October 6, 2016

"Stop learning, stop struggling, stop testing yourself. Do what you’re good at."

"When I really learned this it was a big growing-up moment — I finally felt commitment to what I was doing."

Said the artist, quoted in a Forbes article titled "This Artist Stopped Trying So Hard And His Career Soared."

Isn't this the old "Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow" theory? There was that book. I google the phrase and get to another Forbes article: "Five Reasons to Ignore the Advice to Do What You Love." It's easy to guess the reasons. You might not love anything. Attaching money to whatever you love might undercut its loveability. (Example: sex.)

There's also a book: "Do What You Love And Other Lies About Success and Happiness." Here's an interview with the author, Miya Tokumitsu:
I think this idea that work somehow makes you a good person is something that is very American to me. There’s this idea that it has something to do with your character as a person. I feel that it’s very ingrained and I don’t completely disavow it, too. Work is held up as something that is more revelatory about your character than the interests you have or the way you care about other people or care for other people. I feel like it comes from people who are earnest in their striving and want to do good things and want to be good people, but it leads to this culture where people are just working all the time.
Ah, but if you circle back to the quote that began this post you'll see that Tokumitsu are kind of in the same place. How did that happen?

39 comments:

Paddy O said...

The bottom of the triangle is a happy place, popular and communal.

Big Mike said...

Isn't this the old "Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow" theory?

Sure seems that way. Funny that we don't see many books or articles about people who did what they loved and were good at and died in abject poverty.

Big Mike said...

Oh, and in the 21st century it is never wise to stop learning.

Jupiter said...

Forbes doesn't like AdBlock.

rhhardin said...

Do what interests you, the advice feminists ignore when giving advice.

What interests women doesn't pay very well, so the difference matters.

rhhardin said...

Sites that won't accept AdBlock fall off the internet.

TosaGuy said...

"I think this idea that work somehow makes you a good person is something that is very American to me."

No, it is not that working (i.e. doing something to take care of yourself or others so the state doesn't have to) makes you a good person, it is that not working (abled-bodied and don't lift a finger) makes you a bad person.

Liberals want to change that definition.

MayBee said...

Advice like this is good for driven people, or at least those with a strong work ethic and a desire to achieve.
For others, it's poison.

bagoh20 said...

Please, no work shaming,... you lazy fucks.

Popville said...

Then there was the Right Livelihood movement touted by the Whole Earth Calalog folks, via Buddhism.

David said...

Unfortunately some people think they are good at what they are bad at.

rehajm said...

Sites that won't accept AdBlock fall off the internet.

Yah, Forbes is dead to me, too.

rhhardin said...

Jean Shepard noticed world class talent that had no value, like downing successive beers at a baseball game and never leaving one's seat.

Henry said...

From the article:

An allegory illustrates this point. Imagine you come upon a large tree with crooked branches and a tough trunk covered with bumps and depressions. A carpenter wouldn’t pay attention to it because it isn’t suitable for lumber. The tree isn’t valuable, you conclude. An allegory illustrates this point. Imagine you come upon a large tree with crooked branches and a tough trunk covered with bumps and depressions. A carpenter wouldn’t pay attention to it because it isn’t suitable for lumber. The tree isn’t valuable, you conclude.

But you’re overlooking other uses besides lumber. The shade it provides. The shelter from the elements. The pleasant experience of strolling beneath it while admiring its unique appearance.

The tree is useless to you only because you want to make it into something it’s not.


At least one version of this allegory comes from Taoist monk Chuang Tzu. In Thomas Merton's translation:

Hui Tzu said to Chuang:
I have a big tree,
The kind they call a "stinktree."
The trunk is so distorted,
So full of knots,
No one can get a straight plank
Out of it. The branches are so crooked
You cannot cut them up
In any way that makes sense.
There it stands beside the road.
No carpenter will even look at it.

Such is your teaching--
big and useless.

Chuang Tzu replied:
Have you ever watched the wildcat
Crouching, watching his pray--
This way it leaps, and that way,
High and low, and at last
Lands in the trap.
But have you seen the yak?
Great as a thundercloud
He stands in his might.

Big? Sure,
He can't catch mice!

So for your big tree, no use?
Then plant it in the wasteland,
In emptiness.
Walk idly around,
Rest under its shadow.
No axe or bill prepares its end.
No one will ever cut it down.

Useless? You should worry!


What is emphasized in Taoism writings is not the way to success, but its avoidance. Success is a curse. In Tzu's parable, you aren't trying to figure out a use for the tree. You are the tree.

In other poem, Tzu writes:

The tree on the mountain height is its own enemy.
The grease that feeds the light devours itself.
The cinnamon tree is edible: so it is cut down!
The lacquer tree is profitable: they maim it.
Every man knows how useful it is to be useful.

No one seems to know
How useful it is to be useless.

William said...

When I was young and had nothing to do, I found it a form of torture. In old age, I have discovered that doing nothing is quite a pleasant way to spend the day. I don't know if this change of heart has to do with the aging process or with the current technology that offers so many rabbit holes to fall into.. Wealth also has something to do with it. When younger, I would have enjoyed doing nothing more if it weren't for those eviction notices. They really cast a pall.

William said...

If I had the job of a rock star, I would have continued working. That looks like fun. Going to work and receiving the adulation of thousands of nubile young women. Is it any wonder the Rollling Stones keep touring. Very few jobs offer much in the way of adulation. Just the opposite. You've got to trim your spokes to match the cogs and pretend that interacting with the jerks is some kind of pleasant experience..

Rae said...

Makes me think of the occasional Japanese worker you hear about, who is found dead at his desk in the morning. Was he happy?
Do you work to find happiness, or do you work to make enough money to get by, and find your happiness elsewhere?

William said...

@Henry. That's some good stuff. Thanks for posting.

Larry J said...

Some Australians have told me, "You Americans live to work. We work to live." It's an interesting observation. Americans tend to define ourselves by our work. When you meet someone new, how long is it before you're discussing your occupation? Even in retirement, people describe themselves by their previous occupation.

William Chadwick said...

"Some Australians have told me, 'You Americans live to work. We work to live." . . . Americans tend to define ourselves by our work. When you meet someone new, how long is it before you're discussing your occupation? Even in retirement, people describe themselves by their previous occupation."

When I lived in Manhattan I remember feeling (based solely on what I had read, mind you) that I must be a Californian at heart. I had read that "If you ask a New Yorker 'What do you do?' they'll tell you their job, but if you ask a Californian 'What do you do?' they'll say 'Hang-gliding' or some other non-occupational activity." I always identified myself by my interests rather than whatever job I happened to have at the time.

Roughcoat said...

But Australians are fatuous and full of shit. So there's that.

Henry said...

Thanks William.

Correction: "prey" not "pray"

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

"Protestant work ethic? I thought that was Jewish."

-- Ed Koch

Roughcoat said...

This is such a First World 21st Century concern. Here's the thing. In most of the world, through most of history (including the here and now), life was hard and then you died. Life was never without its joys and pleasures but you took them where you could, as you found them or made them. In the Middle of Ages there were lots of days off: lots of holidays and feast days, more than today. People spent a goodly part of their year capering -- but only if they weren't beset by one or more of the Four Horsemen, Death, War, Famine, Conquest/Pestilence. Which was a big "if." On all the other days they worked their asses off.

Do want people are willing to pay you to do and have enjoyable hobbies.

buwaya said...

"Makes me think of the occasional Japanese worker you hear about, who is found dead at his desk in the morning. Was he happy?"

What does happiness have to do with it? He died doing his duty.
Death is lighter than a feather, duty is heavier than a mountain.

ALP said...

Larry J:

Some Australians have told me, "You Americans live to work. We work to live."

*****

Interesting. I am a paralegal - used to work for an attorney here in the US that emigrated to Australia. We had interesting discussions about the contrast in expectations for lawyers in US vs. Down Under. One thing stands out: he said that much of the drive to work all the time in the US comes from **client expectations**. If a big client wanted something done and you had to call staff in to work all weekend, so be it. If a client wanted to talk to their attorney on a Sunday morning...they expected to have this conversation no questions asked.

Huge difference in Australia - clients don't **expect** to be dealing with legal matters on Sat or Sun. Very different expectations. Sounds fabulous to me. I decided to stay at the paralegal level, ditching plans for law school, precisely for this reason: I like leaving my job at the office, totally and completely.

I wonder if Australia will succumb to the same blurring of personal/professional as the digital era marches on....

buwaya said...

"I wonder if Australia will succumb to the same blurring of personal/professional as the digital era marches on...."

This "blurring" has always happened over a certain level in the US. Things in industrial enterprises were 24-hour, three shift matters. Modern services such as utilities, telecom, energy are 24-hour 7-day operations. Executive workload is also extreme and always has been, and is never done after 5:00pm or Friday, so for their staff and advisers/consultants. It extends into all social activities also.
Or its been that way all my 30 years in the US, and most of the time in Asia.

Sebastian said...

Slight problem here. "“Stop learning, stop struggling, stop testing yourself. Do what you’re good at ,” he says . . . His commitment to his craft paid off. Years of learning and challenging himself opened up opportunities to work across industries." OK, so after years of learning and challenging you can stop learning and testing. Got it.

What if you are good at learning and testing yourself? The top 1% in any field keeps at it.

The guy's perspective is distorted by his field. Success in art and design depends on fickle audience tastes. In a field where dumb luck plays a big role, it makes more sense to think that you should "stop struggling."

buwaya said...

And for that matter, global operations force a 24-hour schedule. If decisions are needed at 2:00am because of something going down in Rotterdam (heh, I have helped people at copra trading operations in Manila that needed to deal with the palm-oil markets there and worked all night; these days there are call center operations there that keep much of Manila working through the dark).
Or these days, when I have to regularly discuss matters with suppliers in India, almost precisely opposite in working hours.
If you are dealing globally, then its not easy to define "business hours", especially if you are the boss or work for the boss.

ALP said...

buywaya:

I make soap as a hobby - anything about palm oil markets is interesting to me (in addition to coconut or olive oil). Your work sounds interesting.

BTW: I do business immigration - the issue of multi-national managers having to work 24/7, across time zones (and the hassle it creates), is the basis for many L-1A multi-national manager petitions.

buwaya said...

Friends were in that business, not me, just had a lot of nights hanging out with those guys at the trading offices past my bedtime!

My Basque grandpa first went out east in 1913 to work in British Malaya on palm oil plantations, before transferring among British "Hongs" and running plantations in the Philippines. My GGpa (mothers side) founded several coconut plantations for the same reason.

Soap was a booming business back in the late 19th-early 20th century, its an interesting and not very well known phenomenon - one of those big things that are forgotten these days. Factory made soap was an early mass produced consumer product and drove a massive demand for tropical oils. Thats why there was a genre of "South Seas" movies, with trading schooners and the like, it was all about adventurous characters, mostly working in some way for Lever Bros., setting up plantations (coconut or oil palm) in whatever island they could get their hands on during the palm oil rush.

Danny K said...

"Do what you're good at" is not the same as "Do what you love". It's actually very good advice. The problem is being honest about what you're good at.

Freeman Hunt said...

"Isn't this the old "Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow" theory?"

No, I don't think so. Many people are very, very good at things they don't love.

I know people who do things they love that they are not good at, and I know people who do things they do not love that they are good at. The latter pays a lot better.

If you love something and are good at it, great! If not, decide how much money you want or need and do the thing you're good at to that amount.

rhhardin said...

"Do what you're good at" is not the same as "Do what you love". It's actually very good advice. The problem is being honest about what you're good at.

Comparative advantage, not competitive advantage.

The economics department secretary delivers papers to the deal even though the economics department head walks faster.

ALP said...

buwaya: interesting stuff - thanks! IIRC, soapmaking really took off after we figured out how to produce consistent sodium hydroxide (hard soap) & potassium hydroxide (liquid soap). Without consistent chemicals, you don't know if you are going to get very lye heavy soap OR a ton of oil that didn't saponify.

Jon Ericson said...

No stomping on ol' "follow your bliss" hisself?

Virgil Hilts said...

Maybee is spot on. A lot of guys in their teens and twenties are taking this advice and arranging their lives around the playing of video games - the thing that they are best at and also enjoy doing the most.

Virgil Hilts said...

To follow up - http://review.chicagobooth.edu/economics/2016/article/video-killed-radio-star

"The average young, lower-skilled, nonemployed man in 2014 spent about two hours per day on video games. That is the average. Twenty-five percent reported playing at least three hours per day. About 10 percent reported playing for six hours per day. The life of these nonworking, lower-skilled young men looks like what my son wishes his life was like now: not in school, not at work, and lots of video games."

Achilles said...

People don't understand how doing what you love correlates with success. People look at professional football or baseball players and think about how lucky those guys are to play a game for a living. They don't understand how hard those people work or how little time they spend at home. At that level it is not fun.

Invariably this statement is made by people who got lucky in some way and don't understand how most people get to success. Most of the time it is somone who was born well off, had time because they didn't have to work and struggle in their 20/30s, and eventually something popped out before they descended into idiot scion territory.