Sunday, March 23, 2014

Following One's Passion

This is from a post by Kevin Drum about advice given by Richard Branson (of Virgin Mobile and Virgin Airlines) on "doing what you love:"

I know I'm being cranky, but I am sick to death of rich people telling us to "follow our passion" or something similar… For most of us, this is a recipe for going broke. That's because, sadly, the world tends to assign a low market value to most of our passions.

Here's some better advice: try to avoid stuff that you hate. I admit that this is less uplifting, but it's generally more achievable and produces reasonable results. You might not ever get your dream job, or your dream house, or your dream partner, because that's just the way the lottery of life works. But with a little bit of effort, you might be able to avoid a soul-crushing job, a two-hour commute, and an empty relationship. Maybe. It's worth a try, anyway.

But honestly, most of us are better off saving our passions for our hobbies. This won't get me invited to give any commencement speeches, but it's still pretty solid advice.
And my comments on Kevin Drum:

I sort of agree with Drum. One has to negotiate with life. You don't always get what you really want -- and what you really want might not be best for other people. Remember the Bester story, "Oddy and the Id?" And there's a LeGuin story -- in Orsinian Tales -- about a musician who is offered the chance to be a famous composer. But the impresario who offers this says he must leave his home city and his family and devote his life to his career. He choses not to. That story always chilled me. The idea of giving up one's art! But he didn't want to give up his home and family.

I have very mixed feelings about negotiating with life. Shouldn't one demand more? Shouldn't one take more risks? On the other hand, starving in the streets is not fun.

I admire people who go for broke. For the most, though, we learn about the people who succeeded. They may have had miserable personal lives, but they wrote the great book, painted the great paintings, changed the world in some crucial (and good) way. We benefited from the risks they took. For some people, I think it was absolutely the right decision. Van Gogh died in an insane asylum, having sold one painting in his life. But look at what he left us! Could he have had a better life, if he'd been more willing to negotiate? I suspect not. I can't imagine one. I'm not sure he's a good role model, however.

Well, I could go in a circle about this one. Follow your dream, but have some idea where your next meal is coming from. And you might consider other people, now and then. Don't let your kids starve, if you can do anything about it.


Blogger Russell Letson said...

Makes me think about those covered wagons with "California or Bust" signs on their sides. There was a certain fraction of return traffic with "Busted!" signs. (One doesn't want to dwell on the trailside graves and abandoned, broken-wheeled rigs that marked the Way West.)

(Part of our family legend is that my grandmother's family tried heading west several times. Grandma Cricket was born in Chicago on the way back from one of those expeditions. Her kids were all born and raised back in central New York. At least they made it back.)

Going for broke is a valuable and necessary part of our social-behavior repertory, but I suspect that the pain-and-discomfort avoiders might reproduce more often and more successfully. Every tribe needs a center as well as a periphery.

9:45 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Van Gogh didn't die in an insane asylum. He had left St. Remy (where he was a patient) and moved to Auvers where he lived in some independence before (apparently) shooting himself. As far as Mr. Drum's idea that many "go broke" following a dream, most in the world are already broke, and many broken, and daily survival takes precedence over dream chasing.

4:18 PM  

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