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Do whatever makes you happy is a lie (medium.com)
49 points by staltz 1429 days ago | hide | past | web | 71 comments | favorite

Arnold Schwarzeneggar said it pretty damn well on Reddit:

"We can't always do what we are passionate about, but everything we do can move us closer to our passion. I was never passionate about construction. But I laid bricks and worked so I could support my passion when I was starting out in bodybuilding.

The most important thing is, you need to find your passion. And once you do, put everything into it. Everything."


This kind of advice is simply alien to a large subset of the population. I have no single "passion." I move from interest to interest rapidly, I'm never really interested in mastering anything, rather getting practical knowledge about something then moving on.

That is pretty much the unspoken corollary to the "do what you love" mantra. If you love D, you can't just go from A to D. You have to find B and C to get you there. Sometimes B and C are going to college and working a shitty job for a few years. And if you have to work a shitty low paying job, you should at least pick one that helps you get closer to D.

That's ridiculous. People are less passionate about their jobs today because 1) there are many more unfulfilling, essentially unnecessary jobs and 2) people see more opportunities to switch to new, more interesting work (even if they usually don't take the leap, and even if the opportunity isn't really there). Sometimes people end up in these unfulfilling jobs thinking it's their passion, then have an identity crisis when they realize that they aren't "making a difference" - say, the politics example.

A decent take on the real issue: http://www.strikemag.org/bullshit-jobs/

Biography on A&E of Schwarzeneggar tells stories of him being in the German armed forces (post WWII, duh), going AWOL to work out at night.

And he was studying to be a real-estate agent after his first few acting gigs because he wanted a plan B if his acting career didn't work out.

This is a really great anecdote, thanks for sharing.

"I was never passionate about construction."

Its interesting that HR would never permit him to be hired now a days.

What? As a brickie's labourer? I think strength, and willingness to work hard are quite sufficient qualifications for that job.

We're on hacker news... I think the analogy with pretty much any entry level (or non-entry level) tech job is pretty obvious.

Except that your comment is completely nonsensical... You can't apply one industries hiring metrics to anothers as if they translate in some way(when they clearly don't).

Not being passionate about laying bricks doesn't mean you won't be hired for menial labor, not being passionate about a position in this industry might very well stop your from being hired for a programming job...

but why must you be passionate about software development? What if you aren't really passionate but you are still a good programmer? What's so bad about that?

I'm curious because I've never really been "passionate" about any job. In fact I've dislike or downright hated every job I've ever had. I still think I perform well because I have to. Jobs are a means to an end.

Yep, I agree, I wasn't trying to say that the process of determining whether someone is "passionate" is the correct way of doing things.... For an intelligent person the system is easy to identify and cheat anyway...

I was just pointing out that a bricklayer won't be vetted for "passion" whereas a programmer very well could be.... Whether a programmer should be(especially given that "passion" is basically an impossible to measure metric) is an entirely different discussion.

My apologies for presenting my point in such a confusing manner.

"when they clearly don't"

Why? Other than the obvious appeal to authority "ZoF says so" and excluding the obvious passion oriented professions such as appearing to be passionate when being hired as an actor for a formulaic romantic comedy or appearing to be passionate when applying to become a prostitute / escort?

Assuming its sane and wise for HR to demand intense feelings of passion when solving fizzbuzz, why shouldn't an otherwise supposedly sane profession like bricklayers apprentice demand gooey steamy firey passion with respect to hauling five gallon buckets of premix thinset mortar around a jobsite? Apparently passion is more important at higher level jobs, so beyond apprentice work, if my journeyman plumber felt intense passion for copper tube compression fittings when he replaced my toilet, I would have a substantially improved bathroom experience every time I flush. And if this is an absolute laughingstock when applied to construction, why is such unprofessional behavior tolerated in the software development hiring process?

What it really is, is a test for lying. Can you lie to me well enough to convince me either I'm a really good liar, or so easily seen through that you're never going to pull the wool over my eyes? HR/mgmt assumes you'll by definition be a crook, after all, who claimed 25 years of Scala development on his resume to match the ridiculous job requirements and checkboxes, which were designed so only the guy we already selected could possibly be hired, how did this guy sneak past?

Its basically insulting, and seeing how you'll respond to being insulted. Pitifully this is how we select our coworkers.

Sorry, I feel like I've miss-stated my point. I'm not saying the policy of "determining whether one is passionate" is a good way of determining whether someone should be hired(in fact I think it's quite retarded).

All I was trying to say is that A bricklayer would not go through the same vetting process that a programmer would, whether that process is effective or moral is irrelevant to my point. I was just saying that the fields have completely different hiring processes and comparing the two objectively as if they are similar is nonsensical.

>>I think strength, and willingness to work hard are quite sufficient qualifications for that job.


He will likely be asked about and made to solve pointless problems related to the chemistry behind the chemicals somehow related to brick making.

The majority of jobs don't even pretend to require passionate employees. Nobody expects the clerk at 7-11 to be passionate.

He's exactly right. My dream is to run my own kick ass creative agency. I can't just walk out of my job today and begin. Have a goal in mind and treat everything as a temporary stepping stone. I don't get bogged up in corporate culture, because I know this isn't the first day for rest of my life.

I've been traveling around the world working 20-40 hours a week on my side projects (startups) for extremely little money. I actually haven't spent a dime in the last 1.5 months.

How do I do it? I spend an additional 10-15 hours working wherever I'm living in exchange for a room and all of my food. It's called WWOOFing, you've probably heard of it. The nice thing is, I get to focus on whatever it is I want without worrying about bills. Sure, it's not for everyone, but I couldn't be happier with how I get to spend my time.

I'm in the middle of brewing up a blog post about this, so feel free to get in touch if you're interested in more about this.

PS: Here is where I currently am (Norway): http://www.flickr.com/photos/reustle/9465059825/lightbox/

WWOOFing sounds like a lot of fun! Wish I had done that instead of go to graduate school and accrue debt. Now I'm stuck paying that off, and when that's done my wife and I want to start a family. Maybe our children can WWOOF if that's still a thing when they're of age...

"Maybe our children can WWOOF if that's still a thing when they're of age"

WWOOF is a marketing term / organization for what amounts to being an intern on an organic / permaculture farm.

I've done some fun genealogy and per census records going back centuries young people have done this kind of thing, so as long as organic / permaculture farms still exist, our kids will be able to intern if mutually acceptable.

Beyond peasant labor there's an implied educational aspect where most WWOOFers want to run their own farm some day and are touring around learning how. If you're not learning anything new anymore, its time to move to the next farm. Unless you got a masters in Ag Sci its probably not a fair comparison.

In the ancient apprenticeship structure, its basically being a journeyman in the field of organic farming.

I've read a lot about it from having a goal of redesigning my backyard according to permaculture guidelines, although not having the time/weather/money combination optimized to really accomplish anything. One of my neighbors has an excellent permaculture designed backyard, which is both appealing to the eye and interesting to think about.

I would just like to note that not all WWOOFing spots are organic farms. Where I'm currently living, we have a sawmill, some fields that get cut and bailed by someone else, and some sheep that are starting to find their way back from the mountains for the winter.

Ah thats interesting, I thought they were all O.farms or similar. The original argument still stands that even if WWOOF went PPOOF and disappeared, they'd still be interns at the sawmill... although it would probably be harder / less efficient to match up the interns with the opportunities.

There's probably a startup idea involving WWOOF as a template for other fields of endeavor. Probably not hyperregulated field like becoming a surgeon, but maybe something a little less regulated like a tree-surgeon or something in tech. A formalized online group to help "guide" the internship process in tech or maybe media?

http://helpx.net fills that gap

interesting, never heard of WWOOFing before.

But doesn't it completely alienate you from your surroundings? It sounds like you are changing places a lot. And I don't know about you, but my friends are the one constant in my life I'm really relying on.

I explore the local areas a lot (hiking, biking) and try to meet new people. WWOOFing time tends to be bunched in to a few months, for example I'm on this farm in Norway for 2 months, so you start to settle in a bit which is nice when you want to focus on code.

I would love to do something like this. Looking forward to the blog post!

love it, class picture....awe inspiring!!

    Telling investors that the startup makes no revenue is a joke to them
Maybe this is just poor word choice on the part of the author, but a startup with no revenue is a joke unless you haven't launched yet. If you have, you still haven't taken in any money, you might want to think about whether the product or service you're offering is worth someone paying for.

On the other hand, if the author meant "profit" instead of "revenue", then this sentence makes far more sense, there are plenty of promising startups and companies whose expenditures currently exceed their revenues, and shouldn't be outright dismissed by potential investors.

"We have a million and a half users in 3 months" is a pretty good substitute for "We're making a million dollars in revenue a year"

By that heuristic "free-beer.com" is a great startup! :)

> [...] but a startup with no revenue is a joke unless you haven't launched yet

or is Instagram. And as much of a black swan as Instagram was, don't forget that you don't have to be Instagram, you just have to convince a VC that there's non-negligible chance that you might be.

Author's problem seems to be "what I thought would make me happy doesn't"—so the issue isn't that "do whatever makes you happy" is a lie, it's that it's a learning process, not something who h involves one choice and never thinking again.

He also underestimated another crucial fact: What he thought would make him happy didn't turn out to make him enough money to be happy. So in the end, it didn't make him happy for two reasons.

Really doesn't warrant the title.

I think the advice is sound, but it's phrased in a way that can be easily misinterpreted (as the author discovered). Better would be:

"Arrange things so that you can do whatever makes you happy".

As an example, Rock Climbing, Surfing, and Travelling (to do those other things) make me happy. So I program computers.

Notice that Programming Computers doesn't necessarily make me happy directly (though lucky for me I do find it plenty of fun). It does, however, allow one to quickly sock away a bunch of money by working a contract, and has lots of easy and socially acceptable ways to quit (contract ends/startup burns a hole in the ground). The end result is that I get to spend a lot of time Travelling, Climbing, and Surfing.

Now, had I misinterpreted "do whatever makes you happy" as "find a job doing whatever makes you happy", I'd be guiding people up easy routes and hosting children's birthday parties at the crag for $60/day. That would not, in actual fact, make me happy. Even though technically I'd be climbing rocks all day every day.

So yeah, turns out it is actually quite simple. Better still, by virtue of being here to read this story, most of us here are in a really good position to do exactly the same thing.

It sounds like the author has mistaken the original advice of "Do what you love" as "Do what you think you love". How can this person know he "loves" being an entrepreneur when he never was one?

I guess he thought that being an entrepreneur meant more "If you build it, they will come", which is wrong. The reality of it is that creating a startup takes a lot of different skill sets, including knowing how to build a business and managing cash flow, etc. And just because you love the idea of being something doesn't mean you are actually good at doing it.

There's a sad reality, which is most fun things don't pay the bills for the median performer. Otherwise more people would be doing it, driving the wages down. The exceptional guitar player makes a killing doing what they love. Not the person at the 95th percentile, let alone the 50th.

So the advice reduces to "do the most fun thing you can do that pays the bills for the median performer". Sounds about right. Stronger versions, like "follow your passion no matter what" coming from Schwarzenegger, are wrong because of survivor bias.

I suspect that in many competitive fields persistence actually hurts people in aggregate, and everyone would benefit if everyone agreed to be less persistent. For example, in a sports competition with a large prize for #1, making people more persistent won't grow the size of the prize. After a certain point, the sum of resources spent by all participants will be greater than the prize, but by the deadly logic of game theory, everyone will just keep spending more and more. The same thing seems to be happening in music/art/writing/acting (because popularity is a zero-sum contest), and parts of the startup scene (for the same reason).

Or "do the most thing you can do that pays the bills based on a realistic assessment of your competence."

Unfortunately there are many biases that stop people from realistically assessing themselves.

One good trick is using the "outside view", deliberately tricking your brain into ignoring all the special details of your situation and looking at the typical case instead. For example, "how long do you think your classmates will take to finish their theses?" vs "how long do you think it'll take you to finish your thesis?" Studies show that asking the first question yields a much more accurate answer to the second question than asking the second question directly :-)

This works when asking someone else, but how about asking oneself?

I try to come up with some objective metric. "I think I'm fast, how does my 50 yard dash compare?" "I think I'm smart, how were my grades? And standardized test scores?" Even still, the smartest amongst us have the best ability to lie to ourselves. Everyone thinks they're in the top half, and most in the top quartile.

If the question is whether to drop everything and follow your passion, e.g. game development, you can ask yourself what will happen to the typical person who decides to follow that passion. The answer is obvious, they run out of money.

Then you can try to adjust the starting conditions, and ask what happens to the typical person who decides to do gamedev while having a day job. The answer is again obvious, they stay afloat financially but fail to complete the game.

And so on, you keep adjusting the starting conditions until you find a scenario that works for the typical person. This is similar to the startup advice saying "make a product that people would buy even if it wasn't very good".

Isn't the unfortunate ending that very little greatness is achieved by the mean or median person?

> Even if it would get investment, most investors would typically push me to make money as soon as possible.

Hell no they don't. They push you to get users/hyper growth. The whole point of investment is to let you grow faster than you can bootstrapping, which this article then goes on to say is the way to go with sustainability being paramount.

If you go for bootstrapping and sustainability and a competitor is being VC funded and burning down their runway of cash every year, they are going to blow you away in growth and your company will be irrelevant.

"So Good They Can't Ignore You" does a good job of covering this - http://www.amazon.com/Good-They-Cant-Ignore-You/dp/145550912...

Recently, I went on vacation to the beach with some friends, and before I left I snagged some books from my father's bookshelf, one of which was "Big Bucks" by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles. It's short and simple and I was able to read it through quickly.

The message is pretty intuitive, and not especially innovative, but over the course of the book, the story lays out 3 rules of success:

1.) Do what makes you happy -- this way, "work" becomes "play" and you actually get excited enough to put the necessary hours and effort into it.

2.) Monetize what you're doing -- prioritize money and success over "play" -- you can do what you love all day, but unless you actually make it bring in cash, it's still just playing!

3.) Focus on increasing your income moreso than cutting costs -- not really relevant for this article, I guess.

I think what happened here was that the author didn't make it to step 2. He was enjoying what he was doing, but he wasn't striving to monetize it -- at least, not to the extent that turns it from a hobby into a successful means of income or cashflow.

(btw I recommend the book, even though it probably just tells more of the same stuff you read in many other success books)

If making money is the goal and not the means, of course you're going to stop liking it when the prospects stop looking good.

Do the highest-paying job that you hate the least.

I get what you're saying but taken literally, this would imply that there are multiple, equally high-paying jobs, when in reality there's probably only ever one, which has a constant value of hate.

What we need is a normalized value that is proportional to pay but inversely proportional to hate. This is probably what you meant.

> What we need is a normalized value that is proportional to pay but inversely proportional to hate.

Well, except that positive utility from pay (what you'd really want to weigh against disutility, or "hate") probably isn't directly proportional to pay (several studies have shown decreasing marginal utility from increasing income and even a point beyond which the marginal impact of additional income on realized happiness becomes undetectable.)

And you probably want to maximize net utility (utility - disutility), not (utility/disutility).

It's bizarre how much shelter, food, clothing, health care, internet access, etc. cost given how productive our economy is.

Guaranteed basic income + a modicum of required public service would allow people to literally do whatever makes them happy and drastically reduce suffering.

I agree with this 100%.

Happiness is an arbitrary condition based more on psychological factors than actual actions performed.

And as such should never be the full determining factor of your career.

For example, what makes you happy changes as you grow. Also, environmental conditions instill certain standards of happiness in people and as those conditions change so will a persons perception of what makes them happy.

Somtimes a simple change in your perception and internal state can do more for your happiness than changing some external materialistic aspect of you life like a new job or new car.

Existentialists would say: "love what you do".

A lot of people in the HN nouveau riche tend to forget: you can't just skip to the self-actualization bit; there's a whole hierarchy of needs you have to fill first. Starting with food on the table.

Outside of hubs, and even in hubs, it's ridiculously hard to raise money for a startup that isn't making money. I had so many conversations with investors for thecityswig.com who literally did not even want to have a conversation about user and customer traction if it didn't involve them writing me a check or paying me for something - no matter HOW good the news was. Did not even want to hear it. And maybe that's ok, maybe that's even good, but it's certainly true.

Happiness is not an "end", its about to enjoy everything you do.

If you enjoyed the process, does not matter if your startup failed or not, thats a total different thing.

I agree with others that OP has likely just misidentified what it is makes him happy, but I don't think that what it really was is necessarily money. Sounds like the author was actually most happy when he was designing his startup. So maybe he needs to focus more on the bit he actually likes - i.e. the creative process of designing web platforms. This may mean getting a salaried job with another company.

OP here. I pretty much enjoyed the whole journey up until now when it got unsustainable. Creative initial designs are really fun, but I have lots of fun also perfecting the system and seeing users coming in. It really "makes me happy".

Let me fix that title for you...

Do whatever makes you happy (without taking reality into account) is a lie (well, not a lie, just a wee bit stupid and naive).

Like people who go to university with NO IDEA what they want to do when they get out and then whine about not having a job and a huge student loan when they graduate.

Think. Decide. Do. And take responsibility instead of looking for someone to blame for why you are where you are in life.

"Do what you love" comes with caveats BUT ... you didn't do what you love.

You said what you love is building a product. However, what you chose to do is be an entrepreneur. These are different things.

You took on a combination of building a product and building a business.

If you had just built a product, without the necessity of having to make it a business, then I guess you would be much happier.

Unfortunately, he is very much correct.

My associate, left finance to do something that he thought it was valuable to the world, that was make Android (because for iOS it was already a popular business, but Android noone was doing yet) games for children, with quality, and ethics, no ads, no in app purchase, no abusive tactics, no information tracking...

He came to me with that dream, and I jumped on it.

Now 1 year a a couple months forward, we have lots of free downloads, almost none paid downloads, also although other stores invited us, OEM contracts were offered to us, and whatnot, Apple and Google ignore us (I cannot decide what is worse, Apple, that we cannot find how to contact them at all, or Google, where a Developer Advocate review all our newly launched apps, and all of them so far he approved and sent to the editorial team, that... did nothing with them).

Then we look at our competitors, and what we see is: those having profits, are those that throw away ethics, like making games that allow kids to buy 1500 USD in smurfberries, or that not only put ads, but put them in a ambiguous manner so that kids activate them by accident. Those that follow the same path as us, are all extremely unprofitable, no matter the quality of their apps, the exception is those owned by huge conglomerates (ie: TocaBoca for example, owned by Bonnier) or those that profit from something else (for example making unprofitable kid games, and selling outsourcing services to other companies).

The reason we don't jumped ship yet, is mostly because there IS some wildly profitable companies out there (as I said, for now mostly conglomerate-owned ones), and the market is still new and growing, and we are trying to be one of the early ones on it. But it is painfully obvious and tempting the power of unethical behaviour.

Great job trying to do something to help the situation, but unfortunately simply wanting to help is not a substitute for market research: very basic research would have shown you that many ethical pay-for games for children exist on iOS and Android, however you don't hear about them and they're hard to find because nobody buys them. It looks like you researched the (few) successes, but not the (many, many) failures.

The reason most consumers will know about the games that let children buy IAPs is because these games make a lot of money, which gives them large advertising budgets which lets them quickly climb the sales charts. You also see the big conglomerate ones because of advertising. As anybody involved in the Apple or Play store will tell you, most of the money goes to the top apps, and being a top app for any decent length of time requires heavy advertising: either paid or viral. You won't get viral advertising for an ethical children's game.

I honestly don't believe it's even possible to succeed with a quality children's game and make livable money off app store purchases from an unknown developer. Your best bet is to fund it from outside of the app store using something like Kickstarter which will hopefully drum up some support in addition to cash flow. Another option may be to sell it somehow in brick and mortar children's stores at the same kind of prices physical children's games are sold, possibly by including your game on some cheap hardware as a complete package. Either way, good luck, and keep looking for novel business ideas to keep it going!

Oh, like I said, the idea came from not finding quality games on Android at all, while some existed on iOS (like I mentioned, TocaBoca is a powerhouse there).

My associate has a kid, and some of his friends has kids too, and they bought Android tablets, and quickly ran out of games to install.

Only this year TocaBoca started porting their games to Android for example.

Same misconception as the author.

You didn't want to make games for children. You wanted to make money making games for children. That's fine - it's just not really what "do whatever makes you happy" is about.

So.... What is the name of your company, and which games have you made? I'm always interested in good, ad-free entertainment for the little ones. Especially with a long flight coming up this weekend.

your marketing completely neglects your selling point, which is ethical games that won't scam the kid. You have to make a story out of that, and revolve your entire company around it. Otherwise you're not differentiating from the others.

Basically make the "organic fair-trade ethical cage-free" of apps.

If you're going to speak about your app atleast provide a link some of us on HN are parents and want to renumerate apps that try to do the right thing.

Maybe the problem is you don't or are reluctant to advertise yourself.

"Anecdote" is not the singular form of "data".

This guy has had one bad experience, and from it immediately derives a general rule that applies to everyone. How narcissistic!

Isn't that kind of where "do what you love" came from?

Serial killers "love" killing...

Do whatever makes you happy is an ideal, and pragmatic in so far as you'll have an advantage in that area as compared to someone who doesn't have any passion for what they're doing.

Of course someone with passion and some other edge like a superior education, or fewer ethics (in some areas,) or who just started earlier than you - is still going to beat you if you're in a particularly competitive area.

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