“Happiness comes from the intersection of what you love, what you’re good at, and what the world needs. We’ve been told time and again to keep finding the first. Our schools helped developed the second. It’s time we put more thought on the third.” — Oliver Segovia
As a young man I was encouraged to follow my dreams. To do the things that I was passionate about and for. This falls in to the “You can be anything you want to be” category of advice that well-meaning parents tell their children. I’m not discounting the advice. We are privileged to live in a country where the idea of limitless potential and passion is embedded in our national character. But still, it rings a little hollow for millions of aspiring Fitzgeralds or Pollacks or Shaun Whites out there. For most of us, passion is something that we eventually learn to fold into the daily necessities of being a professional adult. To this very second The Food Network taps into the latent passion of millions of culinary hobbyists. Yet passion and ability are two very different things. Trust me, I’m no Jacques Pepin.
Ability. We all have our natural abilities. Call them god-given or call them learned and refined behaviors. It really doesn’t matter. You’re just good at something. My brother has natural ability. Baseball. That was his thing. As a young man he was physically gifted with the weapons needed to excel at the sport. Probably still is. One might argue that I have better abilities as a teacher or a talker. It’s different for everyone. But you have to do something, especially as an adult. Doing what you’re good at is gratifying for a number of different reasons–not the least of which is that you don’t have to struggle quite so hard to excel. And, if what you’re good at happens to be something that you’re passionate about then so much the better. By contrast, if you’ve ever been in a position to do something that you’re not good at then you know the ‘pit of your stomach’ sinking feeling that happens when you punch the clock every day. Sometimes necessity overrides ability and you have to do the grind in order to make ends meet.
Here’s a question: “What big ideas are you working on or associated with?” By ‘big’ I mean things that are outside of your immediate sphere. Things in your community? Causes or movements. Things that help others live better lives? It’s a form of travel, really. But travel in this case means moving outside of your comfort zone and down the unfamiliar paths that frequently involve a level of nervous anticipation as to what may occur. People can be passionate about something. And they can have natural ability. And for most these traits will give them fine lives that meet their personal and financial needs. But ‘why’ are these things important and ‘what’ is their best application? Moreover, how can a person extend these gifts in such a manner that others benefit? It’s a compelling question. To extend the metaphor further, it’s the difference between taking an all-inclusive vacation and going off the beaten path to places that you’ve always imaged but were slightly afraid to tackle. And therein lies the opportunity for us all. Perhaps the finest expression of our passions and abilities is the application of these things in the world around us. And perhaps the gratification we receive is a reflection of the world not only appreciating our contribution but, through small changes, thanking us in return.
So much of what I’ve read and been thinking about lately has to do with Gratification and Happiness. What causes these things to occur? Brain chemistry? Habits? Friends? Philanthropy? Most likely it’s all of these things. But when considering what one does as a job I think it’s equally important to recognize that every day we all get up, get dressed, go to work (whatever that may be), make money, pay the bills, save a little, spend a little, and do it again (and again). And if that’s the case then how can we get the most out of the requirements? I’d love to go off the grid from time to time and surf. Or start a small burger joint. Or learn to paint. It’s simply not what I’m good at. Passionate, yes. Good at? No. But these things give me motivation to learn and try new things. I can ride a few waves. And I can cook a wicked burger. But I’m not great at either. So I do what I’m good at (which I also care deeply about). I teach others. I speak and write and share information. I help people see things in their businesses that can get them where they want to go. It’s massively satisfying and gives me a quality of life that I enjoy. But it’s the outer extension where the best stuff happens. It’s the point at which others are enriched by what I do, or what you do, or what we all do together–that causes the most happiness. It becomes ‘the perfect storm’ of passion, ability, and helping others that puts the real power of this combination into focus.
Ironically, you can be whatever you want. The question is, however, is what you want the best expression of your total self? So forget about doing what you love. Do what you love, and what you’re good at, and what does the most Good.