Great essay by Paul Graham on what it means to work, finding what you love, and the factors that influence our decisions on these important issues.

I’ve highlighted some of my favorite parts below. The full essay can be read on Paul Graham’s site.

The danger is when money is combined with prestige, as in, say, corporate law, or medicine. A comparatively safe and prosperous career with some automatic baseline prestige is dangerously tempting to someone young, who hasn’t thought much about what they really like.

“The test of whether people love what they do is whether they’d do it even if they weren’t paid for it—even if they had to work at another job to make a living. How many corporate lawyers would do their current work if they had to do it for free, in their spare time, and take day jobs as waiters to support themselves??

The most dangerous liars can be the kids’ own parents. If you take a boring job to give your family a high standard of living, as so many people do, you risk infecting your kids with the idea that work is boring. [2] Maybe it would be better for kids in this one case if parents were not so unselfish. A parent who set an example of loving their work might help their kids more than an expensive house. [3]

Discipline
With such powerful forces leading us astray, it’s not surprising we find it so hard to discover what we like to work on. Most people are doomed in childhood by accepting the axiom that work = pain. Those who escape this are nearly all lured onto the rocks by prestige or money. How many even discover something they love to work on? A few hundred thousand, perhaps, out of billions.

Sometimes jumping from one sort of work to another is a sign of energy, and sometimes it’s a sign of laziness. Are you dropping out, or boldly carving a new path? You often can’t tell yourself. Plenty of people who will later do great things seem to be disappointments early on, when they’re trying to find their niche.

Of course, figuring out what you like to work on doesn’t mean you get to work on it. That’s a separate question. And if you’re ambitious you have to keep them separate: you have to make a conscious effort to keep your ideas about what you want from being contaminated by what seems possible. [6]

It’s painful to keep them apart, because it’s painful to observe the gap between them. So most people pre-emptively lower their expectations. For example, if you asked random people on the street if they’d like to be able to draw like Leonardo, you’d find most would say something like “Oh, I can’t draw.” This is more a statement of intention than fact; it means, I’m not going to try. Because the fact is, if you took a random person off the street and somehow got them to work as hard as they possibly could at drawing for the next twenty years, they’d get surprisingly far. But it would require a great moral effort; it would mean staring failure in the eye every day for years. And so to protect themselves people say “I can’t.”

Another related line you often hear is that not everyone can do work they love—that someone has to do the unpleasant jobs. Really? How do you make them? In the US the only mechanism for forcing people to do unpleasant jobs is the draft, and that hasn’t been invoked for over 30 years. All we can do is encourage people to do unpleasant work, with money and prestige.

The two-job route has several variants depending on how long you work for money at a time. At one extreme is the “day job,” where you work regular hours at one job to make money, and work on what you love in your spare time. At the other extreme you work at something till you make enough not to have to work for money again.

The two-job route is less common than the organic route, because it requires a deliberate choice. It’s also more dangerous. Life tends to get more expensive as you get older, so it’s easy to get sucked into working longer than you expected at the money job. Worse still, anything you work on changes you. If you work too long on tedious stuff, it will rot your brain. And the best paying jobs are most dangerous, because they require your full attention.

A friend of mine who is a quite successful doctor complains constantly about her job. When people applying to medical school ask her for advice, she wants to shake them and yell “Don’t do it!” (But she never does.) How did she get into this fix? In high school she already wanted to be a doctor. And she is so ambitious and determined that she overcame every obstacle along the way—including, unfortunately, not liking it.

Now she has a life chosen for her by a high-school kid.

When you’re young, you’re given the impression that you’ll get enough information to make each choice before you need to make it. But this is certainly not so with work. When you’re deciding what to do, you have to operate on ridiculously incomplete information. Even in college you get little idea what various types of work are like. At best you may have a couple internships, but not all jobs offer internships, and those that do don’t teach you much more about the work than being a batboy teaches you about playing baseball.
….
It’s also wise, early on, to seek jobs that let you do many different things, so you can learn faster what various kinds of work are like. Conversely, the extreme version of the two-job route is dangerous because it teaches you so little about what you like. If you work hard at being a bond trader for ten years, thinking that you’ll quit and write novels when you have enough money, what happens when you quit and then discover that you don’t actually like writing novels?

Most people would say, I’d take that problem. Give me a million dollars and I’ll figure out what to do. But it’s harder than it looks. Constraints give your life shape. Remove them and most people have no idea what to do: look at what happens to those who win lotteries or inherit money. Much as everyone thinks they want financial security, the happiest people are not those who have it, but those who like what they do. So a plan that promises freedom at the expense of knowing what to do with it may not be as good as it seems.

Whichever route you take, expect a struggle. Finding work you love is very difficult. Most people fail. Even if you succeed, it’s rare to be free to work on what you want till your thirties or forties. But if you have the destination in sight you’ll be more likely to arrive at it. If you know you can love work, you’re in the home stretch, and if you know what work you love, you’re practically there.

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I have a tremendous amount of respect for how direct and honest Ben Horowitz is. This recent blog post he made was educational, fun to read and got his point across.

What’s The Most Difficult CEO Skill? Managing Your Own Psychology.

A Final Word of Advice – Don’t Punk Out and Don’t Quit As CEO, there will be many times when you feel like quitting. I have seen CEOs try to cope with the stress by drinking heavily, checking out, and even quitting. In each case, the CEO has a marvelous rationalization why it was OK for him to punk out or quit, but none them will every be great CEOs. Great CEOs face the pain. They deal with the sleepless nights, the cold sweat, and what my friend the great Alfred Chuang (legendary founder and CEO of BEA Systems) calls “the torture.” Whenever I meet a successful CEO, I ask them how they did it. Mediocre CEOs point to their brilliant strategic moves or their intuitive business sense or a variety of other self-congratulatory explanations. The great CEOs tend to be remarkably consistent in their answers. They all say: “I didn’t quit.”

Let’s not be punks. To “the torture”!

A recent Pew Research Center study shed some light on Twitter usage.

  • 72 percent posting personal life updates, with 19 percent doing so daily.
  • 62 percent share work life, activities or interests, 12 percent daily.
  • 55 percent (12 percent daily) share news story links.
  • 54 percent (16 percent daily) make humorous or philosophical observations about life in general.
  • 53 percent (18 percent daily) re-tweet material posted by others.
  • 40 percent (12 percent daily) share photos.
  • 28 percent (8 percent daily) share videos.
  • 24 percent (7 percent daily) tweet their location.

It’s interesting to note the diversity of ways people are using the service. As Twitter has evolved & embraced it’s position as an information network / communications platform, it makes sense a varied set of uses would emerge. Another interesting takeaway from the data is to what degree Twitter has become a mainstream product. Living in Silicon Valley, it’s easy to think at times that a specific product or problem is widely known, when in fact, it’s only being felt in the “echo chamber” that we live in. For a consumer service, it’s crucial to reach a mainstream audience and not build for too small a niche of early adopters. Twitter has definitely reached mainstream awareness, the question is whether it becomes a major part of life for the mainstream public. For Twitter to achieve this, a key tactic must be to not try and be all things to all people, but rather fulfill a few certain use cases / pain points really well.

Article on SFGate
Pew Research Center study

I attended the CS147 Final Presentations today at Stanford and was blown away by what some of the students were able to do in one quarter. Each of the final projects explored one of the following three design briefs:

  • CHANGE: Use the power of mobile technology to create an application or service that facilitates personal or social behavior change.
  • TIME: Redesign the way we experience or interact with time.
  • GLANCE: Instead of information overload, how might mobile technology show us just a few essential bits at a glance?

Students designed mobile websites or applications (mostly on iOS or Android) and most build the apps as well. I’m a huge fan of these types of applied classes that let students identify a problem and develop a solution as a single project. The Stanford Design School and Stanford Technology Ventures Program are doing an amazing job leading the charge for many of these classes and programs. If you haven’t had a chance to visit the new d.school building or STVP office, I highly recommend it. They’re both new and a testament to what design inspired construction can achieve in creating an environment to foster innovation and creativity.

This blog post by Steve Blank is inspiring and motivating. Let’s make sure the “entrepreneurial revolution” grows and spreads.

“This Thanksgiving it might seem that there’s a lot less to be thankful for. One out of ten of Americans is out of work. The common wisdom says that the chickens have all come home to roost from a disastrous series of economic decisions including outsourcing the manufacture of America’s physical goods.

Yet it’s possible that we’ll look back to this decade as the beginning of our own revolution. We may remember this as the time when scientific discoveries and technological breakthroughs were integrated into the fabric of society faster than they had ever been before. When the speed of how businesses operated changed forever.

It may be the dawn of a new era for a new American economy built on entrepreneurship and innovation.
One that our children will look back on and marvel that when it was the darkest, we saw the stars.”

Read the full blog post by Steve Blank

Happy Thanksgiving! “This has gotta be the good life” is so very true. I love this song and it’s very fitting for a day of thanks. Have an amazing Thanksgiving everyone! We have so very much to be thankful for.

Good Life by One Republic

Awesome example of HTML5 in action. The presentation is educational, even if you’re technical. I highly recommend it!

20 Things I Learned About Browsers and the Web by Google
A fun guidebook from Google on things you’ve always wanted to know about browsers & the web (but were afraid to ask)

Great job Min Li!