Doing What You Love

Paul Nolan

As soon as I get this issue off to the printer, I need to write my son a letter at the University of Nebraska, where he’s finishing his second year of studies.

I want to share some thoughts with him about my conversation with New York Timesreporter Charles Duhigg for this issue’s Closers feature, as well as my conversation with Greg Guy, who decided to eliminate sales commissions at his family-owned Ohio heating and air conditioning company. Guy is featured in our cover story on tough questions that sales leaders are asking themselves.

It’s not that my son is interested in the strategic decisions made by a CEO of a small business or the subject of Duhigg’s latest book — the traits that separate super-productive people from the rest of the work force. Rather, like a lot of young individuals staring at the cusp of their post-collegiate life, my son has expressed some uncertainty about exactly what he wants to spend the rest of his life doing.

It’s an unfair question to ask 19- and 20-year-olds, but they are asked it all of the time. And the pressure to make a choice and stick with it is only getting worse. The exorbitant cost of a higher education has nixed the concept of using the collegiate years to dip one’s toes into multiple areas of interest and figure out what you like most as you go. These days, if you don’t have a killer internship by your junior year and two or three mentors who are deep into their own careers, you’re made to feel like you’re on the fast track to fast food management.

What Duhigg and Guy reinforced for me is that you have to truly love what you do in order to fully commit to it. It’s passion for one’s work that helps a person make daring decisions or find life hacks that provide a competitive edge.

In my letter, I’ll advise my son that if he’s uncertain about the course he’s on, slow down. Tune out the noisemakers. He may have one career for the next 40 years, or he may have five different careers in the same time span. Whatever he decides to pursue should be fueled by a genuine interest. Over the long run, it’s the only way to really bring energy and creativity to your work.

“Do what you love” can seem trite, and maybe it’s not always possible. But at least it’s worth your best shot.