Tag Archives: reflections

Three big money lessons I learned this year

I’ve been back in full-time employment for a whole year now, and I’ve been thinking about the place work occupies in my life.

I do not want my life to revolve entirely around work … but that said, I would much rather focus on work than the domestic front. Paid work can be frustrating (and a whole bunch of other adjectives) but I find it so much more personally fulfilling than doing household type work.

If money were no object, I would literally never cook or clean. I would pay to have all that done. Not because I think my time is super valuable, but because I simply don’t enjoy those tasks and I am not very good at them. Eating good food made by others = one of my biggest joys.

On a macro level, here’s what else I’ve been contemplating, more  generally.

Your pay does not always reflect your worth

It’s common sense, and we all know this. You are more than your paycheck. But this REALLY hit home for me this year, having moved out of a field that is notorious for underpaying and overworking.

It seems crazy to me that people like the Starbucks barista profiled by the NY Times work so hard and get paid so much less than I do. Or that some construction foremen can earn less than me when that is objectively a much harder and more important job. And don’t get me wrong, I’m hardly rolling in it; I’m only now making the equivalent of a starting salary in many other fields. Yes, sometimes it’s because the higher-paying role genuinely creates more value/ROI for the business – but not always.

There is a LOT of money floating around out there

I have written about countless funded startups and interviewed both investors and entrepreneurs. T has sold stuff to people with (in my humble opinion) way too much money.

It’s clear to me that there is money to be made – if you can tap into it. That means getting into the right industries in the right kinds of roles.

Money affords happiness

There’s no such thing as ‘broke yet happy’ in my world. Never has been, never will be.

I earn more now. That reduces my stress levels. It enables me to live a more enjoyable life.

I hate scrimping. Don’t get me wrong, I am really frugal by nature, and I suppose that’s why I hate to have to cut back beyond that.

For years I thought T would outearn me – but that’s not how life has worked out.

Strangely enough, an unexpected benefit of what I do these days is that the things I struggled with previously – the external/outward facing stuff, coming up with story ideas – aren’t factors anymore. And for the first time I feel like I have the means to support (financially speaking)  the creative things I love – bands, publications.

New Zealand can offer a great lifestyle, but it’s not a cheap place to live, particularly in Auckland. If I have the opportunity to earn more to fund a better life, then that’s not a route I’m going to turn my nose up at.

Also: at some point, I would like to work someplace that pays bonuses. Just to see what it’s like.

For the sins of our ancestors

All parents damage their children.

One of my earliest memories is being a helpless bystander to an argument between my parents. In particular, at the end of it, being told to choose which of them I wanted to live with.

It didn’t happen. For better or worse, they’re still together, decades on.

In some ways I’m not very good at being in a relationship. I guess I just am not all that good at partnerly communication. In my very first relationship, I became acutely aware of some of the ways in which I behaved and how those habits echoed those of my parents. Years on, I still struggle with those same issues.

Like it or not, I inherited that emotional tempestuousness. It’s probably a blessing in disguise that I struggle to get words out, because honestly, some of the ugly thoughts in my head in my worst moments should never be uttered. I know, even as they occur to me, how hurtful they are, and that they’re not necessarily fair. Succumbing to the heat of the moment would be awful. I don’t want to play that game.

Do you struggle with any particular traits you’ve inherited from your parents?

Leaps of faith: On stepping out into the unknown

leaps of faith nzmuseTwo years ago I was sick with wanderlust, chafing at the bonds of a reasonably awesome life and scared to risk it for adventure. T was a little sceptical and struggled at times but became a convert along the way.

A year ago I came home sated, knowing I’d made the right choice, and ready to get on with the next phase in life. I was content knowing that all things considered, there was nowhere else I’d rather settle down, with memories nobody could ever take away from me – even if, in the case of certain cuisines, those were bittersweet and unobtainable over here :)

It was a leap of faith, leaving. Leaving New Zealand with less money than projections suggested we needed to travel the way we want to travel, counting on earning enough on the road to sustain us. As life would have it, that aspect worked out almost eerily perfectly.

Thinking back, I’d been working up slowly to that big leap of faith. Baby steps.

Moving in with T, early 2007.

Signing on to be the head of a flat, with my name on the lease and relying on 2 other flatmates to pay the rent (which I’ll never do again), circa 2008.

Giving up a good, stable job for a new, riskier one in 2011 (the sign that sealed it for me was the office relocating essentially down the road from our house; I wouldn’t have taken a job at its old, out-of-the-way premises).

Changing industries this year (a series of signs pointed me in the right direction). I worried whether I would be happy; I thought there was a good chance, and my instincts were right – I never looked back.

And in July, we took another leap of faith, deciding T should quit a toxic job - before potentially being pushed out – with nothing else lined up.

It was less than ideal given it would make 2 short-term jobs in a row (the first having ended for reasons beyond his control) and the fact it had taken 3 months to land this one. Trusting that something would come up, and that being free of that mental burden was worth the hardship, was one of those tough calls you resign yourself to when you have an equal partner to consider.

This has not turned out the way I’d hoped so far, but I don’t necessarily regret this. Just hanging on to my core belief that things always eventually work out.

These past two years have been a rollercoaster, really. I never imagined marriage (in our case) would be so exciting – or stressful.

Awhile ago I stumbled across a blog named Surrounded by the Sound. Their last post is from 2013, two years after their return home from a yearlong RTW trip, and their experiences echo ours so very closely … Struggling with unemployment. Enjoying working for The Man and realising the peace that comes with being a steady employee. Relishing life, moreso than before we left. Amy sums up life Pre-Trip and Post-Trip beautifully:

The Trip, as it has become known, seems like a movie we watched about someone else’s lives, yet not a single day goes by without some memory or connection to our trip popping up in some fashion.

Like them, I think we may struggle to define our before-and-after lives. Odds are that our trip is going to be the most exciting thing we ever do; the time period from which we draw all our best stories. While that might come off sounding a little sad, I’m actually okay with it. I don’t need to live an extraordinary life. I want to live a happy life. And for me, that is largely a quiet life.

I don’t know what our next leap of faith will be or when it will come. But I’ve built up those risk-taking muscles and gotten used to gritting my teeth. I know I’ll need to draw on that again at some point, probably when I least expect it. Because … Murphy.

When did you last take a leap of faith?

When the darkness threatens to swallow you whole

When the darkness threatens to swallow you whole

It’s been well over 10 years since I first saw what real life cutting scars looked like.

I hadn’t known her all that long, but the one thing I did know was my friend, like me, was smart, thoughtful, mature and had a lot going on inside – it’s what drew me to her. I remember being shocked and feeling completely at a loss for the right thing to say.

They say that self-harm is usually about control. Taking back, or regaining a sense of power. I imagine the same is probably true of most other destructive behaviours, from domestic abuse to workplace bullying.

It’s something I’ve never been able to fully grasp. One of those things I got the concept of, on an intellectual level, but didn’t understand on a human level.

And then one day, not so long ago, I found myself sobbing in the car as storm winds outside buffeted the car. Gazing out from the marina over the harbour, where the sea changed from green to blue, as vehicles whizzed over the bridge to the right. As the gusts agitated the choppy waters, I thought about what it might be like to float away. As I gasped for breath, I felt unbearably hollow inside, like there was an empty, endless well of blackness where a beating heart should have been. With nothing there to anchor me in that moment, I suddenly got it. Feeling so utterly helpless and so overwhelmed by emotion, it dawned on me that this was what the kind of thing that would drive a person to turn those feelings inward.

It’s not an epiphany I ever counted on having. Not one I can say I am especially glad I reached, either. It scared the hell out of me.

This is probably where I pause to reiterate that no, I did not seriously contemplate hurting myself. I’m a wuss, I’m squeamish, and I’m vain. I cried like a baby the other day when I slipped and hurt my knee (which was one enormous mass of bruises for at least a week). I find all bodily fluids pretty revolting. I’m still bummed that my legs never fully recovered from all those bug bites in Asia.

The other realisation I had was that maybe I’m not as emotionally resilient as I thought. Oh, I hold it together all right. I’m a hell of a lot better at being an adult than I am at anything else. I have my grownup shit together and I can maintain it pretty easily. But when things are turning to custard, if you crack my surface, you are tapping into an endless pit of tears and despair. It’s hard to judge, of course, but I feel a well-adjusted person would probably be a fair bit more … stable.

It’s a pattern that’s repeated itself over the years. Thinking back to other hard times, I was similarly able to cope day-to-day by withdrawing into myself, but when things really got to be too much, I crumbled like sandcastles. Today, those months are a blur – really, there’s nothing to redeem them, and so I prefer not to revisit those times. There’s no point. I survived, and moved on.

We tend to view the past with rose-tinted glasses. Who wants to look back on a long list of sad or horrifying memories? It’s a sanity mechanism, really; otherwise we’d probably never have more than one child by birth or go on to other relationships after a first heartbreak.

I don’t really think there is a way for me to not feel so acutely. It’s just how I’m wired. For this reason, I try not to dwell. It’s a tricky thing, giving yourself the space to acknowledge and just feel those big, heavy things – without letting them take over and succumbing to them. Generally they don’t tend to respect office hours – metaphorically speaking – so it’s about keeping them on a tight leash. Tucking them away into a little corner and ignoring them, for the most part. Occasionally it all bubbles to the top, and a proper meltdown is then required, but as a rule, fencing them off is what works for me. If I let them fly free all the time, I simply wouldn’t be able to function properly.

When it feels like you’ve hitched your wagon to a losing proposition and everything is coming up tails, there simply isn’t the time to roll over and be swallowed by the darkness.

Going through this in my 20s: hard enough. I simply can’t imagine dealing with this kind of thing at 11, 12, 13, like my friend must have. And my personal darkness is purely situational. The sources of my misery are beyond my control, but shouldn’t last forever. I know the same is not true for everyone else.

The one thing I do know is hurting yourself is not the best way to deal.  When the chips are down, I write. Maybe for you, it’s talking to someone. Whatever your outlet is, find it.

It feels like I’m starting (in the workforce) all over again

It feels like I'm starting (in the workforce) all over again

I’ve been at my job for six months, and as tends to happen, it feels like I’ve either been here all my life, or just a short time.

First and foremost, it’s really challenged me in new areas – particularly my soft skills – and encouraged me to consider what I want out of work.

I’ve also had a jolt of hope that maybe having kids isn’t going to be as bad as I fear. At my first job there were hardly any women, and none with kids – only the men had families. (After I left there was a spate of pregnancies – as far as I know at least one of the women went part time; I’m not sure about the others. News is a tough biz when it comes to work-life balance.) In my second job there were lots of women but they were mainly childless or with older, more self-sufficient kids. My new workplace is overwhelmingly female and mostly young. Initially I assumed most were childless but over the months I’ve come to realise a lot have babies/toddlers and are still really put together and awesome at work.

On top of that, I’ve really had to get used to a different industry and different ways of working.

Communication

I’m used to jobs that are largely self-contained, where communication with other people is fairly straightforward and transactional. Now I find myself working on more collaborative projects and interacting with people in ongoing liaisons.

Even in a flat organisation, projects can get complicated when there’s lots of players. Collaboration gets more difficult with every extra stakeholder.I have never spent so much time re-reading emails trying to decipher them and tease out meaning. (I don’t count the countless inane PR pitches I used to get in a former life – that’s a different ball game!)

I think I’ve become a better communicator since working here, and become really aware of any times when I’m not being as empathetic as I’d like to be. I firmly believe that the best way forward is understanding where everybody is coming from, but even I find myself forgetting that principle in the quest to get things done.

I’ve also come to see what a tough job it must be to run internal comms – keeping everyone in the loop and engaged within a company. This was the one aspect of PR that most interested me at uni, and should I ever move into PR that’s probably the way I’d go.

Culture

Working with people in overseas offices has its challenges. Time zones, for one. Language barriers, for another. Cultural differences. For once, those communication theory classes I sat through at uni have come in handy. (We also had a handy workshop on cross-cultural communication recently that was nothing short of fascinating.)

It’s also made me realise how valuable face-to-face contact is. In so many cases, it’s just so much easier to have people in the same room. Email, phone, VoIP or video conferencing just isn’t the same. I’ve gotten a lot better at talking slowly, that is for sure. Even collaborating with people at our agency, who are less than a 10-minute walk away … sometimes it saves so much back forth when everyone sits down in a room together to hash things out. I’m all for remote working, but it’s certainly more suited to some types of work than others.

One thing I noticed when I came in for my initial interviews was that the super open plan layout had people even closer together than in any of my previous open plan offices – but that people were constantly breaking out and going off to tables and corners for chats and meetings. Having spaces to better facilitate these kinds of collaborations and watercooler chat is so important.

Coordination/Flexibility

I’m been used to having the same basic framework for my work days. It’s true that no two days are the same in news, but you generally know what you’ll be doing from day to day, even if the content is different. You’ve got a newsletter/broadcast deadline to work to, or you’ve simply got to keep a rolling homepage fresh over a shift.

In many ways my work is now more reactive. I often don’t know what the day might hold. And rather than essentially wiping the slate clean at the end of every day (except for when I was working on bigger feature stories), there’s no hitting the reset button now. Ongoing projects stretch out over weeks or months, with multiple timelines in play. I’m not a naturally organised person, but I’ve had to get a lot better at it.

Have you ever had to get used to a totally new field or style of workplace?

Let’s talk about failure

… and success, and how we measure and perceive these things.

Every so often I see updates in my LinkedIn feed from someone I met through work a few years back. He’s reinvented himself a few times. Since I’ve known of him, there was a job that didn’t work out, a couple of entrepreneurial ventures (at least one of which folded) and he’s now landed in another different industry. It’s the type of job people don’t do for love and I realised that every time I see a post from him, I feel a little sorry for him.

On the most recent of these occasions, I paused and asked myself if he would want pity. Somehow I doubt it. He’s providing for his family. And ultimately, what is more noble than that?

Often, we don’t write about failure until we have moved past it and gone on to achieve great things. It makes everyone feel good – the writer can comfortably pat herself on the back and the reader gets a warm fuzzy shot of inspiration. It’s much rarer to read about from right there in the trenches, as it’s happening.

So far, T has failed to get back into sales (the kind he wants to do) – at this stage, odds are it’s just not going to happen – and massively expanded the job search parameters. I have to wonder… how many people (including myself) who say they would do any job, even at minimum wage, would actually be able to pull it off and get hired at such a job? You may not consider yourself above a low level job, but you’re not the one who gets to make the hiring decision.

I haven’t talked to people at work about the struggle I’m feeling. The panic of falling further financially behind every day. The mix of embarrassment and resentment of the current state of things. I listen to the struggles they discuss – their partners’ demanding jobs and stress levels – but it’s tough for me to sympathise. I’d hazard a good guess they’re running on around $150k household incomes (maybe more in some cases), both settled in their careers, not worrying about living in shoddy rentals forever. I know everyone has their own problems, and at least we are fortunate to have our health and some awesome travels under our belt.

The best pep talk I’ve read lately comes courtesy of Seth Godin:

Make two lists.

One list highlights the lucky breaks, the advantages, the good feedback, your trusted network. It talks about the accident of being born in the right time and the right place, your health, your freedom. It features your education, your connection to the marketplace and just about every nice thing someone has said about you in the last week or month.

The other list is the flipside. It contains the obstacles you’ve got to deal with regularly, the defects in your family situation, the criticisms your work has received lately. It is a list of people who have better luck than you and moments you’ve been shafted and misunderstood.

The thing is, at every juncture, during every crisis, in every moment of doubt, you have a choice. You will pull out one (virtual) list or the other. You’ll read and reread it, and rely on it to decide how to proceed.

We recently had a death on his side of the family, quickly followed by a birth just a fortnight later. Both incidents really helped me get some perspective (though I must confess, they also induced a teensy bit of panic too on the finance side).

Sometimes, though, it really seems like everyone else has managed to ride a straight path to success and we’re still mired in the squiggly line.

 

 

A non-exhaustive list of things that scare me about parenting

A list of things that scare me about parenting

Jezebel is pretty hit and miss, but sometimes they really knock it out of the park. Like with this headline:

We Need To Talk About Women Who Regret Motherhood

I can take or leave kids, personally, but I have a partner who wants them, so kids are in the plan. On a scale of one to baby fever, though, I’m definitely wayyy down on the ‘terrified’ end of the spectrum.

In so many ways, I’m not cut out for it

I don’t know how to ‘play’
This comment on the Jezebel piece sums me up nicely:

Playing with my kids was always so hard for me. I remember trying to play barbies with my 3 year old once.

Me (holding barbie): “Hello, how are you?”
Her (holding her barbie): “Well I’m doing alright.”
Me: “…”
Her: “I don’t want to play with you anymore, where’s dad?”

I hate answering questions
And kids do nothing but ask questions all day long. Usually stupid ones.

I don’t have an ear for kid ‘frequency’
It’s like they operate on another wavelength. Whatever they say comes out sounding like a high pitched mumble to me

I need a LOT of sleep
I inherited that from my mother.

There are so many things I’m scared of (some shallow, some serious)

I’m scared my kids won’t love books
This comment on The Toast is almost literally true for me:

One of the many, many reasons I am averse to having kids is the possibility that they will not enjoy reading and I will have to kill them and try again.

I’m scared my kids will be picky eaters
Like my brother was, and is. All through our childhood, he never ate the same things the rest of us did.

I’m scared my kids will be stupid
Guess there’s a bit of a tiger parent in me buried deep down? Average, I can accept. Dim, that would be a hard swallow, especially if they had a smarter sibling. I’ve seen so many cases of bright siblings overshadowing a slower one. I don’t trust myself to navigate that kind of thing well.

I’m scared my kids will be really needy
I was a pretty self sufficient child. Entertained myself with books and writing. Never asked for things. Wouldn’t tell my parents when I was super lonely after we moved, certain they wouldn’t understand (school is for learning, not making friends). Clinginess is alien to me.

I’m scared my kids will just be bad eggs
I honestly believe sometimes nature > nurture.

These are my confessions. Maybe I sound like Cruella De Ville. But I’m not gonna lie – this is what’s going on inside my head.

In Notes From A Future Shitbag Mother, the Hairpin’s Alana Massey writes:

It is a tired cliché that insults the childfree to say that parenting is the most important job in the world, but it is the most permanent one. I am paralyzed by the fear that my inadequate handling of the job will spill across generations, poisoning lives that never even had to be. I must consider how willing I am to leave behind traces of myself in a world that I feel I have already disappointed quite sufficiently.

Like Massey, I’ve considered and acknowledged all my fears and come out still knowing that this is a path I’m willing to go down. For me, thinking and talking about these fears is a healthy thing. Personally, I think I’d be crazy to NOT have any doubts about something this big.

I’m sure I’ll be a decent parent one day. Or least, I’m confident I won’t be the worst parent ever. Daunting prospect, though.

Learning to let go

learning to let go of worries

I don’t like to throw around the word depression lightly. But the last couple of weeks have seen me at my lowest point in a long, long time.

There’s been fatigue, trouble sleeping, nightmares, an MIA period, tears and eventually, that’s bubbled up into conscious stress. I’m basically walking an emotional tightrope.

In search of peace and a good night’s sleep, I’ve been doing my best to let go and give up worrying about things that are outside my locus of control.

The job situation

I cannot control if/when T gets work. It’s as simple as that. I need to minimise fruitless dwelling on this, because it’s unproductive.

The house situation

I cannot control what the market does. How fast prices or rents rise. What rules the government/banks decide or don’t decide to impose on buyers. What the government does, or doesn’t do, about rental housing standards. How much competition there is for housing here – renting or buying.

I need to stop stalking real estate listings online. It does no good. It makes me depressed because we cannot afford to buy anything and we cannot afford to rent a good place – certainly not on one income as we are. And until I totally give up hope of ever buying, it’s imperative to keep rent cheap.

I stupidly got my hopes up last week. It was all sorts of rare: a private rental, so no agent fee; viewings at lunchtime but ALSO after work hours; a bit more than we really wanted to pay, but it looked so good we went along to the first evening viewing. It was nice but not enough to make the rent increase worth it, and there was already a FAT stack of completed rental applications on the counter anyway.

The car situation

I cannot control how long our car lasts or what else goes wrong with it.

Fun fact – it was totally brake-less for a while a few weeks ago. Thankfully that is now fixed, but there were already a million other issues and it just keeps deteriorating. Another fun fact: after maybe 4 years of owning it, we just found out that the engine was replaced at some point – a 2001-or-later engine sitting in a 1998 car. This explains why every time we’ve had to get parts for it or get anything done to the engine, it’s been a massive clusterfuck.

The conundrum, of course, is T needs a reliable car for work purposes but needs work to afford a car. We’re just going to have to wait until he’s back in work – no way am I draining cash savings for a vehicle. We were previously planning to get a loan for a decent car – I was waiting until he passed the trial period at work and had job security – but that situation turned toxic  and screwed up the timeline on that plan.

What else is bugging me? That T stupidly came off his motorbike last week and scraped himself up something terrible – basically nixing any hope of immediate temp work and saddling me with the housework on top of earning a crust to support the two of us. That we’re still waiting on about $250 in reimbursements from that toxic ex-job of his. That we have at least another three years of a government that doesn’t give a toss about renters. That I’m literally feeling a constant weight on my chest – my sternum – making it hard to breathe (whether this is a symptom of stress or just the cold – spring made a brief appearance then disappeared – I don’t know). That I didn’t fall in love with a millionaire. KIDDING. Still have a sense of humour.

I don’t like dwelling on this kind of stuff. I don’t want pity. I hate when people with a die-hard victim mentality go online just to bitch and moan and refuse to make any effort to help themselves.

I’m also conscious that I don’t want to paint NZ in broad brushstrokes – it’s a mild, clean, safe and beautiful place, and as one of the few NZ bloggers I know of, I want to represent my country fairly. But as you already know, it’s not cheap. And the state of housing is especially dreadful – I think it’s our biggest shame. Luckily for you, though, I think I’m almost all blogged out on that topic.

I’ll probably regret publishing this, but it’s been cathartic. I’d even venture to say it’s helped me let go of things.

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.

I’m trying to focus on the good things. I’m earning more than I ever have before, even if I’m not seeing the actual bottom line benefits of that at the moment. Since T missed out on a good job that would’ve taken up all his weekends, at least we’ll be able to get outdoors in the weekends this summer and do stuff. And food, as always, is a guaranteed pick-me-up; the best 50 cents I’ve spent recently was on upgrading to a croissant roll with chicken and avocado, rather than a plain bread roll. When in doubt, eat, and make hay while your metabolism is still on your side. Mixed metaphors FTW.

Any advice on letting go of worries?

Communication: The hardest thing in the world

Communication- The hardest thing in the world

Years ago, when I was going through a rough patch at home, my mother told me that “if you want to study Communications, you better learn to communicate well”. I had honestly never considered myself a bad communicator – who does? – but from then on I became hyper sensitive in this regard.

Communication is one of those things that seems SO simple in theory, but is much harder to actually get right.

Over the past few months I’ve learned just how hard it is to do effective organisational communications properly – both on a company-wide scale and also at team level.

For me, it’s all about understanding. Getting the context and background; getting to grips with the why. Knowing where everybody is coming from and thus ensuring their concerns are addressed and their needs met. Otherwise, I reckon your chances of success are a lot lower.

While I’ve never been a manager – and have no desire to – I can understand why someone might feel compelled to micromanage. When you’re frustrated and not getting the results you need, I can see why your instinct might be to crack down.

Honestly, that has always been my MO relationship-wise. And unsurprisingly, it’s not always effective.

Even after almost a decade together, this was my brainwave on Friday morning on the bus to work last week. If I wouldn’t behave that way in a work context, why should I apply it to my partner?

Instead of snapping when I got home, I kept a lid on it. While I knew I would be justified in doing so, that didn’t mean it was the best way to get results. I approached things by asking, “What can I do to help you at this point?”

Magic. Of course, he knew I was doing as much I as I could. I didn’t even need to prompt the obvious next question - what did I need from him? He brought it up of his own accord, voicing all the things I needed to hear and that I had been thinking, without me forcing them on him. We both KNOW what I need, and he knows what he needs to do – and that he hasn’t been giving 100%.

Of course, I wish it hadn’t had to come to that. But no relationship is perfect, and I’m not going to pretend ours is.

The thing is, being in the right isn’t always enough. Going on the offensive will only lead to the other person getting defensive. As Dale Carnegie teaches, start by changing how you behave. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

So Good They Can’t Ignore You: A manifesto for realists

cal-newport-boromir-passion

We all know that famous Steve Jobs speech from Stanford – the one where everyone seized on the palatable, soundbitable angle: Love your work. Don’t settle. 

As Cal Newport writes in the early pages of his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, our generation is rather obsessed with ‘following our passions’. But ironically, that’s not at all what Jobs actually did. Had he done that, Newport says, Jobs would probably have wound up as a teacher at the Los Altos Zen Center. Apple was the result of a lucky break, a small-time scheme that took off, albeit one that Jobs no doubt eventually became passionate about later.

What’s actually more important and more telling about that Stanford speech is what Jobs says about joining the dots in retrospect:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

Having just finished the book, I’ve got a few thoughts to put into words. Bear with me!

The dark side of the ‘passion’ mindset

Chasing passion is often unrealistic and in many cases only leads to disappointment. Newport cites a few studies to back up this argument:

One surveyed a group of students and found the vast majority did not have passions that mapped to work/career paths – most were instead related to leisure or hobbies.

Another found that among employees who all held the same  administrative role with nearly identical duties, there was a fairly even split between those who saw their work as a job vs those who saw it as a career or even a calling – and those most likely to think of it as a calling were the ones with the most years on the job.

And yet another found that job satisfaction numbers have been trending downwards over time. “The more we focused on loving what we do, the less we ended up loving it,” he writes.

Give, and you shall receive?

What I took away from the book is that mastering your craft – which we should all aspire to – is its own kind of reward. Get so good that people can’t ignore you and will pay you accordingly … and job satisfaction follows.

It’s the same philosophy Newport has outlined on his blog; the book is his attempt to flesh this out with living examples and further depth.

It’s a pragmatic approach that no doubt most of us know deep down holds a lot of truth:

Focus on what you can offer the world, instead of what the world can offer you.

Derek Sivers, ostensibly a guy of many passions who’s done a bunch of different things, is one of the ‘masters’ in the book and is quoted thusly: “I have this principle about money that overrides my other life rules: Do what people are willing to pay for.

The law of financial viability, then, is one to bear in mind. I’ll never forget a conversation that went down in our dorm room in Grindelwald, Switzerland. Four of us were sitting around talking: me, T, a ditzy girl from Connecticut and an intense Southern guy who travelled all over the world organising and running races (marathons and ultras). We were discusing how he managed to scrape together a living doing this (he definitely wasn’t doing it for the money) and inevitably, the “passion” word came up.

“So, do what you love and the money will follow?” Ditzy Girl piped up eagerly, obviously waiting for a high five and rah-rah chirpy confirmation.

But rather than immediately jumping to affirm this, Running Guy paused.

“More like, do what you love and figure out a way to make money from it,” he said seriously.

The missing piece of the puzzle

The biggest thing I felt was missing from So Good They Can’t Ignore You was that vital first step. What do you do if you have NO idea what you want to do? (This is the ongoing problem in our household, specifically on T’s side.) How do you get started? Do you just try to get a foot in the door somewhere, assuming the basic elements are bearable – that there’s some room to grow, you don’t actively hate the industry, and you don’t hate the people – and stick with it, beavering away on the quest to achieve mastery and become a highly valuable professional?

One of Newport’s examples, Pardis Sabeti, touches on this: “I think you do need passion to be happy. It’s just that we don’t know what that passion is. If you ask someone, they’ll tell you what they think they’re passionate about, but they probably have it wrong.” From that, Newport concludes that it’s a “fool’s errand” to try figure out in advance what work will lead to that passion. Alas, that point isn’t taken any further.

Yes, he demonstrates that many of his example ‘masters’ took awhile to find their exact direction, but they generally started down the right sort of track early on; it was just a matter of honing in from there over time. It’s not super clear how they found that track to start with. Newport does acknowledge at one point that it’s very hard to start from the bottom in a new field, so if you’re genuinely floundering, maybe the key is simply finding a field that you can tolerably devote yourself to.

Finally, I don’t think that the ‘craftsman’ approach and the ‘passion’ approach are mutually exclusive. They can actually play in quite well together, which I don’t think Newport adequately acknowledges. Passion, or at least interest, was definitely an element for many – though not ALL – of the examples of happy ‘masters’ cited in the book. Take the screenwriter, the archaeologist, the geneticist. One does not complete a master’s/PhD without at least some interest in their subject! In an effort to draw clear lines and take a strong, controversial stance that sells books, passion gets thrown totally under the truck.

In closing: If you read his blog Study Hacks, you probably won’t glean much more meat from the book. He also gives a good overview in this 99U talk.

Cal Newport: “Follow Your Passion” Is Bad Advice from 99U on Vimeo.