You’re either horrible or miserable.
Woody Allen has this joke in “Annie Hall.”
He says, “Life is divided into the horrible and the miserable. That’s the two categories.”
“The horrible are terminal cases. You know? And blind people, crippled… I don’t know how they get through life… It’s amazing to me.”
“And the miserable is everyone else.”
“So you should be thankful that you’re miserable. Because that’s very lucky… to be miserable.”
I guess I’m one of the lucky ones. We complain about getting older or not having a passion, etc.
“In relatively recent history—we’re talking the 1980s and later—we got convinced into believing we all have a capital P ‘Passion’,” Cal Newport said.
Cal Newport is a tenured professor at Georgetown. He majored in computer science.
So did I.
Fact: You can’t pre-test a fetus to see what its passion will be.
Passion is not in your DNA.
I wasn’t born to podcast. Or write. Or be a father. I was just born…
And I have eyes.
So I see what other people are doing.
I have ears. So I hear who’s winning. And then my brain asks, “Why am I here?”
“People believe if we look inside ourselves and discover what our passion is, we’ll be happy. I studied this question in the book and that’s not how it happens,” Cal said. “Passion comes later.”
First you have to “become so good you can’t be ignored…”
1. Start with an interest
Steve Martin reinvented stand-up. He told jokes without punchlines. And let the tension linger. He didn’t start with a passion for comedy.
You start with an interest.
I never thought, “Interviewing prostitutes at 3 a.m. is my passion.” But I got good at it.
I was curious.
And I’m still asking questions today.
2. Build career capital
Cal did a study. He found a database developer who became too good to be ignored. And used that as leverage.
“She got into the computer industry with no background. At every stage, she said, ‘What would be valuable here?’”
Now she spends 4-6 months working in her cubicle job. And the other six 4-6 months in Thailand.
Acquire career capital. And leverage it. This is how you get autonomy in the workplace.
“It’s what lets you get a sense of mastery,” Cal said. “It’s what makes you get a sense of impact, and this is where passion actually comes from.”
3. Focus on rare and valuable skills
The first food truck was a pretzel stand. It had wheels and food.
Now Michelin-star chefs have food trucks and pop-up shops. They didn’t learn how to make pretzels. Or follow the trend. They used rare and valuable skills to innovate the market.
I built websites in the ‘90s. That was my first company. But as soon as I heard my eighth-grade sister was learning coding in school, I sold the company.
Coding was no longer rare and valuable. And competition was about to explode.
Control competition and you’ll control the market.
4. Get to the cutting edge of an industry
Mastery leads to passion, not the other way around.
You weren’t “born” to invent the next iPhone. Nobody was. Even the people inventing the next iPhone weren’t born to invent the next iPhone.
“Innovations don’t come at the very start of your journey.”
You have to get to the cutting edge, learn what’s missing, identify room for growth and innovate.
5. Do deep work
Deep work is the process of becoming great.
“It requires hard, hard focus and pushes your skill to its limit.”
It’s what you do to become the best in your field. And discover holes in your organization. Or in the planet. It’s how you create ride-sharing, social networking, Google maps underwater.
Cal says how at [16:04].
6. Or don’t…
I asked Cal, “Do you think most people actually want to be really good at something? Or do most people just want to have more time off to just do nothing?”
I don’t set goals. Or evaluate my growth.
If I can support the growth of other people, cheer them on, smile and say, “Congratulations on getting up today,” then the window gets bigger.
Maybe success isn’t “being so good you can’t be ignored.” Maybe it’s being so good you can’t ignore others.
This is what works for me. This is my deep work.
Listen to my podcast with Cal Newport.