Entrepreneur and investor Paul Graham writes in an essay
that most of us realize that in order to do something well, you have to like it.
But just how much are you supposed to enjoy what you do for a living?
As Graham suggests, unless you know that, you won’t know when to stop searching. If you underestimate how much you’re supposed to enjoy the activity, you may stop your search too early. In that case, you’ll likely “end up doing something chosen for you by your parents, or the desire to make money, or prestige – or sheer inertia.”
He recommends using two constraints to help narrow your search for work that you love: an upper bound, and a lower bound.
As an upper bound, doing what you love doesn’t mean do what you would most like to do this second: “Even Einstein probably had moments when he wanted to have a cup of coffee, but told himself he ought to finish what he was working on first.”
As Graham points out, the rule of doing what you love assumes a certain length of time. At any given moment, almost anyone would rather eat delicious food, or have sex, or relax in the Caribbean than work on hard problems.
Doing what you love means doing what will make you happiest over some longer period, like weeks or months.
That’s because the allure of unproductive pleasures eventually fades: “After a while you get tired of lying on the beach. If you want to stay happy, you have to do something.”
Graham’s rule for doing what you love does assume that you have to like your work more than some unproductive pleasure.
As he puts it, you have to like what you do enough that the concept of spare time seems mistaken. It’s not that you have to spend all of your time working. After all, you can only work so much before you get tired and start messing up.
But if your work isn’t your favorite thing to do, you’ll have problems with procrastination: “You’ll have to force yourself to work, and when you resort to that the results are distinctly inferior.”
Testing for Admiration
For Graham, to be happy with your work, you have to be doing something you not only enjoy, but admire. You have to be able to say, in the end, That’s pretty cool!
An alternative to the above test is to try to do things that will make your friends say, Wow!