Steve Jobs’s commencement Speech at Standford on 2005 is famous for promoting the idea that working on what you love is a condition for doing great work.
You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.
If you could work in whatever you wanted, what would you do? The question is not what we would love to do now, at this moment. Paul Graham1, says that the work you love must be, at least, something that you like more than ‘improductive pleasure’. Something you like so much that the concept of free time blurs. Something were ‘free time’ is not the reward for having worked hard all day, but work itself is rewarding.
What to do
Not everybody knows what they would love to do. What should you do?
Finding what you love is a quest. Not a one-path-only quest, or a narrow-path kind of quest. As Gardner says in The Art of Fiction that the writer gets to known his characters as he writes2, you get to know what you love as you work.
So, work on something you like, even if it is not what you would like to do in the long term. But there is one condition: you have to put the effort to do a really outstanding work. Showing up every day is not enough. You have to work as if it were the work you would love to do.
Working with this focus in mind will help you develop habits and acquire skills that are useful in any kind of work. Specially, the habit of doing the best work you can with disregard of external circumstances. It will also help you distinguish what you like and what you don’t, and what your abilities are.
Not doing your best because you are not in your dream job is the fool’s errand and a sign of immaturity. Most of the time, an excuse for laziness. Believing that if you could work in what you love, then you would give your best effort, or you would be more proactive, or you would not have difficulties with your boss… is just wishful thinking. Experience shows that if you are not giving your best effort now, you probably won’t do it even if circumstances change.
You need to be skillful, because good intentions won’t get you far. Demagogy is sometimes that: great motivation, without skills.
Loving what you do vs. doing what you love
Pablo Ferreiro, a teacher of mine, explains that what you should focus on is not so much on doing what you love, but on loving what you do. His point is that if you put love in what you do, regardless of how attracted you are at first to the work at hand, in time it will become something you love to do. Anyone who has worked hard to achieve a worthy goal has probably experienced something similar, even if the tasks at hand were not so attractive at first.
Dave Ulrich3, in a recent workshop in Lima, Perú, said something related. How do you get commitment from the sceptical or the unsatisfied employee? By asking him to do things that require him to behave as if he were committed. In time, commitment will come.
Passion helps, motivation is required
In life, sometimes people mistake passion for love. Something similar can happen with work.
Being passionate about your work certainly helps in getting things done. The problem is, passion does not always responds to our summons. Even if working on your dream job, there will be times when the things you have to do in order to finish the task at hand are dull or even boring, but it has to be done.
It doesn’t matter how brilliant someone is or how much potential someone has, finishing anything worthwhile requires overcoming the lack of the enthusiasm4. Realizing this and doing it every time separates the amateur from the professional.
Being passionate about something is not the same as being motivated. Being passionate is about the emotion that empowers your actions. Motivation is about the order of importance of the motives that drive your actions. Motivation should be rational, passion is not. In order to do great work, passion helps, motivation is indispensable.
For example, maybe what motivates you in your job are the skills you develop. Or you are attracted by the challenges it entails (like beating an aggressive sales quota, or developing a new market). Maybe having the chance to work with talented people is what makes you tick. Having a competitive salary may not be your primary motivation, but certainly doesn’t hurt. Your motivation, in any case, comprehends a series of motives.
The most powerful and lasting motivation comes from doing things that have a positive impact outside of us, be it in people, or society… Companies and organizations with great misions have always attracted the best talent.
Most of the factors that makes you love what you do and do it well are inside yourself. That’s why there are persons who make a difference with independence of the task at hand.
John Gardner, The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers. ↩