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How to Create Passion And Become Successful (but not at everything)

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passion and successI hung out with Mikael of MikaelSyding.com a couple of days ago. We were discussing the topic of success, when Mikael said something smart. 

He said that there’s usually an element of luck or randomness involved in success — especially meteoric success.

I agreed with this.

Mikael then said that when you try to decipher different factors in what made you (or someone else) successful at a thing, it’s hard not to let survival bias interfere.

Survival bias is a term that means you’re only paying attention to  the things that lasted, and not to the things that perished. In this case: Only paying attention to the people who “made it” while disregarding all those who failed. And this often leads to inaccurate conclusions.

I agreed with him on this as well. . .

. . . And added that cognitive biases like hindsight bias and the curse of knowledge also make it challenging for successful people to decipher specifically what it was that made them so successful at what they did.

This means that some people who become very successful — and aren’t too analytical — have a tendency to oversimplify their success. They’ll say they’re successful specifically because:

–They’re “passionate”.

–It was “destiny” (biggest post-rationalization ever).

–It was “thanks to God” (U.S athletes always do this).

passion

Mikael striking a Herculean pose.

And so on. . .

But as a matter of fact, their success may have been based on a completely different set of factors. The truth tends to be trickier than we think. Sometimes this post-rationalizing mental narrative that people tell themselves can even consist of complete falsities. . .

. . . And when very successful people spread falsities and inaccurate information it has harmful effects. Like when they tell young people that their success depended on being “passionate” (or some other vague and confusing reason).

Next thing you know there are headlines in major newspapers, TV, and forum posts on large websites about how “passion” is the key to becoming successful.

This takes me to the topic that I want to discuss with you today:

Because of this phenomenon, many young people believe that their life would be perfect if only they “found their passion”.

If only. . .

If only. . .

If only they “found their life purpose”.

I recently got an email from a young male reader about this.

Hi Ludvig,

I am confused because I don’t know what to do with my life.

All I know is that I want to have a successful career. I will have a degree in 1 year but I’m not looking forward to starting a career in what I’ve studied. And at the same time I don’t like university or think it’s very interesting, plus it costs me money I don’t have, so I will not study more after I finish.

I guess what I am really asking is: How do i find my life purpose?

I know I have to find my passion first before I can do that, but the problem is I don’t know what my passion is…

Don’t take this the wrong way, because I mean it in a good way, but you seem like you’re passionate. How did you get that way? Have you got any advice for me?

Thanks in advance

My answer to this email wound up getting long and detailed. So I decided to turn it into this article instead.

My answer below:


 

You know what you should do?

You should just forget it.

Seriously — rid yourself of the idea of a “life purpose”.

Because it’s only an idea. It doesn’t have any objective reality on its own, except for as long as you entertain it.

The idea of a “life purpose” has become a widespread meme in modern culture, which explains the popularity of articles about:

How to Find Your Life Purpose in 60 Seconds or Less

But consider the following. . .

If those articles delivered on their promise there would be a lot more people who had “found their purpose”, right? And if that were the case there would be some magic formula for how to do that by now.

But there aren’t — and there isn’t.

Maybe that’s because. . .

. . . There is no general — objective — life purpose which applies to everyone.

And so, naturally there’s no other person who can give you the right answer or tell you specifically what to do (not even a tarot reader, a numerologist, or a psychic).

In other words — you’re on your own.

You have to figure out this stuff for yourself.

But. . .

. . .Maybe I can nudge you in the right direction.

When it comes to answering tricky questions I like to see what older, smarter, and more experienced people (than myself) have said on the topic. People who have an enviable track record, with great results in some area of their lives that I would like to replicate.

Then, once I have gathered enough material, I will go through it all to see if it makes sense.

And as far as the “purpose & passion question” goes, there is no shortage of smart people who’ve contributed with their thoughts. Let’s go through a few of these people. Their opinions can be divided in two camps:

1) “Passion is bullshit.

Versus

2) Follow your passion.

Let’s start with the “passion is bullshit” camp.

Scott Adams (Writer of Dilbert and serial entrepreneur):

When a successful person is interviewed, and you say, “What was the secret to your success?” what they can’t say, because society won’t let them, is: “I was smarter, I worked harder, I had better connections, and I got really lucky.” Instead, they go with a democratic trait: passion. Anyone can have passion in the right situation, so it makes it sound like you can do what they did.

And what does Adams think is a better idea for becoming successful than relying on “passion”?

One strategy for getting ahead is being incredibly good at a particular skill; you need to be world-class to stand out for that skill. In my case, I layered fairly average skills together until the combination became special. If you put me in a room with 20 people, I’m not going to be the funniest or the best artist, writer, or business person. Because I have all of these things in sufficient (but not world-class) quantity, it was the combination that made them successful.

So, if you studied engineering, you could probably be a good engineer. But if you studied engineering and took classes on public speaking, there’s a good chance you’ll be running the show. If you intelligently choose which skills to layer on top of each other, that’s an accessible strategy, whereas passion is complete misdirection.

I agree. What do you think?

And here’s why he thinks that physical health (and being fit) is also more important to success than “passion”:

My view is it’s not passion you want; it’s energy. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, you need more energy to do it better. It’s your competitive edge, and it’s available to all. That stuff will protect you against your failures, as well as give you energy to try more things. So if the goal is to try more things until luck can find you, the place to start is your fitness.

I have taken a similar approach to Adams. I base my long-term decisions on 3 factors:

  1. Will doing this free up more time?
  2. Will doing this give me more energy?
  3. Will doing this help me make more money?

When I first made up my mind to get in excellent physical shape some years ago, I made that decision from a long-term perspective. There were 3 main reasons why I was motivated to make it happen:

  1. I knew I wasn’t going to have the time to do it when I was older
  2. I knew I needed the extra energy
  3. I knew that once you’re ripped it’s extremely easy to maintain. . .

So it was a no-brainer for me, and my motivation never faltered.

Next is M.J Demarco (serial entrepreneur and author)

In his book Millionaire Fastlane, Demarco writes about the idiocy of following your “passion” when the goal is to make money.

He gives the example of a guy whose passion was hip hop music, and decided to set up shop in the neighborhood he lived. The problem was that there was a demographic mismatch. Mostly elderly people lived in the neighborhood:

Is a 91-year-old grandpa the target market for hip-hop gear? The obvious problem here is selfishness. The owner is following his passions, and his love for hip-hop music and culture. Maybe a life coach told him to “do what you love.” Whatever the motive, the need is internal and not externally based on the marketplace.

Life coach?

Heh.

And then finally we have. . .

Mark Cuban (billionaire entrepreneur)

Who gives — in my opinion — the best answer.

Here’s what Cuban says:

if you have been able to have some success, what was the key to the success? Was it the passion or the effort you put into your job or company ?

If you really want to know where your destiny lies, look at where you apply your time.

Time is the most valuable asset you don’t own. You may or may not realize it yet, but how you use or don’t use your time is going to be the best indication of where your future is going to take you .

Let me make this as clear as possible:

1. When you work hard at something you become good at it.

2. When you become good at doing something, you will enjoy it more.

3. When you enjoy doing something, there is a very good chance you will become passionate or more passionate about it.

4. When you are good at something, passionate, and work even harder to excel and be the best at it, good things happen.

Don’t follow your passions, follow your effort. It will lead you to your passions and to success, however you define it.

Reasons #2 and #3 are completely overlooked by “passion-seekers”. They don’t understand psychology. Because here’s the thing. . .

. . .You can trick your brain into liking almost anything as long as you don’t hate the thing to begin with.

You just need to be clever, consistent, and disciplined about it.

And you must want it. Otherwise you won’t be willing to put in the initial investment of:

  • Time and effort
  • Emotion
  • Money or some other form of kind of “sacrifice”

Because that’s what passion is made up of: Investment.

Passion is not some magical blessing bestowed upon a chosen few individuals who go on holy pilgrimages to “find their purpose”.

Passion is about caring (giving a shit) about something, being curious, and being interested. And this won’t happen by itself. You must put in that period of initial investment — and immerse yourself.

If that’s too general for you, I’ll tell you one of my favorite strategies for creating “passion”. I call it:

The Immersion strategy:

And it works by creating lots of mental associations on a topic in a short period of time (like by studying the history of the topic).

If you can do that then you’ll create an interest. And if you keep it up and invest more into the process you’ll create a passion. I’ve done this with lots of things.

But most people don’t do this. They do the exact opposite: They just search and search, without ever immersing themselves in anything. . .

. . . And then they do more searching, because their searching has become habitual. If you ask them why they do this, they’ll tell you:

Because it still doesn’t feel perfect!

And supposedly it has to feel “perfect right from the start”. Otherwise it doesn’t count, and it’s not a “real passion”. That’s what they were told by the passion & purpose professionals.

These people are hopeless.

Now let’s go through the arguments for following your passion”

–On second thought, let’s not.

I don’t even want to address them because they’re so wacky.

Lots of people, with no real track record to base their advice on, tell you to “go for your dreams”, “shoot for the stars”, “follow your heart”, and so on. It sounds nice –but it has zero practical value.

Instead, let’s discuss. . .

How to Have a Successful Career:

Here’s how I see it:

  1. You must find your STRENGTHS (what you’re good at).
  2. Then you must BUILD on your strengths.
  3. And finally you must put yourself in the right situations where you’re likely to meet the right people.

If you can do those three things consistently you’ll improve your chances for serendipity enormously, and you’ll probably have a successful career over the long-term.

passion success drucker

Excellent book. Only 13 pages. Right click the image, open in a new tab, and download for free.

You find your strengths slowly by reading and analyzing books, learning from experience, and by being around smart people. It may take a while.

I want you to read this (free) book Managing Oneself by Peter Drucker — and take notes.

It’s only 13 pages.

But it’s very good.

Here are a few relevant excerpts.

 

Success in the knowledge economy comes to those who know themselves—their strengths, their values, and how they best perform

It takes far more energy and work to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence.

(You can read my thoughts on this here: 9 Things You Must Know About Natural Talent to Succeed

The only way to discover your strengths is through feedback analysis.

And this is one of the reasons I write a lot and analyze what I do.

You should keep a journal and take notes before and after important decisions. Because it helps with two things:

1) It shows you how your thoughts are affected by different circumstances that arise.

For example, when you’re scared or desperate you tend to think shitty thoughts that have low long-term value. So never make important decisions when you’re emotional.

2) It matches your expectations of an outcome against the actual outcome in a way that is easy to compare

When practiced consistently over time, this process of feedback analysis is the process by which you learn to “know thyself”.

Practiced consistently, this simple method will show you within a fairly short period of time, maybe two or three years, where your strengths lie—and this is the most important thing to know. The method will show you what you are doing or failing to do that deprives you of the full benefits of your strengths. It will show you where you are not particularly competent. And finally, it will show you where you have no strengths and cannot perform.

Two or three years!? But I want to find my passion now!

–Then I suggest you start writing.

Create a consistent process — and stick to it.

Stop searching and start immersing.

Successful careers are not planned. They develop when people are prepared for opportunities because they know their strengths, their method of work, and their values. Knowing where one belongs can transform an ordinary person—hardworking and competent but otherwise mediocre—into an outstanding performer.

Indeed — prepared being the key word.

For example, I know a guy who makes good money simply by the virtue of his people skills. He’s very good at making others around him feel comfortable . He knows he’s talented at this, so he made sure he took social jobs where he met lots of people.

This was a smart long-term strategy. Because it eventually allowed him to meet influential people who liked him, and recruited him for their new company.

Here’s what I’m guessing those guys thought when they hired him:

This young guy is great at hanging out with clients. Much better than we are. If we take him on, he can meet with clients, and we’ll have more time to manage the business.

My friend anticipated that something like this would happen sooner or later. Because he knew his strengths.

If you want to do the same thing then. . .

 

. . . You want to figure out the answer to questions like these:

 

  • How do I perform best?

Alone or in a team?

  • What are my strengths?

Where does success come naturally for you?

  • What are my weaknesses?

Where do you consistently fail?

  • How do I learn best?

Do you prefer reading or listening?

Do you learn best when you explain to someone else?

Do you learn best by applying what you learn?

–Personally, I learn from all these things about equal. So I have put together a framework for learning where I combine all these things. But some people are more extreme:

Churchill was an excellent listener.

Hitler liked giving monologues — he was a talker.

Eisenhower was a reader.

  • What are my values?

What will you stand for?

What will you not stand for?

After you figure that out you start working on the final question:

  • Given my strengths, my way of performing, and my values: How can I make the greatest contribution to what needs to be done?

Indeed, how?

A tip for answering tough questions:

When you start working — (yes, it takes time) — on these questions, a good idea is to begin by inverting. Turn each question on its head. For example, ask yourself: How do I perform horribly?

And then work by a process of elimination, until you know all the things you need to avoid to not perform horribly.

Summary: Stick to Actionable Advice

Passion?

Don’t believe the hype.

Life purpose?

Don’t buy into it.

You don’t find any of those two things.

You create them.

And how can you have a successful career?

By:

  • Finding out your strengths through feedback analysis
  • Then building on your strengths by engaging in deliberate practice
  • And combining that with putting yourself in the right situations with the right people

–And soon good things will happen. You should. . .

Do it even if it takes some time.

Do it even if most other people are only interested in taking shortcuts.

But. . .

Don’t do things just because everyone else is — that’s called conforming to herd mentality. . .

. . . And it’s a sure way to mediocrity.

All high performers take their time to find out what they do well and then they practice like hell to do those things swell.

Photo credit: Overdrive

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Comments

  1. Too often you hear people “searching” for their passion as though they were looking for an object. I really find that highly ridiculous.

    “And supposedly it has to feel “perfect right from the start”. Otherwise it doesn’t count, and it’s not a “real passion”. That’s what they were told by the passion & purpose professionals.”
    ==> Indeed, freaking hopeless people!

    That being said, I’m actually very big on passion / living a passionate life, but in my own way. Just as I believe in LoA and God in my own way.

  2. “You don’t find any of those two things. You create them.”

    Very true indeed Ludvig!

    I was also recently thinking about this. I was having a rather tough week and thinking about how my career, in the grand scheme of things, doesn’t really have any meaning. For example, I don’t save peoples lives, I don’t help others as such, it isn’t a mission. I work with machinery and often in solitude…

    Then I got to thinking. It DOES have purpose, heaps of it! It allows me to build a solid foundation for my wife and future family, to put food in their mouths and make them feel safe. What greater purpose could a man have than that? It allows me to reach my dream of financial independence. Heck, it will allow me to build an empire over a lifetime if I stick with it long enough. Imagine what I can then do with that power after I get it? How many people can I help then? How can I then change the world for the better?

    So purpose lies in the mind of the person, not the situation, as you say. It’s all about linking your activities to your goals, ambitions and values and deciding for yourself what the purpose is.

    Also, I sometimes cast myself back and imagine the men of old. The warriors, the emporers, the tribesmen. How they would laugh at our generation of weak minded fools seeking bliss and passion. The purpose they had (and we have) was to SURVIVE. Eat, feed your family, live another day. That’s purpose.

    Thanks for this article.

    • Hey G,

      “So purpose lies in the mind of the person, not the situation”

      –Agreed.

      “The purpose they had (and we have) was to SURVIVE. Eat, feed your family, live another day. ”

      –True.
      This is also interesting when it comes to the mental concept of ‘the American Dream’. Its bar has been raised for each new generation.

      At first it was just about getting work, building your own house, and owning some property. Then it was about being able to retire safely. Then it was about having 2 cars, a big house, etc… And now it’s about becoming Mark Zuckerberg.

    • “Also… imagine the men of old… How they would laugh at our generation of weak minded fools seeking bliss and passion.”

      Indeed! Fulfillment, job satisfaction, what have you, are the luxuries of people with too much security and leisure. In a way our lifestyle, so opulent compared to that we evolved for, is downright pathological – we aren’t designed mentally for life to be so easy. Angst, depression, and suicide are virtues of the first world, not the third.

  3. Very good article. I think the challenge lies in knowing yourself. Not your passions, of course. Find your strengths, yes, but even more: what activities suits you? Or, what are you suited for?

    I have strengths that are unsuitable for me.

    It is quite possible to get lost in something that you are good at, and are interested in, but that it turns out you are not suited for in the end.

    Obviously, the only way to find out is to try, and ask others – much like you write. But I think the question “does this really suit me?” is worth asking.

    • I think you’re right Matteus.

      –It doesn’t much matter what you’re good at — in terms of your career — if it’s the “wrong” thing. And whether something is “wrong” will probably depend on the time and culture you live in.

    • Curious Keith says:

      “I have strengths that are unsuitable for me. ”

      Why is this?

      “does this really suit me?”

      How can you know if it suits you?

  4. I love this article Ludvig, and especially this sentence:

    “. . .You can trick your brain into liking almost anything as long as you don’t hate the thing to begin with.”

    I hated fitness when I started training, because I wasn’t used to hard work and I sucked at it. Now, I love it.

    If somebody asked me, “How did you achieve your results in the gym?”, my answer would be something along the lines of: “I’m passionate about it, so I go almost everyday.”

    However, the truth is that I wasn’t passionate about it in the beginning.

    Same goes for my bachelor degree which I completed this year. I didn’t necessarily like studying, and I got crappy grades in my first year. However, in the second and third year I almost doubled my GPA, partly because I tricked my brain into liking my subjects. I put in a lot of effort into studying, and forced myself to spend a set amount of hours with my phone and laptop off readings books. In the end, I got better grades, and this made me enjoy my studies more, because my effort paid off.

    • Right Oskar.

      Now you live it because you’ve put SO much into the process. And achieved great results to back it up, and reinforce the value of what you’ve been doing to your brain.

      Interesting to hear, I didn’t know you did that.

    • Excellent examples of creating passion. Working hard at something eventually results in success, and success, /per se/, is a powerful reward and motivator. It’s hard /not/ to be passionate about something that makes you successful.

  5. Fan-freaking-tastic Ludvig!

    I can’t wait to get into the Drucker pamphlet you linked to.

    I would add Paul Graham’s argument against passion as a guiding business principle as well (found in the endnotes of Hackers & Painters). The idea is that people will pay you the most for doing solving the least pleasant problems:

    “When you’re starting a business, it’s easy to slide into thinking that customers want what you do. During the Internet Bubble I talked to a woman who, because she liked the outdoors, was starting an “outdoor portal.” You know what kind of business you should start if you like the outdoors? One to recover data from crashed hard disks.

    What’s the connection? None at all. which is precisely my point. If you want to create wealth (in the narrow technical sense of not starving) then you should be especially skeptical about any plan that centers on things you like doing. That is where your idea of what’s valuable is least likely to coincide with other people’s.”

    • Thanks, and thanks for adding that Kyle.

      Now I learned two things about Paul Graham from you today:
      1) This
      2) His humble background (from your article).

    • “The obvious problem here is selfishness. ”

      What do you, or rather MJ Demarco, mean by selfishness being wrong?

      Aren’t all entrepreneurs selfish? I mean, they’re goal is to make money and get rich?

      “The idea is that people will pay you the most for doing solving the least pleasant problems: ”

      What do you mean by this? Could this explain why garbage workers get a high pay? But then maybe that dere is wrong.. Because cleaners don’t get much money and they’re job is not pleasant either. I don’t get it.

      • Hmm… Even if all entrepreneurs are really selfish and that their goal is to just get rich, how do you make money at all serving yourself?

        You only make money by serving people, period. Elderly people are not really interested in hip-hop gear, unfortunately. That’s why I think this just-follow-your-passion thing as a career advice is really bad. And as to what kind of extent they do it solely for money (being selfish), I think that’s another story.

        If you think it’s selfish to sacrifice your time to volunteer at a home just to feel good about yourself, then yeah, I would probably say every single entrepreneur on this planet is darned selfish.

      • Alright alright… I see what you mean i think

  6. On a scientific level this is how I see life.
    There is no real purpose, but everyone seeks a combination of excitement, stimulation, to not be depressed and general well being.

    Literally everything we do is either to get these things, or do things that will allow us to get those things in the future.

    All of these things in that list come down to chemical reactions in your brain.. But its all in the brain ultimately, inside of you. Yes, happiness comes from within.

    So really.. our “purpose” in life is to change our circumstances so we may cause those chemical reactions in our brain.

    And as you say, you can find anything interesting, its just a matter of rewiring our brain to like those things. You can literally develop a curiosity for anything and thereby gain stimulation from satisfying that curiosity.
    General well being is to do with being healthy and strong. Again controllable.

    Not being depressed is to manage your biological reactions to unfavourable circumstances. Difficult but again, achievable within a certain degree.

    Excitement is the difficult one. That comes from wanting something really bad enough and then accomplishing it. Variety and purpose come into play here. Find something that is a serious challenge but one that you actually can accomplish.

    • Well said Shaun.

      “So really.. our “purpose” in life is to change our circumstances so we may cause those chemical reactions in our brain. ”

      –I am of the same opinion. When I realized this it was a big paradigm shift for me. And I started practicing ‘activating my brain’ on a daily basis, so as to not rely on external sources for pleasure so much.

      “Excitement is the difficult one”

      –Exactly. I feel you have to ‘deserve’ excitement/passion. You have to invest. Then you have to set goals and follow them. And if your goals aren’t grand enough you won’t care. . .
      . . . And when you care you are vulnerable. So because of loss aversion, emotional fear, and similar things, the ‘untrained person’ will avoid setting goals and stepping up in life. Simply because he’s too concerned with his temporary well-being (as you put it).

      Thanks for the great comment.

  7. Thanks for calling out this bullshit. I see a lot of harm done around me because of this “always follow your passion” platitude.
    Generally, you get this from people who have accomplished nothing or people who have no idea on how to mentor others.

    • Same here. Millions of people have been taken by that sort of “follow your dream” bullshit, with the result that instead of developing an interest in something useful they wade through life moping because they can’t get paid to play video games and fuck supermodels.

  8. Great article.something thats been confusing me lately hearing ”find your passion”.Now i know what to do.invest in my goal and get passionate along the way.

    Best thing ive read all month!you the man.

  9. Curious Keith says:

    I found myself nodding much when I read this. I haven’t given this much thought before, and I haven’t been fretting too much ’bout finding no life purpose.

    So anyway – another guy you perhaps will find cool is Cal Newport who also says that “passion is bullshit”. I read one of his books some time ago and the gist of it, if I remember correctly, is that passion is a myth, that you have to develop REAL skills that can be used in the modern marketplace, and that you have to think long-term so you are focusing on what is relevant not just now but also for many years to come!

  10. Totally agree with all of your points here. I believe that passion (or more specifically, purpose) is an essential ideal for everyone. And it is indeed CREATED—and not found, uncovered, discovered, or chosen.

    There is a reason why so many people these days are stuck with the notion that they have to first find their passion to feel fulfilled in life. And it’s not just because they’re told they have to by gurus. Job satisfaction is abysmal in nearly every industry, and the overarching theme is “if I can just find a job I like, then I’ll be okay.”

    The problem is that job satisfaction is more than just “liking” what you do—it’s tied to personality, individual job tasks, one’s ability to self-evaluate, etc. There are so many components that it’s extremely difficult to pick out which of them is correlated to passion. Hint: none of them are.

    Passion (or purpose) in the context of career is really non-existent. Passion is a thematic construct that covers one’s entire life, and is to be cultivated over time based on one’s strengths, desires, habits, and long-term goals (vision).

    Scott

    • That sounds about right. Thanks for commenting, Scott.

    • “Passion (or purpose) in the context of career is really non-existent.”

      Why can’t, or shouldn’t, a person be passionate or purposeful about their career?

      • Hi Abgrund—i should have added “only” to that sentence. One certainly can, and should strive to be passionate about their career. Passion and purpose however as I mentioned are larger themes that go beyond just career. In my experience coaching and mentoring people at different stages of their careers, it’s very difficult to sustain job passion if the rest of your life sucks.

        Scott

  11. That guy who emailed you is very funny, unintentionally. These two things made me laugh out loud:

    “I’m confused because I don’t know what to do with my life.”

    (oxymoron)

    And

    “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you seem like you’re passionate.”

    I’m not hating. Just saying ;)
    Hopefully things work out well for the guy now.

    • MY IDEAS:
      ————
      So Is it possible to “find your passion and pursue it”?

      Probably……but not in the way most people think of it.

      It’s like you say, they have this fictive idea of a static or objective passion or life purpose.

      But the world is not like that.

      Things change.

      You change. . . Hopefully.

      So if that is the truth (AND IT IS) then it should only be natural that your passion or life purpose may change with time as well.

      Then to create your passion, and to be building on your strengths, is not the end game. It’s just the beginning!

      —————-
      The way most people try to FIND their life purpose is a classic case of falling for “the grass is always greener”

  12. Well, thank you for paying attention to things I said, as well as for calling them smart.

    Your post is very interesting and thought provoking. Despite the difficulty and topic you also manage to give some concrete and actionable advice in the end, on how to be both accomplished and happy.

    The blog name “Start Gaining Momentum” really is genius and says it all in one sentence. Decide where you want to be in the future and start the journey now. Choose a direction that is compatible with your strengths, your ambition and your targets, and learn to like it.

  13. I agree with Ludvig that you can’t count on your passion to make you successful. At the same time I agree with PewDiePie that your passion will make you happy even if you are not successful. I also want to stress that there is nothing inherently wrong with mediocrity as long as you are happy.

    An important question is what you want. Do you want to be happy or do you want success? And what is the likelihood of attaining your goal? Is there a middle road that maximizes the expected value of doing something useful that, if not love, you at least don’t hate, and the probability of becoming happy or successful?

    Ludvig cut the Gordian knot of Love-Hate/Probability/Happiness-Success by postulating that you can learn to like almost anything if you immerse yourself and make it a habit (given that you don’t hate it deeply to begin with). If you apply your strengths to the most useful endeavor that you don’t hate, you will learn both to master and like (or at least tolerate) that area. Layer on an unusual and valuable second skill, and your likelihood for success increases considerably. If success was very important to you, you’ll be happy too. If you grew to like what you did you will be happy as well, not least from the feeling of being good at it.

  14. So, I used say (until yesterday) “follow your passion, at least you’ll be happy even if not successful”, but Ludvig has convinced me that what I really meant was: “Choose a useful area, make it a habit, learn to like it, master it, allow it to become your passion and then let it lead you to success and happiness at the same time.”

    I particularly like the quote by Cuban, but I like the Lao Tzu (no, not Yogi Berra) version even more: “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading”. Hence, make sure to adjust your direction early, the destination will be so much better and the journey will be more or less about the same.

    However, DO NOT attempt to create a habit, force momentum, or set out a direction doing something you despise and hate, just to become successful. Success isn’t worth anything if you are not proud and happy.

    • This is good advice I think, and it’s now my current long-term plan for my career.

      I’m in a similar situation to the guy who sent Ludvig that email. I’m the analytical type, so I thought the short book from Drucker was great, definitely something I will return to again.

      And as you’re saying Mikael, I want to try to start off in a direction I think is good. Im not overly concerned about having to “love what I do from the start” (Cuban quote etc), but I feel there should be at least an interest…and to feel positive when I visualise myself many years along the Line, having gained that momentum in that path.

  15. PewDiePie is extremely successful at commenting video games. His advice is to follow your passion, not because it works but because when it doesn’t work at least you could enjoy the journey. That is also exactly why I wouldn’t have chosen a career in finance if I could go back and redo my life. The likelihood of success is so small that I really should have chosen something I liked instead. I didn’t know that then and there definitely was no guarantee of success.

    But remember that which is not seen (Bastiat), all the passionate singer song writers and actors that failed and ended up poor, miserable, maybe as abused semi-prostitutes. Passion did them nothing good. On the other hand, they may have misread their own passion; what they wanted was fame and fortune, their time in the limelight. It wasn’t acting or singing that drove them.

    Others that are not born with a passion, have to find it, or rather to manufacture a passion by choosing something good enough and work at it.

    • Re PreDiePie:
      I guess it comes down to your personal values. Perhaps he doesn’t value ‘riches’ and other external and societal measures of wealth… That would explain his irreverence..and perhaps thats the reason he has succeeded in ‘YouTube comedy’? Because he doesn’t try to be funny or suck up to others, but just does whatever he finds funny?

      Great reading your comment(s) Karl-Mikael. But I’m afraid I don’t understand what you mean with the Bastiat part. I am familiar with the name, and know he was an economist, but I don’t know what you are referring to here.

      Btw: I checked your site, you have some interesting thoughts & perspectives there, although slightly raw/succinct perhaps. So good job with that, as I have a tendency to dislike most blogs. I look forward to learning more from it.

      • Thanks. Since, I just let the words flow from my fingers and don’t spend a lot of time on my writing, I understand if my articles are a bit raw and hard to follow.

        The Bastiat reference is about how it’s much easier to measure what is seen, i.e. what actually happened, while we tend to disregard what is not seen, i.e. what could have happened otherwise; the alternative, the hidden cost of doing one thing and not the other.

        In economics some (Keynesians like Krugman) claim that a broken window is good for the economy, since it increases the GDP (somebody gets a job to repair the window and his income multiplies through the economy when he buys things with his income). That is “WHAT IS SEEN” analysis.

        What is NOT seen is what the owner of the window COULD HAVE done with his money instead of buying a new window that some vandal broke. He could have invested the money, in his own education or a new venture or given himself a day off. What is not seen is that the future could have had BOTH a window and whatever else he chose to do wih his money. What is seen is simply a window that gets broken and then repaired, using up some resources of material and time. The future only holds a window, just like the past, and even if the repair man got a job, his time, and some of earth’s resourcs, were spent just geting back to the state of having an unbroken window, square 1.

        In the context of artists, passion and happiness. I just meant that it’s easy to see the artists that followed thei passion and succeded, since they get a lot of attenton in the media and a public platform to air their advice, but we tend to ignore all those who failed since nobody cares about their advice.

      • Ah … That sounds familiar. Think I saw a YouTube vid about this some time ago.

        So it’s kind of like a mix of the “broken window fallacy” and the survival bias.

  16. I think some are more or less born with a passion. They know what they want to do, as soon as they can think, and they just keep at it. Most fail, but those who succeed can thank their passion for guiding them. Some of them became good because their passion never allowed them to relax or give up. They worked so consistently that either their talent was discovered or they actually developed a skill/talent. Others just happened to be at the right place at the right time and made it big, despite a lack of talent. The Olsen twins?

  17. Paradoxically enough, here I am (Always Be Bruce Wayne, man on the roof) always talking about following your ‘flow’, even your every ‘whim’ in pursuit of happiness :). Where Ludvig says “strategy and long term targets, success, and backs it up with tonnes of research”, I say “flow, lust, whim, happiness” and backs it up by being the European Hedge Fund Manager Of The Decade.

    On the one hand, I am the perfect disguised charlatan and bullshitter extraordinaire. I have the titles to back me up, and I often claim it was down to coincidences or just dumb luck. From the outside it may have looked as if I was working hard and deliberately, maybe even following my life’s passion, but from the inside I usually say I was just a bullied nerd, happening to hide first behind my computer, then behind excellent study records and desk face-time.

    On the other hand, I am calling my own bullshit, by acknowledging that my passion for computer games, and indirectly programming, provided me with useful skills, that I actually had to work hard for (I became systematic, thorough, learned math, English, patience etc). All of these skills could and would be applied to school and later to work.

    I didn’t even start out passionate about math, English, or programming and was not naturally systematic or patient either, but those became my strengths with immersion and time. Then I learned to embrace those strengths as well as (admittedly, happened to, by chance) to put myself in a context where my skills were valuable and “layered” in an unusual and productive way. Knowledge of programming, networks, math, statistics and finance was a very good combination to have in the stock market, when the IT craze took off after Netscape’s IPO in 1995.

    Thank you Ludvig for making me see the light and solving the seeming paradox with my success, laziness, happiness and obsession with flow and path of least resistance. I simply wasn’t following my passion, I created it. And that is where Ludvig’s greatness shines like a beacon in the night – he analyzes, scrutinizes and cuts down complicated issues to manageable size, and then tells you how to deal efficiently with the core issue.

    • Mikael, truly inspiring words. It takes guts to open up about your successes or insecurities, especially someone whom society invariably holds with esteem.

      I don’t understand your references to your “own bullshit”?

      Everyone lives – where you end up surely isn’t something to put down? Some people have a family, some people make a good living, some people get sick; but everyone still has to breathe or they die. I don’t see how the way you got to this point in life would be any less respectable than anyone else?

      So you made a bunch of money; many others have, too. So you had a natural leaning towards programming; others did too. Most notably, I believe Elon Musk would be considered someone of exactly the same ilk (making a game at 12 etc); I don’t see people deploring his success as “bullshit” (no-one that matters anyway)?

      Perhaps a truer gauge of whether you “live your own bullshit” is how many people you influence with what you’ve learnt? It’s very easy to become “self-aware” (IE condemning your own success), but really, how many people in the world would love a part of what you’ve been involved with?

      I see it that everyone is just looking for a better life, and you’ve evidently, either through concious positioning or serendipitous processes, found an elixir which somewhat delivers those ideals. Maybe it’s part of your continuing mission to aid others in understanding the situation which lead to the creation of the European hedge fund manager of the decade?

      It’s evident that you *did* certain things to get there, regardless of whether they were based on a core “passion” or not. That part isn’t bullshit :D

      • Well, I don’t claim to know everything, not even myself. Hence I am happy for any input I can get, so thank you Richard, for writing this, thus taking the time to help me take one more step of many on my journey to Know Myself.

    • Hi (Karl-)Mikael,
      I really like what you’re saying here. I have thought the same thing about the Olsen twins too!! :)

  18. Whoa, thanks for the epic comments.

    I’m hanging out with a friend, and we were both positively impressed by some of these things you’re saying. Personally I find your sense of humbleness to be incredible. For example, to acknowledge something like this. . .

    “to put myself in a context where my skills were valuable and “layered” in an unusual and productive way. Knowledge of programming, networks, math, statistics and finance was a very good combination to have in the stock market, when the IT craze took off after Netscape’s IPO in 1995”

    . . . Is impressive. I believe many people in your situation would be “delusional” (sort of like Kanye West) about their situation.

    All in all, I very much admire your capacity for accurate thinking. I’m sure it had much to do with your success.

  19. Very insightful Ludvig, however I feel compelled to add some counter ideas. “Denouncing” passion is tantamount to denouncing God, and thus, to give you a more balanced opinion, here’s my take…

    Passion (noun)

    1. strong and barely controllable emotion.

    I see “passion” as HOW you do things, rather than WHAT you do.

    The word “passion” is used WAYYYYY too much (I have a passion for STAMPS!!!!!). Its real meaning, to me, is that part of you which doesn’t give the slightest shit about what anyone else thinks, thus allowing you to become completely immersed & engaged in what you’re doing. Where you’ll take a stand against everyone else in the world because you KNOW what you’re doing is “right”. The “what” doesn’t matter as much as “how”

    Mikael mentioned about when you’re “in flow” – this is a very good way that I like to describe the “passion” process.

    It’s VERY counter-intuitive, but it’s actually the case that the less of a shit you give (about people’s thoughts), the more attractive you are to certain people. This is why Hitler is heralded as a “great orator”. I don’t speak German, but the subtitles in some of his speeches seem boring and shit, not to mention his raspy voice & reiteration of the same points over & over — the thing that made him “great” was his Power and Ferocity in extolling his ideas.

    How could you argue against this (absolutely fucking epic performance):
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZQ4yQDIf5k

    The “passion” aspect of life is the knowing deep inside that what you’re doing is in connection with the infinite, the eternal. Bullshit? I believe it: http://www.psitek.net/pages/PsiTek-jesus-taught-it-too-18.html

    “There is a difference between information and “knowing.””
    “Let the inner light of your true nature be made manifest in your world.”


    A simple test for this is the “Born Again” test.

    The “born again” test is very simple.

    When you’re 2 / 3 years old (old enough to remember, young enough not to care), WHO did you want to be? WHAT did you want to do?

    Did you want to be Indiana Jones with his amazing hat? How about being King of the Empire? An Astronaut? What about controlling an army? In Britain, we had boys “dolls” called Action Man – I had a bunch of them with a tank and a truck. You could get different guns and uniforms. I used to make little battles & everything – not giving the slightest shit about the “political implications” of such activities

    A true gauge of your “passion” is to pull out the “born again” test – if you were born again, would you *really* care about writing? Would you *really* care about getting laid with 10,000 women? Would you *really* care what people think of you? Nope. You’ll want to make little “battles” with your Action Men.

    Here’s a good one – would you *really* care about software? Or perhaps you love the idea that you can create fucking amazing stuff with the BEST people from around the world (Vosidova, Ludvig, LinkedIn founder), and work towards creating an environment where that is the norm?

    Or would you *really* care about reading? Maybe your goal is to become one of the most revered men who ever lived. Someone to whom statues will be erected; someone who’s name will go down in history as one of the Greatest men who ever lived. The way to that unassailable position is by being a bastion of knowledge; to the degree of being able to apply that knowledge in pertinent situations. Knowledge doesn’t come free – the price is to read.

    THAT is they “key” to your passion. It doesn’t matter “what” you do – its HOW (probably “why” is more apt, if you like Simon Sinek’s somewhat convoluted ideas) you do it that counts. Interestingly, this is what defines brands; but I’ll leave that for another day.

    As adults, we have “responsibilities” (to your family, yourself & others); but what NEVER disappears is HOW you carry out those responsibilities. Some people just devolve to others’ whims, whilst the strong ones ALWAYS retain this “how” – they are the leaders whom others gravitate towards in all walks of life (brands, politics, religion, relationships).

    BTW when women do this, they’re called “talented” – as if they’ve been given their “how” from God. I still don’t know if it is insulting to determine a woman’s strengths as nothing more than the whim of a creative entity, but if you ever wanted to compliment a woman professionally, you’d almost certainly refer to her “talents” rather than “skills”

    I guarantee that if you measure the “passions” you think you have today, they’ll either be based on what you think other people will “like”, or what you’ll think will be successful. Once you realize this, you can quickly determine people’s strengths and weaknesses. And yes, EVERYONE has their weaknesses, buried behind the mask they think the World will like best – the best people in history lifted people’s masks, starting with their own.

    Interestingly, MOST products in the world today are somewhat designed to accentuate your mask. Again, a branding thing which I’ll leave to another time.

    This is why all this “startup” BULLSHIT is so dangerous, as well as all the fucking sheeple outside the Apple store every new “again-Phone” is released. What’s HILARIOUS is when you have responsible adults actually posting pictures of THEIR iPhone 6 on Twitter as if it makes any fucking difference to who they are or what they do. WHO CARES if you bought the latest scamware from Apple – without Jobs, they’re finished.

    Unfortunately, everyone falls into this bracket at some point. You have to pay the bills & eat some time, but there’s something MAGICAL about not giving a fuck, and doings things in your way.

    A GREAT example of this is Ludvig’s references to Hitler & other greats of history. We’ve been indoctrinated to believe that Hitler & the Nazis were the personification of evil. True, in the case of the death camps, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that Hitler was a great man. He took decisions which only a handful throughout history would have the balls to contemplate. Caesar, Alexander, Hannibal & others were no different. Isn’t this why people are drawn to SGM? The call of GREATNESS?

    This is where the definition of “passion” comes in, although somewhat hazily. To me, passion is that underlying reason why you love something. It’s VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY difficult to describe (try describing the joys of parenthood to one of the uninitiated); but can summed up quite simply.

    It’s generally defined by the PEOPLE you are either drawn to, or attract, by virtue of what you’re doing. This is just an indicator of what your “passion” really is; but equally shows the way in which you conduct your life.

    The people you attract determine the way in which you do things. The “attraction” is invoked (haha programming term sorry) by HOW you do things. Ludvig might be “writing a blog”; does that make him an Author? Nope. HOW he does things (giving everyone the excuse to be GREAT) determines whether you like the blog or not.

    Your reference to “passion” being the democratic response is spot on. Having recently read about the Nazi’s rise to power, it’s quite apparent that democracy has flaws; a major one being that unless you’re vanilla, you won’t achieve “mass” support.

    Democracy is rather weak. Perfect for countries in “homeostasis”, but not very effective in dealing with tense situations (such as Ukraine).

    Anyway, thanks for the great post & hope to see a lot more very soon :)

    • Very interesting to read, Richard. I like your take on the importance of the “why” — that which underlies the “passion”.

      “a major one being that unless you’re vanilla, you won’t achieve “mass” support.”

      –Yup.

      “Democracy is rather weak. Perfect for countries in “homeostasis”, but not very effective in dealing with tense situations (such as Ukraine). ”

      –Yup.

  20. Great post Ludvig, but I don’t have time to answer it properly. I think you throw the baby out with the bathwater. Passion is helpful in more than one way.
    I’m all for life purpose, but in a slightly different angle than you.
    Hard work is important, but it’s not a guarantee of success. THAT’s the reason people are buying ‘passionate shit’; they experienced or observed all too often that hard work is abused, not rewarded.
    I think I’ll write a whole post in answer.

    • “Passion” as a strong, emotional motivator does have value. The central point, I think, is that passion does not just fall from Heaven, it is acquired. What many people want is to avoid the hard and often unpleasant work involved. They want a “passion” that will enable them to achieve results without experiencing discomfort; they want something for nothing.

      Hard work is frequently exploited, to be sure. It may be better to do hard work that benefits yourself more than hard work that benefits others. But in either case, the hard worker always takes away something more than the deadhead, if only self respect and the habit of hard work. No one gains by being useless.

    • That would be interesting to read — let me know when it’s published.

  21. One of my recent favorite quotes is from TV show True detective:
    Life’s barely long enough to be good at one thing. Be careful what you get good at!
    – Basically saying that you really need to pay attention where you apply your time because that’s what you will get good at.

  22. “Rid yourself of life purpose.” Well you just blew my post for the day. But I agree that we try to hard to find some kind of purpose or niche. I’m reading a book called ReWork and they blow all of these preconceived ideas out of the water.

  23. A superb article, Ludvig (and very focused). A couple of comments:

    On luck: Many people overemphasize the importance of luck, because it’s a justification for inaction and failure. Others, however, underestimate the role of luck, because they want to feel more in control (or perhaps because they do not want luck taking any credit for their successes). The latter group of people can be annoying, but it’s a safe bet they’re far more likely to succeed. Believing things that are palpably wrong can be good for you.

    • On life purpose: This is pure delusion. Isaac Newton thought his life purpose was his religious theory (now completely unknown), not founding modern science. William Jennings Bryan thought his life purpose was to be President of the U.S.A. until he lost three elections and turned into an anti-science crusader. Hardly anyone, even famous people known for some single thing, has a central purpose throughout their life.

    • On having combinations of skills, like Scott Adams: Follow the math. If there are a million single things to be good at, you can bet there are thousands of experts in each of them and it can be very hard to come up with a new one. But that leaves half a trillion combinations of just /two/ skills, so it’s easy to find one that’s unique. Finding a way to utilize that combination might take some imagination though. You might come up with some weird combination like Zen and motorcycle maintenance.

    • Adams is also dead on about the importance of fitness. “Get in shape” should be the first recommendation for anyone who wants to accomplish something and doesn’t know exactly how (or what) to start.

    • Thanks Abgrund.

      Haha. You’re right about those two kinds of people. I know both sorts, and I definitely prefer to hang out with those who lean towards the belief that they “make their own luck”.

      Those examples (Jennings & Newton) are great. And I hadn’t thought about that before!

  24. Hmm it seems like your blog ate my first comment (it was super long)
    so Iguess I’ll just sum iit up what I had written and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying
    your blog. I as well am an aspiring blog blogger but I’m still new to the whole thing.
    Do you have any recommendations foor inexperienced blog writers?
    I’d certainly appreciate it.

  25. Hey Ludvig,
    I think a lot of the “life purpose” stuff may stem from religion. I hear tons of religious leaders try to answer this question. The answer always comes down to: “do what God intended you to do.” While this may be fulfilling to hear for a religious crowd, it is really no more helpful then the phrase “follow your passion.”

  26. I like the no Bs structure.

    And great discussion here too, got some good insights from reading it

    Keep it up

  27. Wanted to mention a few books I feel are relevant to the topics mentioned above.

    The Power of Story by Jim Loehr
    Integrity by Henry Cloud
    The Power of Full Engagement by Tony Schwartz

    These talk about “purpose” in a non-bullshit, practical way that really makes a difference and clarifies the concept.

  28. I’m rolling with Scott Adams on this. And I like the three questions you ask yourself re; whether to invest attention in an activity/task or not. Summarises the kind of assessment we should all do to determine how we ought to apply ourselves to a thing.

  29. Artyom Karapetov says:

    I wanted to say a thank you for this post. It is really “advice rich”, perhaps one of the best ones you’ve written.

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  31. Lucas de Aquino says:

    Let me state here that, even though I’m a D1 university swimmer (which makes me pretty good at it), I find it torturing to show up to practice and I’m not evolving on it that much.

    That example of the hiphop culture guy, I think he did really well on choosing his passion. His problem was stupidness for not choosing the right place, but that’s it.

    I don’t think ppl should rely on Energy rather than Passion. By doing that, your routine will be a constant struggle. By relying on your Passion, your routine will be a bless.

    There are ways one can transform a boring task into a passion… Focusing on the rewards? Doing it for the satisfaction of someone else (in addition to your own satisfaction). Feeling proud of your progress… Imagining yourself as the very master of this task (daydreaming about it a little bit).

    But even disagreeing with you, you did a great job on bringing this subject, writing well and using your arguments about it.

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