Sep 30, 2013

Andre Agassi, Do What You Love, Bob Dylan

If dreams came true, oh wouldn't that be nice
- Bruce Springsteen

A Google search for "do what you love" returns about 3 million results. Steve Jobs is often quoted in support of this obvious proposition of how we all should lead fulfilling, rewarding lives, and settle for nothing short of love. The thing is, something about this phrase, this idea, always bugged me. I just realized why.

A bunch of years ago I was in a meeting listening to a technology company pitch a potential buyer, regaling with all the incredible things, the potential value, that would be unlocked by tying all these tools together to give the buyer unprecedented visibility into their hiring processes. The buyer listened closely, and said "I agree with everything you describe. But it's the nirvana state, the end goal. What I want to know is actually how we get there."

Do What You Love is a nirvana state, an end goal, and output. It too simplistically describes the nuances, the ups and downs of life, the journey. It's valid, sure, but maybe not helpful in the day to day.

I was reminded of this while reading Andre Agassi's wonderful memoir, Open, last week. Agassi - one of the greatest tennis players ever, winner of numerous tournaments and accolades. On the first page of  his memoir, the very first page, he lays it down:
"I play tennis for a living, even though I hate tennis, hate it with a dark and secret passion, and always have."
His journey ends with peace and yes, love, but man was he tortured getting to be the best in the world at something. It almost destroys him. Hate, not love.

It made me think of my professional journey. When I zoom out and look at it from the perspective of 20 or so years, it looks like a well-planned out series of moves and progressions, doing things that look pretty cool. When I zoom in more closely it looks more accurately like a series of serendipitous, random steps, lots of missteps and mistakes, and many many many regrets. In fact, not until 2006 or 2007, when I reconnected with John and started betaworks, can I ever really say that I was satisfied, maybe even happy, and definitely the only time I really felt good at something. Not until I was 40 fucking years old! And there were parts of building betaworks - getting office space, hiring people, setting up payroll, forming subsidiaries, raising money - that I am not sure I would describe that I "loved" doing. They were tedious, stressful, and hard.

But I was happy and satisfied and intellectually challenged. Maybe that's enough? 

Bob Dylan's memoir, Chronicles: Volume One, is also a remarkable, and related, work. At the height of his fame, coming off an unreal string of about 8 epic all-time great records, he dropped out. On the one hand, he is pretty clear why: to focus on being a parent, a father. Incredible. I also read another, related but different, reason. You see, Dylan couldn't explain to himself how he was able to channel something within and without to become maybe the greatest songwriter, and poet, ever. Quite simply, he didn't know how he did it. And he feels it slipping away. So he himself slips away into a place of different satisfaction.

I've come to the conclusion that doing what you love is the end game, the nirvana state. I'm not sure it's really even that attainable. Instead, it's probably a good framework, but also maybe nothing more, only to view the journey you take to get somewhere. That's more useful.

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