Sunday, January 24, 2016

Find your passion or let your passion find you?

At some point in time almost everyone in their working life will hit a lull in passion and motivation and start questioning what to do. I certainly did awhile back and I ended up taking a work “find yourself” sabbatical. During that time I was able to come across two great books which helped create frameworks for thinking about these things and guide my thoughts:

Follow your passion

The Crossroads of Should and Must talks about how it is important to follow your passion. We are told all of our lives what we should be doing with it. Should is what others expect of us and what is good, but that we know in our hearts that its not what we truly want. Must is different. Must is very genuine, a deep feeling in all of us. Choosing Must means finding and following that calling. Some of us know exactly what that is, others are not so sure and the book gives great ideas on how to find it. 

Finding your calling means a lot of self examination and some of the tips include
  • Ask yourself what “should” questions are in your life. Examine where they came from and if you still want them.
  • Look at the things that you do in your free time
  • What things are your friends doing that you are envious about?
  • What activities gives you chills?
  • Write your current obituary and then write a dream obituary

The last important tidbit is that choosing Must is very scary and taking a deep look at those fears will help you make a leap and choose Must.

Don’t Follow your passion

This leads me into introducing the second book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. Cal takes an opposing view to the idea of “follow your passion”. This widely spread advice causes many people to follow a broken  model and make bad choices. 

Science (Self-Determination Theory) says that motivation for work comes from

  • Autonomy - the feeling you have control over your day, and that your actions are important
  • Competence - the feeling that you are good at what you do
  • Relatedness - the feeling of connection to other people

By following the “pre-existing passion hypothesis” and seeking control (autonomy), many people are taking a leap before they have built up enough leverage. Passion in itself is not valuable. Example: If someone quits their job and follows their passion of becoming a yoga instructor, would you want to take lessons from this person or would you rather take lessons from the expert who has a built up valuable skills.

Cal proposes that most people are unhappy with their work because of how they are going about their work. “Working right trumps the right work”.

The follow your passion mindset focuses on what the world can offer you; which is kind of a self-centered way to look at things. Instead take a craftsman mindset which focuses on what you can offer for the world instead of if the job is just right; nothing is just perfect it is what you make of it. The craftsman mind set says to become great at what you do. This equity (due to supply and demand, because it is rare) will bring opportunities for autonomy and meaning. “You have to get good before you can expect good work”.

Find your passion and let your passion find you.

I loved reading both of them because they offered me great ways to think about seeking happiness in my work. I really enjoyed the introspection both provided of examining what makes me tick and how I can create that situation.   I don’t think the advice offered from both books are mutually exclusive. Continue to ask what one Must do (and the answer may not be to quit your job but to become more excellent) but (once that passion is identified) heed the practical advice of Cal and don’t be blind and stupid about it. In order to realize the dream, one must also take the necessary steps to build that dream equity.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


I finished reading the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I thought it was a great read. Basically it teaches you how to enjoy everyday experience. How can some people work at the same job and do similar tasks day in and day out but love their work? They have probably found (consciously or unconsciously) a way to gain rewards from the tasks that they are doing. Maybe its challenging oneself to slowly perfect each movement or do something just a little bit faster. The book goes into the steps on how to create the conditions to experience this for yourself and explains why it is necessary.
As for myself, I am happy when I am able to take the quality of building something up a notch; in general, this is a general rule that technical teams will be more motivated when they are given the opportunity to bring up the quality of their work. I also realize that I find some happiness in detective work, tracking down the most odd bugs. These are things during work that I naturally find flow in. The next step is to create flow in my work on areas where I am not naturally inclined to be in flow.

More of my notes from the book:

  • A person who cannot override genetic instructions when necessary is always vulnerable/exploitable
  • Our experience is reality and we should be in control of them. Controlling experience is finding rewards in each moment
  • Even though we recognize that material success may not bring happiness, we engage in an endless struggle to reach external goals, expecting that they will improve life
  • enjoyment occurs at the border of anxiety and boredom. Not too hard or too easy.
  • Steps to transform to produce flow
  • to set an overall goal, and as many subgoals as are realistically feasible
  • to find ways of measuring progress in terms of the goals chosen
  • to keep concentrating on what one is doing and to keep making finer and finer distinction sin the challenges involved in the activity
  • to develop the skills necessary to interact with the opportunities available
  • to keep raising the stakes if the activity becomes boring
  • People who are alone are usually sad because they have no purpose, they need external goals, stimulation, feedback to keep attention directed. This is why Sunday mornings are hard for people. TV/drugs provides this protection from worries.
  • The ultimate test for the ability to control the quality of experience is what a person does in solitude, with no external demands to give structure to attention. (it is easy to become involved in a job, enjoy company of friends, be entertained in a theatre, but what happens when we are left alone?
  • Marriage will take the form that most efficiently ensures survival. For example a bird is polygamous in one area but monogamous somewhere else
  • It is important to consider how family life can be turned into a flow activity otherwise boredom/frustration will set in
  • Out of all virtues, no skill is more valuable than to transform adversity into an enjoyable challenge

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Don’t Read Books (scan them)

I just read the book Effortless Reading: The Simple Way to Read and Guarantee Remarkable Results which has some great points on how to read books. The traditional way most people read is from cover to cover. This actually is not an effective way to read. One won’t retain that much more information than one who just scans for the major points in the book, especially after some time as passed. Reading each and every word takes a significantly longer time. What we really need is the right amount of information at the right time. It really depends one what you are seeking; you should be reading with a purpose. If you aren’t looking for a specific question you should probably do a scan of the book (just reading the chapter titles and maybe the first sentences of the chapters you are interested in) and answer any questions that come up, stopping right when you get what you are looking for. If you decide later that you need deeper level knowledge you can do another pass to seek the information that you need.

This is how Tai Lopez (watch his TED talk) “reads" something like 5000 books a year. Last year personally I read 26 books - mostly every single word. I’ll try it differently this year and focus on reading with a purpose.

Note: that this probably doesn’t apply to many styles of books. I’ve always done this for technical books because usually they get so in-depth pointless at times. This scanning technique works really well for autobiographies and self help but not for novels 

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Don't Buy books

I read a lot of books. I have a bookshelf full of books that I don't read (maybe once in a blue moon). Usually after buying a book I will read it and then it will sit on the shelf forever. In my effort to minimalize I've come across a few tips on how to deal with the books in my life.

1) I am part of a huge book lending club where I pay a membership fee and in return I get access to a giant store of millions of books. Although I am not allowed to keep these books forever, I may take them into my possession for a short period of time until I am done with them, and then I give them back so others can enjoy them as well. I actually had forgotten that I was already part of this club and was paying the fee for quite some time w/o use. Its possible that you might be paying this fee as well and not reaping the benefits.

If you haven't guessed. I'm referring to the library. If you live in California you are paying for it via your taxes and thus you can apply for a library card which gives you free access to books. You don't actually get a choice whether to pay the library or not since its taken from your taxes. It might be a good idea to take advantage of it.

I've been pleasantly surprised with how many brand new popular books the library has since I had a previous bias that all the books were old and out of date.

Also a specific tip for those interested in Technical books. Once you register for a library card you get proxy access to the website which then has free access to Safari Books online which has pretty much any technical book you can think of. The only caveat is that you have to read it online.

To get to Safari Books online first log into your account on (SF Public library)

Then navigate to eLibrary > eBooks. Click on Computing and IT Books (Safari Techbooks Online)

There's already 16 books published for 2016 (as of January 2, 2016). Yay!

Now although I can still buy books from and read them on my kindle (which I still might do from time to time), I've found that since there are so many options available via the library (my first choice since everything is free), I usually don't have to. Knowing that I can pick up most of the books on my bookshelf from the library whenever I please, I can start donating them and save some room and clutter which I plan to do more of in 2016.