How to Think About Your Life’s Work

Being a doctor is not the way it’s portrayed on House. Being a lawyer is not the way it’s portrayed on Suits. Being a gangster is not the way it’s portrayed on The Sopranos.

Therefore “don’t give up on your dreams” is bad advice because it implies you’re supposed to be bound by some plan you made early on after watching a movie or hearing some story. Because it’s hard to get an accurate picture of most jobs from stories and narratives.

Stories and narratives give clarity on what lies ahead. Therefore most people think backwards. They get inspired, dream up a dream, set a life goal and work their ways towards it, which is wrong. The correct way would be to start off from promising opportunities, and work your way forward.

Since movies and stories present a distorted image, you never have the correct picture of where you want to end up. But what you are completely aware of is where you are now, what your interests are, and what you are good at. Start from there.

Paul Graham said:

“It’s not so important what you work on, so long as you’re not wasting your time. Work on things that interest you and increase your options, and worry later about which you’ll take.”

Don’t start off with passion. Passion is the wrong indicator of pursuit. Every new project or business venture that you start would definitely get you excited at the start. Think about the first day at work, the first day at college, the first day at gym. Weren’t you excited about it? The projects that don’t work out slowly drain your passion as they fail. The few that work become more exciting as they succeed. Passion is an illusion. It’s not an indicator of success.

A better indicator is curiosity. If you want to do great work, you need to be curious about an interesting problem so that work turns into play.

This is the only way to get big ideas. Spend time doing things that interest you, and keep an open-mind for big ideas. That is what the great physicist Richard Feynman did. Feynman would observe things, and then go about doing experiments on them. Most of his personal experiments weren’t even related to physics. He did them out of sheer curiosity. This allowed him to keep an open-mind for new ideas and breakthroughs.

Feynman also had a knack for making things fun and interesting. He often got into bets with his friends and colleagues, and engaged in mischievous pranks for fun. If you have a hard time choosing between projects, choose whichever seems most fun.

Even Nassim Nicholas Taleb focussed on fun when he read thirty- to sixty-hours a week, the equivalent of a job. “The minute I was bored with a book or a subject I moved to another one, instead of giving up on reading altogether,” he writes in his famous book Antifragile.

But, like all ideas and advice, this is easier said than done. There will be challenges, and life would often foul you. The worst thing is that there would be no referee to call life out. Life doesn’t play by any rules. But you gotta keep playing. Look at life as a problem you are curious enough to spend time solving. Keep an open-mind, be on the lookout for big ideas, and most importantly, don’t forget to have fun.

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