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January 2014

Post image for 6 should-be-common-sense realities about doing what you love for a living

It seems like we’ve reached a point in our online culture where trashing the notion of doing what you love for a living has become at least popular as encouraging it. Google “Do what you love” and half the results are rants against the idea.

Having recently quit my job to do exactly that, I’m curious to know why so many people think I’ve made a terrible mistake, so I read a lot of these pieces, and I now I have fewer doubts than ever. The anti-“Do what you love” movement gained some wind recently in a popular article by Miya Tokumitsu, in which the author conflates the simple idea of loving your work with the exploitation of interns, the injustice of traditional gender roles, the globalization of food production, and the unlikable side of Steve Jobs.

The rest of the pieces I read are similarly off the point. Detractors of “Do what you love” (or DWYL) come at it from all kinds of angles, but what they have in common is that they all seem to have a very naive idea about what doing that actually means. Given that some of today’s graduates are leaving school already convinced that DWYL is “terrible career advice,” here are six points that I hope will one day be obvious to everyone.

1) “Work you love” is still work

By reading their online rants it seems like many anti-DWYL people imagine that doing what you love for a living means expecting to get paid to taste ice cream or review hot tubs. I can’t believe this clarification is necessary, but DWYL does not mean, “You should be getting paid for doing the thing you enjoy most, if you can just love it intensely enough.”

Work you love does not need to be work you would do for free. I love writing, and while there is certainly writing I would do for free, I recognize that making a career out of it requires me to do a lot of things that I don’t necessarily enjoy, such as writing sales pages, fixing inexplicable website issues, and navigating IRS paperwork. I do these things because they allow me to keep doing what I love. I never expected my dream career to spare me every instance of annoyance and tedium. Loving your children means cleaning up their vomit, but it doesn’t mean you love cleaning up vomit.

2) Your work needs to be useful to other people

Particular criticism is paid to the title of Marsha Sinetar’s famous book Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow. The “…and the money will follow” part presumes you understand the basic reason that anybody makes money doing anything, which is because they create something worth paying for. The amount paid for that something is directly related to how much value it provides for people other than you, and is not necessarily related to how fulfilling it was for you to create — although the latter can certainly make the former easier. We all want other people to have an incentive to give us money, so naturally it’s more than worthwhile to find a way to provide value that doesn’t simultaneously make you dread five-sevenths of your days on earth. 

The money will follow because you are older than twelve and therefore understand that some aspect of your work must involve doing or creating something that makes people want to give you their money for it. Love for your work implies that you are determined to continue to do that work, which obviously requires you to do it in such a way that you can pay your rent. Love your work, but be aware that your love isn’t what other people are interested in paying for.  Read More

Post image for The difference between being good with money and bad with money

In his memoir, Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler estimated that he spent about 20 million dollars on cocaine during the 70s and 80s, but now he’s revised his estimate down to only 5 or 6 millon.

Either way, I don’t doubt he had a good time, but I bet that with a different purchasing strategy, those dollars could have bought a lot more good times than he ended up with.

Near the other end of the happiness-per-dollar spectrum you might find the habits of my super-thrifty girlfriend, for whom a month of particularly extravagant and careless living might cost her $1200. The other day I appalled her with my anecdotes about how in 2012 I had let my personal living expenses rise to over $3000 a month. I live on a lot less than that now and I’m a lot happier, and I could still live on substantially less than I do.

I learned to be good with money overnight, just over a year ago, when I stayed up late after discovering Mr Money Mustache and Jacob Lund Fisker. Over twenty years of daily money worries ended abruptly with a simple shift in how I looked at money. In the year between then and now I’ve changed careers, become about ten times more confident in my ability to provide for myself, and I wake up happy every day.

Essentially, the realization I had is that money is permanent. You have it until you trade it for something, and then that trade is permanent — you are thereafter permanently without that money. It’s gone and belongs to someone else now. Therefore it’s important to consider the permanence of whatever benefit you traded it for.

Think about it: when you die, you will have earned and spent a specific, finite number of dollars. For you the number might be 2,193,003, or maybe it’s 8,806,550, or even 217,101,992. Whatever it is, at the moment you die, it is a real and actual number. Even if you never wrote any of your purchases down, there’s an actual list of things these dollars were traded for, and each of these trades contributed to (or maybe detracted from) the overall amount of pleasure and fulfillment you experienced in your life.

There’s an enormous range of possible things to trade these finite dollars for, but ultimately there’s only one thing you’re trying to get for your money, which is quality of life. Universally, we want the feelings in our lives to be good, and there’s really nothing else we value. If you could see your “final balance sheet” and look back on how things went, you’d intuitively know which of those transactions contributed significantly to your overall happiness and which didn’t.

This trading can be done extremely well or extremely badly. The joy-per-dollar efficiency between different trades can vary by factors of thousands or millions. Even a free six-million dollar pile of cocaine would probably remove more joy from your life than it would add, so that’s not a good thing to trade for at any price. A five-dollar coffee might add a bit of joy, but even four of them will only add up to about an hour of low-level pleasure, and then it’s completely gone for your remaining decades on earth. You could have spent those dollars on, say, a copy of Qwirkle Cubes instead, which in my life has already created dozens or hours of free, highly social fun and is virtually indestructible.

I used to think of money as something like a running fuel supply. A life simply burns dollars, and if I want a big, fast, high-horsepower life (and who doesn’t?) then I need to be pumping significant quantities of dollars into it on a regular basis. In this context money seemed volatile, short-term and scarce. In other words, my money situation was a matter of how much I had coming in right now compared to what I wanted to spend right now. My strategy was to find a source of fuel that supplied me faster than I would be burning it once I was living like I wanted to. It always seemed a few years away.

I had grown up thinking like that so it didn’t strike me as odd. Under that mentality, the money situation always seemed to be a temporary condition, like weather. There were nice days and crummy days, heat waves and cold snaps — and the fact that it rained two weeks ago seemed like it ought to have nothing to do with whether it was warm today.

One example of this mentality is the common habit of going out to eat on payday, as if the timing of the incoming money should have anything to do with whether the purchase is sensible or not. It implies an overly zoomed-in view of the relationship between money and happiness.   Read More

Post image for How to live in the moment

Two things happen when you’re actually living in the moment: you don’t feel like you need to be anywhere else, and your face goes away.

When I’m preoccupied — not in the moment — I keep seeing my own face or profile as I do things. It’s almost as if I can see what I look like as I talk to people, walk to the store, or do anything else. At least I think I keep seeing myself.

Whenever I feel completely centered, I don’t see my face anywhere, except if I happen to look at a mirror or a photo. My face can be found nowhere else, and when I do see it, it doesn’t seem like a hugely important part of the world. It’s just another detail in the world around me.

The times when I’m in the moment, my face is refreshingly absent from my experience. I see my hands constantly, and occasionally the blur of a strand of hair or my nose, and my feet when I look down. But aside from reflections and photos there is absolutely nothing resembling my face in my actual experience of the world. If I ever think I see my face right up close, in the place I’m looking out of, then that’s all it is: thinking. It’s just a mental image, I’m not actually seeing it.

This first person viewpoint, where I can’t see my face, is the only real viewpoint of the world I ever actually have. When I finally let myself live in it, I wonder why I ever left. I’ve come back from a hectic world of mental images to the real world. That’s what “being centered” or “living on the moment” actually is — returning to the first person experience, which is the real world.

In my experience, if I actually look rather than just think about it, where I’m supposed to have a face I actually have nothing. It’s a clear space. Out in front of that nothing a little ways, there is a nose-blur and sometimes a hair-blur, and beyond that there is all sorts of interesting content which changes all the time — people, skies, computer screens, piles of snow, concerts, city lights, birds, throw rugs, music, food. But in every moment, no matter what the content, at the absolute nearest end is a great big nothing.

I am looking out of this nothing everywhere I go. On a plane. Across a diner booth from someone. From my pillow. While I’m doing a push up. Wherever I am, in every single moment of my life, no matter what I do, I am looking out of an empty space.  Read More

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