Monday Musings (Finding Work You’re Passionate About)


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Hi friends,

Greetings from Dallas!

On the drive up, I had a long conversation with a friend who’s making a career change. My words were jumbled in the moment, but in retrospect, here’s what I’d tell him.

So, I hear you’re looking for an invigorating job. You want to do work you’re passionate about and get paid well to do it. You yearn for success, but don’t know how to channel your creative energy.

Following your passion is a decent place to begin, but you’re going to need more than that. Every aspiring Hollywood actor is passionate, but only a few ever get paid enough to cover their rent because so many people dream of seeing their faces on the big screen. The desire to star in movies and TV shows isn’t what’s scarce. The market for actors is oversaturated, and so much of the time, success comes to luck and personal connections.

Success is easier when you pursue things other people are ignoring. To do that, you need to get off the default path. Though there’s less explicit direction along the independent route, it unlocks far more opportunity because there’s so much less competition.

— —

Doing and Reading

Most people think hard work is the result of passion. But at the beginning, passion is the result of hard work.

Almost everybody I talk to who doesn't know what they’re passionate about isn’t doing enough. They sit around waiting for inspiration to strike.

Don’t wait; create.

If you want to be an urban planner, design a three-dimensional model of your ideal city. To be a fashion designer, start making your own clothes. And if you want to become a writer, write every day and publish at least one article every week. Passive learning isn’t enough – there’s a certain kind of knowledge you only gain by actually doing the thing.

Reading is also useful, but most people do it wrong. They read what everybody else is reading — the same industry publications and people on Twitter and LinkedIn, giving them an undifferentiated perspective.

My prescription is simple: Escape the news cycle. Avoid anything written in the past year (most journalists aren’t worth reading anyways). From a competitive standpoint, the good news is that everybody’s so glued to their phones you can gain a serious advantage simply by consuming alternative information sources like old books, interviews, and documentaries.

Aim to become an expert on the history of your field. With the Internet at your fingertips, there’s no excuse for ignorance. There’s a certain kind of passion that only comes from being better than just about everybody else at something, and you should strive to cultivate it.

— —

Writing

Write, too. Putting ideas into your own words will cement your knowledge and show you what you’re actually passionate about.

If you aren’t sure what to write about, here are some ideas:

Showcase your writing on a simple website of your own and share it with potential employers. You’ll instantly stand out from other job applicants if the writing is good. The more specific your knowledge and expertise, the better.

Reading and writing about your ideas literally changes how you see the world. Certain kinds of opportunities are only available to people who have the knowledge to see them.

Some people start with curiosity and work backwards to find the practical application for their interests. That’s what happened with Edwin Land, the founder of Polaroid and Steve Jobs’ hero. For years, he went to the New York Public Library every day, and poured through books about light. He reflected on his obsession: “I was fortunate enough to acquire Robert W. Woods’ book, Physical Optics, which I read nightly the way our forefathers read the Bible." That knowledge led him to the idea of polarized light, and two decades later, the Polaroid camera.

Others look for a problem and later become an expert on it. That’s what happened for me with education. I hated school growing up. I’ve been hell-bent on improving the education system for almost two decades. I’ve long had an intuitive sense of how to improve things, but only recently did I discover learning science. Concepts like mastery learning, and spaced repetition might sound like a snooze fest from the outside, but the more I study them, the clearer I see how our education system falls short — and the more determined I am to build something better.

There’s a systematic way to find work you’re passionate about: take on hard projects, become an expert on the history of your field, and write about what you learn. The goal is to cultivate knowledge that’s scarce and in high demand.

— —

The opportunity of writing online shared above applies to young people, too. That’s why my team and I are building Liftoff, a writing program for high schoolers.

We believe writing online is a powerful way for teens to set themselves apart. Teens who write online:

  • Write better, think better, and speak better
  • Increase their odds of getting into the college of their choice
  • Meet others their age with similar interests around the world
  • Lean into their passions and realize their potential

If someone you know is a curious, driven teen looking to start writing online, we encourage them to apply for our four-week Liftoff Beta program, which kicks off later this month.

If you want to work with us, we’re still looking for a Liftoff Founding Director of Product, among other open positions.

Have a creative week,

David Perell Logo 2x

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