If you know what you love and you do things you love, you may not be able to succeed by other people’s measures of success, but you’ll know you’ll never look back at what you did with regret. It’s difficult to imagine looking back and saying, “Darn, while everyone else was [doing whatever they do], I wasted all that time doing things I loved.”
If you don’t know what you love or even like or don’t like, the best you can hope for is to be lucky in what you choose to do bringing you reward. Or don’t choose, if you end up blowing in the breeze through life. Even if you enjoy what you’re doing while you’re doing it, you won’t know if you’re missing out.
If you not only don’t know what you love, like, or don’t like, but you adopt and try to succeed by other people’s standards, you will be susceptible to them getting what they want from you by changing those standards and holding them back from you.
An obvious example is money. I remember a conversation with a strategy professor in business school. We were talking about strategies people took for careers after school. He pointed out how external factors can affect your trajectory unpredictably. The best strategy, he concluded, was to do what you love — whether finance, consulting, entrepreneurship, or whatever. People who do will persist longer, endure more, and enjoy it — all increasing the chances of business success as a side effect. More to the present point, he concluded simply trying to make as much money as possible would open you to doing jobs no one wants to do, especially you, by people who promise money but keep a tight rein on it.
Few people want money for the sake of just having money. They may want comfort, influence, security, connections, and various other things you believe money will bring you, but rarely just piles of cash or large numbers in a bank account. You can get all those other things without money, usually through relationships, and get the reward directly.
But many people lose sight of money being a placeholder for something else that brings direct emotional reward. When they do, others can hold the prospect of money to motivate you. If your interests are aligned, you may do okay. If not, you may feel manipulated.
A word on being or feeling manipulated… If you don’t know your interests, you can’t communicate them to others. People will be left to assume or guess. Based on your not knowing, they probably won’t guess right. People who want to help you, but don’t know your interests because you don’t either, may end up hurting you or making you feel manipulated despite their best intents. (Doing the opposite is more effective at improving your life.)
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