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Paul Graham On How To Do What You Love

Last Update: January 30 2006 2PM

I’ve blogged before about how I love what I do. And I meant every word of it. Probably because I’m lucky enough to have found a career where I love going to work every day, I’m constantly evangelizing to people—family, friends, employees, and prospective employees, etc.—how important it is to do what you love. I wish I could get through to more people than I do. It really pains me to see so many people wandering aimlessly through their careers with no passion for what they do and no sense of direction for how to fix that. But what I’ve realized over the last few months is that most people simply don’t know how to do what they love. They don’t know where to begin. Many don’t even think it’s possible. To some, I just sound like some crazy idealist—or at best, someone that only loves what I do “because I started my own company” (as if that’s some kind of walk in the park!).

So how do you figure out how to do what you love? I’m not even going to try to answer that question because Paul Graham did it for you. Paul is one of the best writers I know of and he articulates, “How to Do What You Love,” better than I ever could (go here, print it out, and read it all—its 14 pages but well worth the time).

The best part of the entire article, in my opinion, is his answer to the question, “How much are you supposed to like what you do?” He says:

Here’s an upper bound: Do what you love doesn’t mean, do what you would like to do most this second. Even Einstein probably had moments when he wanted to have a cup of coffee, but told himself he ought to finish what he was working on first.
It used to perplex me when I read about people who liked what they did so much that there was nothing they’d rather do. There didn’t seem to be any sort of work I liked that much. If I had a choice of (a) spending the next hour working on something or (b) be teleported to Rome and spend the next hour wandering about, was there any sort of work I’d prefer? Honestly, no.

But the fact is, almost anyone would rather, at any given moment, float about in the Carribbean, or have sex, or eat some delicious food, than work on hard problems. The rule about doing what you love assumes a certain length of time. It doesn’t mean, do what will make you happiest this second, but what will make you happiest over some longer period, like a week or a month.

Unproductive pleasures pall eventually. After a while you get tired of lying on the beach. If you want to stay happy, you have to do something.

As a lower bound, you have to like your work more than any unproductive pleasure. You have to like what you do enough that the concept of “spare time” seems mistaken. Which is not to say you have to spend all your time working. You can only work so much before you get tired and start to screw up. Then you want to do something else– even something mindless. But you don’t regard this time as the prize and the time you spend working as the pain you endure to earn it.

Even I would rather do some of those activities—right this second—than work. 😉 More posts

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