Do what you love, love what you do!
If you want a successful career, find something that you like to do, that fits your lifestyle and that you are good at
A recent article by Cal Newport in the New York Times stirred up the debate on how people should choose their career path. The mantra of ‘life coaches’, self-help literature and career counsellors alike is to ‘find’ your passion and do what you love.
Some know earlier on in life what that they want to become ─ doctors, entrepreneurs, scientists or even ballerinas. These people are lucky enough to identify and live out their passion.
However, my experience tells me that most people are unaware of what they want to do, or they fail to avail the opportunities for pursuing their passion. In most cases, they simply do what life throws at them.
In my view, it is more likely for people to follow a career choice that is:
(a) Familiar to them. For example, your grandfather and mother were both doctors so that is what you wanted to do.
(b) An opportunity that was presented to them and they pounced on it. Who would have imagined that I would set up a successful consultancy firm in Asia?
I have a slightly more pragmatic approach. My advice to people looking for career guidance is to look for the sweet spot between three intersecting spheres:
1. What are you interested in?
Obviously, work would be a lot easier if you could do stuff that you are interested in and that motivates you. If incentives and monetary gains are your overriding motivators, then maybe an investment banking career is the route for you. If your interests have to do with impacting the community, then find a career in an NGO, the government or a school. If you are looking for development and opportunities to learn and work across the globe, then perhaps a large cooperation is the right choice for you.
Make sure to understand that the career you are interested is indeed fulfilling your interests. Over the span of my career, I have had thousands of interviews with people who wanted to join the human resource (HR) department.
Upon being asked why they thought that they could be great HR managers, their answers, invariably, were that they want to work with people and help them. My standard reply to this answer was,
“Fantastic! I would suggest you to become a hair dresser or a taxi driver.”
2. What can you be the best at in the world?
Being interested or passionate in something is not the only thing that should drive your career choices. I am very interested in playing the cello, but can I become the world’s next Yo-Yo Ma? No. However, I am pretty sure that you know what you are the best at.
What are some of the things that people praise you about? What work activities do you like and don’t mind spending hours and hours on? Those are the ones that you can be the best at in the world. Those activities are the ones you should continue to develop. In his book Outliers, Gladwell suggests that you can be the best in the world if you spend about 5000 hours honing and perfecting a skill.
Remember being the best in the world has nothing to do with your level of experience or seniority. You should have the right ambition to be the best nurse, teacher, astronaut, carpenter, musician or president of the world.
3. What lifestyle is important for you?
So, if you have figured out something that you can be good at and are interested in, the last step is to see whether this fits with the lifestyle you want to live. You have to ask yourself the questions that determine your future.
Are you willing to give up your personal life in search of that stellar career? Are you willing or able to move out of your hometown in search of that perfect opportunity? What income do you need to support your lifestyle? How important is work to you, versus your family?
My friend and colleague Nate Thompson has a wonderful example of this. He tells me,
“Paul, my family is full of dentists, and do you really think that they are really passionate about sticking their fingers in other people’s mouths the whole day? Of course not! They are dentists because it gives them a four day work week, no overtime work. They don’t have to answer emails constantly nor have a ‘c**ppy’ boss who they have to please. So they do it because it gives them a great lifestyle and that is most important for them.”
If you want to get your career to succeed, find that sweet spot. Find the job that interests you, but something that you will be good at. It should fit with the lifestyle you are looking for.
Love what you do, and I'm sure you will prosper in life.
Read more by Paul here or follow him on Twitter @paul_keijzer