On Passion, Purpose, and Passing Out

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I thought I was getting fired. I panicked and I passed out in front of my boss.

It was embarrassing.

She asked for an analysis. Then, she asked me to change it 10 times. As she normally does. I lost my interest after 4th or 5th iteration and I screwed up.

It was not the first time. I was capable of doing my job, but I sucked at it because I did not care. I was not passionate about it.

My boss was (understandably) angry and upset. VERY ANGRY. If I were to get fired, I would have lost my immigration status.

So I panicked. I passed out.


I got this job straight from the grad school. I’ve never had a full-time job before.

When a consulting company contacted/interviewed/offered me a position, I jumped on it. It paid well, and it came with a green card.

Yet, I quickly grew disillusioned with the job. I was immature and did not understand the time commitment required to excel at it.

And while eventually, I learned to like it, something was missing. The feeling got more pronounced when I had to work longer than my normal 40-50 hours/week. I had an impression that I’m wasting my time.


hand-1245939_1920There was a story about a nurse who worked in hospice. She asked terminally-ill patients about their regrets. The story went viral and was turned into a book.

The second biggest regret people mentioned was working too much.

I jumped on that conclusion. I thought, that’s why I hate working long hours. Yet, that explanation did not make sense. I was not dying.

Besides, have people who achieved success in their careers complained about working too much? Has Steve Jobs regretted it? I did not find anything. Has Einstein? Nothing came up. In fact, the most accomplished people seemed to work until they die.

So, people who reported the regret were the people who did not enjoy their jobs. They were not passionate about their careers.

After all, if you see meaning in your job, how can you regret doing it?


When I saw Maslow’s pyramid in my psychology textbook, I was not sure what to think about it. I haven’t cared about self-actualization in my early twenties.

Yet, after getting my full-time job, I found myself asking this question. The quest for meaning of life went from being an abstract and academic to practical and pertinent.

Maslow put self-actualization on the top. He thought that the growth, self-actualization, quest for identity, and striving for excellence are all part of “universal human tendency.” We will never understand life’s meaning without understanding what is driving us.

1200px-Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs.svg

Everyone talks about pursuing life passion. Now it is a cliche, a platitude. Many repeat it, but few understand.

Steve Jobs talked about it in his speech. And it was a GREAT speech.

We watched the video, maybe even shared it on the Facebook. We sighed, said “what a great man he was” and continued doing what we’re doing.

I don’t blame you. We fail to react to these messages because they are not actionable.

They don’t tell us 1) WHY we have to find the passion, 2) HOW to find it, and 3) what happens if we DON’T.


WHY WE HAVE TO FIND PASSION

It did not help that Steve Jobs was telling us to find life’s passion. Steve was a genius, he invented the iPhone.

I still haven’t figured out how mine works. Steve was exceptional and I am … well average.

But average people do above-average things when they find their calling.

This is Tony Hsieh:

tony-3

He is a founder of Zappos. When Tony sold his first business (LinkExchange) to Microsoft, Microsoft included a requirement into the sales agreement. As a founder, Tony had to spend a year with the company, helping with the transition.

It was an easy gig. He had to go to work, answer some emails, and at the end of the year he would have gotten (additional) $5 or $7 million. (I don’t remember the exact amount. It was a large sum. Read his book, it is good).

After a couple of months, Tony realized that’s not what he wanted to do. And he walked away. HE WALKED AWAY FROM SEVERAL MILLION DOLLARS AND HE DID NOT CARE. The company he sold to Microsoft was never his passion.

Another example was Louis CK. Louis CK had a choice of accepting a job as a chief writer for Conan O’Brien show. It paid $500K. He chose to remain a stand-up comedian. Making substantially less.

For us, their decisions are a blasphemy. Average people do not reject millions of dollars. But that’s because we value money above meaning. Somewhere between college and the first job we lost the focus. We forgot.

Tony Hsieh and Luis CK are average people. What makes them exceptional in their fields is their unwavering need for self-actualization. They found their calling and they did not let money (or anything else) distract them.

And that’s why everyone needs to find their life’s passion. It’s the only way to lead meaningful life.


WHAT HAPPENS IF WE DON’T FIND LIFE’S PASSION

I have a colleague. She’s a friend. She’s not happy at her current job because she does not enjoy it. She also makes jewelry on the side and she likes that.

She wants to get paid more. She told me, she had her job for four years and she has not been promoted yet. She works hard and she deserves more pay. More money would fix this situation.

The company did not buy her arguments. Now she is looking for another job, outside of the company. She plans to do what she does now, but for a greater pay. Greater pay at her level will mean more responsibility and longer work hours.

She does not like her current job. Yet, she thinks doing more of it (for a greater pay) would make her happier…

I asked her, would she still work, if she had a million dollar? Of course she would not.

What would she do then? Make jewelry full time.

That’s probably the saddest truth about humans. We are unhappy and we choose to stay unhappy.


To be sure, if your salary is below a certain level, more money can improve your well-being. In the US, that’s about $75K. But after that, money wont be as rewarding as we think.

There are probably people who are motivated only by money. But the majority of people who think that they are motivated by money, do not know what they want in life.

When you don’t have an internal understanding of what is driving you, you substitute it with external targets.

So you hope that the next job, next salary grade, a bigger car, a bigger house will make your live happier, more meaningful. And they do, for a moment. Then you are back on the treadmill, looking for the next high. Ultimately, money in these cases is a distraction.

You could see people making these mistakes on Quora as well. This question showed up in my feed: “Is it better to work 45 hours a week and earn $100k or to work 80 hours a week and earn $210k?” Note how it is formulated only in terms of income.

My response was take the job that makes you happy. The one that you would enjoy doing. Then the money and hours would not matter. Someone commented that I did not answer the question. Unbelievable.

If the jewelry-making is what making you happy, you should spend as much time doing that as possible.

If you can’t do it full time, then do it part time. Einstein developed his theory of relativity, working full time as a clerk at the patent office. What’s your excuse?

Do your job as quickly as you can, be grateful that is paying your bills, but then go home and do what makes you happy.

As Tony Hsieh once said: “Doing things you’re passionate about is more important than making a lot of money doing things you hate”


HOW TO FIND YOUR LIFE’S PASSION

I like writing. I suspect I always have.

But my family was poor and I did not like growing up poor. I studied business and economics because I wanted to be rich. Money was one of the reasons I got a job in a corporate world.

Yet, as soon as I started working, I realized I was not enjoying it. I liked some aspects of it, but I did not find it fulfilling. Money was good but they stopped motivating me after a while.

I could handle 40-50 hour work week. But if I had to put more than that, something was off. I had this voice inside of me. It questioned everything I did. Made me wonder about life’s purpose and its meaning.

The more hours I worked, the louder it got. The older I got, the more pronounced it became. I think he is probably a young kid, angry, demanding and unwavering:

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I tried ignoring it. I tried telling myself that I am making good money. But it would not go away.

I don’t know if writing is my passion. But when I write, that voice goes away. Time stops and life becomes meaningful.

So I write.


If you dread Mondays. Or if you think more money will make your job more tolerable. Or if delving into details at work feels like a waste of time.

You are not fulfilling your purpose.

And we all have a purpose. You already know what’s yours.

Deep down, there’s a voice. You tried shutting it down with salaries, distract it with cars and houses, but it is still there. It wont go away. And it never will.

That’s the voice that made terminally-ill patients regret their career choices. By the time you are at the deathbed, it is the only thing you hear.

We all have greatness in us. But If you don’t pursue your life passion, your greatness will go unnoticed.

Spend enough days not fulfilling your purpose and you’ll list “working too much” as the biggest regret in your life.

Or worse, you end up passing out in front of your boss.


Here are some strategies to start:

  • What would you do if you have million dollars (i.e. if you did not have to work for living)?

    Note:
    a)I will do nothing is not an answer. You’ll get bored.
    b)”Two chicks at the same time” is a reference to a great movie, but not the valid answer either.
  • Start with something simple, take aptitude/personality/career tests. Tests have their share of criticism, but it is a low-risk starting point.Some websites offer them for free. I listed couple of book in “Resources” section
    Anything that helps you to understand you is beneficial.
  • Volunteering is another way to experience other professions. If you have expertise, offer it for free, especially to non-profits.
  • Start a diary and record what you’ve done and how much you have enjoyed it. That’s from this book: ”
    Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment“.
  • Write down everything you wanted to do. Try them to see what works. At least, these experiments will teach you what you don’t want to do. There used be to be a great company called vocation/vacation. They would offer a “test drive” of a profession of your choice. Unfortunately, the website re-directs to a different company now.
  • Sign up for classes offline and online at Udemy, Coursera, etc. See if you enjoy them.
  • Watch your reaction when you experience things. When I see a beautiful photo, I tell myself I wish I could do this. That tells me that I could be a professional photographer.
  • Meditate. I’m a big fun of mindfulness. When you meditate, you let the noise in your head settle. And if you meditate regularly, you get moments of clarity. They are fleeting and rare, but during these moments things will start making sense. You will know what you need to do. You can meditate on a question. It is called “reflection meditation.” Instead of coming back to breathing, come back to the question.
  • Asking yourself a question before going to sleep is another weird strategy. I’ve done it before for various questions and had dreams with answers. Does not work every time but try it anyway.

    Resources:

  • Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose <-Great book, buy it.
  • The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing
  • The Pathfinder: How to Choose or Change Your Career for a Lifetime of Satisfaction and Success
  • Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type
  • Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment
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