This morning I was reading Jane Friedman’s excellent post about the over-emphasis on passion, and it resonated deeply. Jane makes the case that our over-emphasis on passion sometimes negates the importance of hard work.
If I were to summarize much of the career advice circulating throughout the web, it would look something like this:
1. Find your passion
(1a. Buy my course for $_9 and I’ll show you how)
2. Quit your job
3. Watch the money flow in
Is passion important? Surely. Is it the most important factor in doing great work? I have my doubts. Some of the most effective contributors throughout time have been marked by two characteristics: they were (a) reluctant, but (b) resolved. They saw the great task before them, but they were determined to surmount obstacles because they recognized an opportunity and felt the urgency of the moment.
Yesterday I jotted a few thoughts about the nature of contribution:
1. Your days are numbered. Finite. They will someday run out.
This is indisputable. We live with the stubborn illusion that we will always have tomorrow to do today’s work. It’s a lie.
2. You have a unique contribution to make to the world.
Your combination of interests, skills and experiences is unique. There is something you can offer that no one else ever could.
3. No one else can make that contribution for you.
Waiting for permission to act on your contribution is the easy way out. So is playing the victim or politics. We all must deal with the time and circumstances we’re dealt.
4. Your contribution is not about you.
You may be recognized for your contribution, and if so that’s fine. You may also labor in obscurity doing brilliant work your entire life, and that’s fine too. There is an over-emphasis on celebrity in our culture, and it will eventually be the death of us.
5. To varying degrees, you have been lied to, dulled, and sold out.
Others do not want you to embrace your contribution, because it puts a mandate on them to do the same. Others want to assimilate you into neat systems that feed their ego. They do this by making you comfortable. The love of comfort is often the enemy of greatness. Break out.
6. The path forward is backward. To discover your contribution you must get to bedrock.
Don’t be a mirror, passively reflecting the priorities of others. To discover your contribution you must (MUST) do some serious excavation. You must get past the rubble to the bedrock principles that will drive your life, come hell or high water.
7. Your contribution is a polaroid, not a digital photo.
Expect that your contribution will become clear over time as you act. It will develop slowly like a polaroid photo, giving you clues as you experiment, fail and succeed. Patience is required. This is a long-arc game, but it must begin now.
8. You must curate your life around your contribution.
What you plant today you reap in a few years. You must structure your life around your contribution, building practices and activities that cause you to take new ground each day.
9. Your contribution will always be a gift to others.
Whatever your contribution, it will be something for others. It may challenge, dispute, encourage or inspire, but it will provide a platform for others to find their contribution as well. Your contribution is one way of loving others.
Don’t go to your grave with your best work still inside of you. Die Empty. – The Accidental Creative, p. 217
10. You have one job: get whatever is in you out.
Your one and only job today, and every day, is to get whatever is in you out. Not tomorrow’s work, not yesterday’s work, but today’s. On my computer monitor is a note that reads, “Can I lay my head down tonight satisfied with the work I did today?” If I have made my contribution that day, I can rest with a clean conscience.
Do not be dulled, friends. Do not allow the lull of comfort to cause you to abdicate your contribution. Stay sharp. Keep your edges. Nothing – NOTHING – is worth giving up the most precious thing you have to offer.
Photo Credit: Seyed Mostafa Zamani