“Adults are always asking little kids what they want to be when they grow up because they’re looking for ideas.” – Paula Poundstone
16 months ago I left a great company, a company I loved, with the hope of doing something more with my career. I just turned 40. I was tired from being on the road so much. I wanted more time with my wife and kids. It was time for a change, but I didn’t know what was next.
So I read. A lot. Trying to find meaning. Looking for an authentic next step. Wanting to make the most of what is to be “the most successful decade of your career.”
And while I’m far from figuring it all out … (I mean, really, who am I to provide advice on finding your passion, purpose and path?) I did discover a few gems that have helped me tremendously and might help you, too.
Stop doing shit you hate.
You may remember being passionate about practically everything work-related when you were young. I know I do. But, as time goes on, it becomes harder to feel that corporate passion. Especially when nothing feels new. After all, you’re not saving lives. You’re not even saving pets’ lives.
Then Gary Vaynerchuk inspired me to replace the word “passion” with “strength.” This change in perspective changes everything. After that, I wasn’t stuck trying to find passion anymore and created a new plan where I let my strengths guide my decisions.
His message is simple and powerful: Stop doing shit you hate. Nail down your strengths so you can discover your passion.
Ryan Holiday takes the idea of passion one step further in his fantastic book called “The Ego Is the Enemy.” In it, he goes so far as to say you shouldn’t be passionate. Why? Because passion is too deeply rooted in emotion and clouds sound decision-making. Instead, leave passion for amateurs and focus on your purpose.
Relax, purpose is everywhere.
Do you ever wonder about your life’s purpose? Does it all come down to a single moment like it did for Simon Birch? Will you be ready for it? What if it never comes? What if you never invent the next iPhone, cure cancer or land an HBO comedy special?
Then again, what if life isn’t about a single purpose, but rather many different purposes?
Love your partner. Be the best parent you can be. Help your clients succeed. Prioritize your health. Be of service to those in need. All of these are purposes in life.
In Ask the Aged, Karl Pillemer interviews the elderly and discovers that purpose comes down to this:
“The oldest Americans, most of whom also struggled with the question of purpose, tell you to relax. They say that you are likely to have a number of purposes, which will shift as you progress through life.”
Lead with your strengths. They will get you where you need to go. Purpose is everywhere.
There’s no such thing as the wrong career path.
I’ve always thought it’s okay to be on the wrong path, as long as you’re moving in the right direction. But what if there’s no such thing as the wrong career path?
Turns out, it’s all stepping stones. Choose a goal and go. Anything. Just get moving. Neil Strauss does a fantastic job of explaining at the 36:15 mark. Fast-forward to that part in the interview and listen for 2 minutes. It’s worth it.
The best strategies are emergent. Your path up to this point hasn’t been predictable. It was made up of a series of small decisions. Forks in the road you will continue to encounter for the rest of your life.
I love this quote from Peter Sims’ “Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries,” which shines a light on how we prevent ourselves from getting started on our own paths:
“One of the most commons things I hear people say is they would do something new—take an unconventional career path or start a company—but they need a great idea first. I learned that most successful entrepreneurs don’t begin with brilliant ideas—they discover them.”
“Not everything has to be okay. And that’s okay.”
Seth Godin's book “What to Do When It’s Your Turn (and It’s Always Your Turn)” has been a great inspiration to me in facing my fear of failure. His philosophies are:
“Fuck it, ship it.”
“He who fails most, wins.”
He goes on to say nothing you do means anything until it interacts with the market. Until then, it’s as if there is no work. Like this blog post I’ve been sitting on for months now. I have to publish it.
No, it’s not perfect. But, for me, it represents a single authentic step forward. There's no simple way to quiet the noise in your head. Not everything has to be okay.
Maybe you’re sitting on imperfect work as well. Work that might change the entire trajectory of your career. Go ahead, ship it. I’d love to read it. Probably. At the very least, I’ll skim it. I’m kidding… send me a link.