expensive, Solar’s costs have improved between 1800x and 5000x. As a result, the install base has doubled every year since 2000.

Everything I’ve read on behavioral economics has taught me that the best way to get us to make better decisions is to align the environment and incentives. Solar is getting cheaper and it will soon become a no-brainer, economically, for the world to switch to solar. I am optimistic about this happening in the next decade.

And, I am excited for that and the end of the war on coal.

Heimat, Naturopathy, Nobels, and Factory Farming – Saturday Quartz goodness

Every Saturday morning, I look forward to spending time reading the Quartz newsletter. I thought they outdid themselves this morning and I thought I’d share these notes with you.

On Saturdays, one of the lead journalists or editors pens a 4-5 paragraph Editorial of sorts. It is always thought provoking. Today’s struck a similar chord to my note a few days ago about Nobel prizes being a celebration of science.


Good morning, Quartz readers!

Even if you’re not a scientist or literary critic, you likely couldn’t help but notice that this week was Nobel Prize week(the last prize, in economics, will be announced Oct. 9). Though most people may not remember any winner’s name next month, these 10 laureates will walk as demigods among colleagues for the rest of their lives.

They will also walk past more than a few raised eyebrows.

Awarding a prize to a few humans for such grand achievements is inherently unfair. Prizes by nature require arbitrary limitations; the science Nobels, for instance, don’t recognize large collaborations, and are restricted to anachronistic categories (where’s the technology Nobel?). Interpretations of achievement are subjective; the peace Nobel seems to reward hope more than actual peacemaking, with US president Barack Obama and Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos. And prejudice complicates the entire picking process; science Nobels overwhelmingly go to white men (women have won 18 of 593 prizes), while the literature Nobel has been criticized for excluding worthy contenders—such as Leo Tolstoy—that don’t fit the Swedish Academy’s political world view.

But as our attention careens between disasters, massive sporting spectacles, and overhyped entertainment awards, there’s still something valuable in setting aside a week to celebrate knowledge itself. Other disciplines have their “Nobels” too, like the Fields Medal in mathematics or the Turing Award in computer science. But it is only the Nobel Prize that manages to draw attention from beyond the ivory tower, turning even the man and woman in the street to marvel at our ever-growing pyramid of human invention and ingenuity—in a vital counterbalance to calls from politicians to reject “experts.”

Arbitrary and subjective as they may be, prizes and competitions seize the public’s attention precisely because they give us heroes. They make people care about abstract subjects through the story of an individual, even if our desire for role models is flawed to begin with. Critics of the Nobel Prize, often journalists or academics, tend to take a zero-sum approach when they decry the Prize’s selection flaws. But perhaps a better approach would be to shed light on even more prizes and deserving individuals on the frontiers of human knowledge, instead. After all, Nobel week doesn’t have to be the only week each year when we celebrate what it means to be an advanced species.—Akshat Rathi


In addition the editorial note, they bring together some of the most noteworthy articles from the week. I try to read a couple and skim a few more. Here are a few that were, in equal parts, fascinating.

China’s blockchain ambitions—politics be damned. In a journey from Inner Mongolia’s bitcoin mines to a palatial villa for the Beijing’s bitcoin elite, Joon Ian Wong parses the reason why China has become dominant in the stateless cryptocurrency, and why its corporate establishment is now taking aim at the underlying technology.

Snapchat has become the perfect tool for understanding tragedy. The social network makes a surprisingly effective window into real-time news events—especially when disaster strikes. Mike Murphy reveals the deeply intimate perspective of Snap Maps, surfacing user views from Las Vegas, Catalonia and Mexico City, even after the news trucks leave.

An ex-“healer” sees the light. Information bubbles don’t just block political discourse, they filter out scientific evidence—and can end up endangering people’s health. Akshat Rathi profiles a former naturopath turned skeptic for a look at how even thoughtful people can end up blinded by false belief.

Germans are increasingly obsessed with “Heimat.” Anxiety over globalization, digitization, and migration has spurred a nationwide soul-search about the concept of “homeland.” At Reuters, Andrea Shalal explores Germany’s surging demand for dirndls, cuckoo clocks and detective novels.

How Breitbart took white nationalism mainstream. BuzzFeed reporter Joseph Bernstein takes a damning behind-the-scenes look at the right-wing US website, its editor Steve Bannon, and the billionaire Mercer family that funds it, based on a cache of emails exchanged within the site’s inner circle.

WANTED: Two piglets named Lucy and Ethel. Why is the FBI is hunting down escaped baby pigs from Smithfield Foods, the world’s biggest pork producer? At the Intercept, Glenn Greenwald examines the ties between the US government and Big Food, and explores animal rights activists’ powerful new tool: virtual reality experiences of factory farming.


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