Miguel Hernandez of Grumo Media and I have swapped some really good communications recently. Super sharp guy, he sent this observation and question to me -
Here is a suggestion for a future post for you. Today I met with a friend who has been friends with the [recently very successful movie director] for many years. He noticed I got some attention from Ashton Kutcher and is convinced that my career is going to skyrocket too (he is dreaming of course) and I am going to become yet another of his friends that "makes it" and he doesn't.
He is a hilarious dude and very talented movie editor and wants to succeed and make a difference on this world, like all of us really. Today he took me out for lunch to pick my brain a little and get some advice. He had a great point which I totally agree with. Here it is:
So I keep saying that to succeed you have to welcome failure and keep trying continuously. But that really works if you actually have an idea of what your passions are. The problem, the big problem most of the world have is that most people don't have a clue of what is that passion for them.
I have had that problem myself, well, my problem is that I always had too many passions and wanted to do everything which is fun but also dilutes your chances to be very good at something specifically.
So the question is, how can people find their passion? what steps should they take to discover what they want to do in life? That is the first and most crucial step, I think millions of people waste their great talents because they just don't know what to do?
I would love to see a post with your thoughts on that. It's a tough question and people could use some guidance from a great writer like yourself.
Great writer like myself? Oh my goodness, I'm blushing. Miguel's got about a billion times more creativity than me, but I'll take a crack at this.
"I keep saying that to succeed you have to welcome failure and keep trying continuously. But that really works if you actually have an idea of what your passions are. The problem, the big problem most of the world have is that most people don't have a clue of what is that passion for them."
Brilliant insight. I agree entirely.
But here's what I think is the big problem - people expect their passion to hit them in the head someday, then they'll "get it", and then they've driven and motivated and ready to go.
I don't think so. I don't think you can sit and think about what you might want to do, and then wake up inspired one day.
This is what I see with people who are uninspired - they think they're going to fix that problem by doing a careful search of what might inspire them. Then, once they find it, they'll take lots of action.
Nope. That's backwards.
At one point, I thought I wanted to be a painter as a hobby. I was in Dubai in 2007, and MTV launched MTV Arabia. There was a launch party that had all kinds of music and crafts and stuff, and they had easels and oil paints.
So I splashed some paint around on a canvas, kind of trying to get something like perspective going on. Having no skill at all in painting, I kept it kind of abstract, and painted two lines going from the bottom left upwards to the right towards a horizon, a hill in the foreground, and kind of a blue/black night sky with some stars above.
One woman there running the painting area said, "Hey, that's really good!" I said, "Nah, come on, I just splashed some paint around." She insists it's good, and asks how long I've been painting. "Well, this is the first one I ever made."
She literally didn't believe me. Well, in fairness, I spent a lot of hours at museums studying the hell out of paintings, and imaging how I'd try to do it, so I had probably a little idea of some of what I should try to do with painting.
That was a cool experience, and painting was something I was thinking about doing when I had more free time.
Flash forwards a couple years, I decide to try a really good crack at painting... and... well, it wasn't for me.
Well, I learned that to be a decent painter, you need to know how to draw, and I just don't like drawing very much.
Ah, don't get me wrong, I like and respect people who can draw a lot. I just don't really get any pleasure or inspiration out of working with pencils, and the fine level of detail of it.
But both of these outcomes only emerged from action - I had this vague thought that maybe I want to be a painter, but I was never really excited about it until I did it, and then I saw a couple sparks of inspiration and passion starting to grow. But when I investigated what the training would be like and started learning how to draw, it didn't really resonate with me. There's lots of things I enjoy and think are worth pursuing, but the time I'd have to put in to learn how to draw and paint, I didn't think would be worth putting in.
And I think that's how you discover passions. Take a crack at it once and see if you like it at all. Then start studying and improving your craft, and see if you like that too.
Writing did resonate with me with me when I started, but more importantly, I also enjoyed the process of improving my craft and skill at writing.
In business and life-in-general, I love taking a really complex problem, defining it, figuring out what the real objectives are, brainstorming through a number of paths that could get there, spec'ing out a campaign, implementing the campaign, and reviewing the results. I like taking the hazy and undefined, and turning it into the experimental, and turning the experimental into the concrete.
But what little kid says, "When I grow up, I want to take hazy problems, define the problem and desired outcomes, experiment to see if a proposed solution gets the desired outcome, and implement it" - well, nobody thinks like that. I only discovered it by applying myself, working on different stuff. I love when I read a book on something like knightly orders in the 1100's, and it gives me an idea for something a business can do in 2011 to grow.
But who would've guessed they'd be passionate about that sort of thing without diving in? Nobody.
So that's the first thing I think about passion - it doesn't come from sitting and thinking about it, it comes from diving in and getting dirty.
But what if you have too many interests? Miguel writes, "I have had that problem myself, well, my problem is that I always had too many passions and wanted to do everything which is fun but also dilutes your chances to be very good at something specifically."
I wrote up, "What Separates a Generalist and a Dabbler?" a while back. Do you know what I think the difference is?
Completing and delivering things.
I could've read all the techniques and watched all the videos about painting in the world, and I wouldn't know if it suited me. Instead, I made a painting and enjoyed it. Then I investigated what it would take to learn more, started trying to do some drawing, and didn't enjoy making drawings.
But in both cases, I was actually creating stuff. Not thinking about creating, not preparing to create, but actually creating.
I started a newsletter, "Get Some Victory" maybe three months ago. What was it going to be about? Well, I wasn't entirely sure. I just thought it'd be nice to create a more personal way to work through some stuff with people once a week, and have them able to hit "reply" right away and give me thoughts and feedback from it if they want to.
But honestly, I wasn't sure if I'd actually enjoy it, or be able to do anything interesting with it. In that case, I would've sent out a final newsletter and said hey guys, we gave it a try, but nothing good is coming out of it, I'll see you on the blog and thanks for tuning in for a while.
And that would've been the end of it. But instead, the newsletter has been growing steadily. The first weeks the formatting ranged from bare bones to ugly to broken, but I just a few compliments two weeks ago on the template I customized - it's funny, my second-to-last design got a couple people telling me it hurt their eyes (it was white text on a black background, I thought it looked good but that shows my lack of design talent I suppose...), but then the latest design is looking really, really sharp.
How'd I know I'd enjoy writing a newsletter?
I didn't. I just started. I created an account on MailChimp, played around with it enough to get comfortable, announced the newsletter, and then I had my feet to the fire. There was only 40-some subscribers the first edition that went out, but it's grown steadily since then up to 219 now. Also, only 2 unsubscriptions total across the whole time - I think that's pretty phenomenal, less than 1% of the people who signed up canceled... so that's going well.
In this case, I built something out and promised to deliver it (a newsletter every Sunday). That's how I set out to discover whether newsletter-writing suited me or not.
A friend of mine wanted to work in the music business, so he got into a music video production company and started working there. Turns out, he didn't like making music videos at all. He likes listening to music, but the days of working on set at a music video he didn't enjoy at all. Nowdays he primarily does negotiation, commercial real estate, and runs a high-end valet parking company.
His passion was for music, so he thought he'd go into the music business.
Now, here's where he does right that other people don't - he actually went into the music business and created some music videos. He didn't like it. But he knows because he took action and shipped some stuff. I think if you've got 10 interests, 20 interests... if you try to actually create a significant work in each one of those fields, and also try to put in some training in those fields - well, you'll probably find you don't actually like the majority of those interests, and you'll be left with 3-5 you do really enjoy.
Final thought - I think people sometimes people look too much at the "what" and not enough at the "how" when looking for passion.
There's something to be said for enjoying the process you're doing. I like taking anything poorly defined, and turning it into something concrete. Whether that's sourcing or procurement or logistics or management or people or art or going through military history or law or governance... all of it's interesting to me. While I'm not really passionate about the stock market at all, I do find the various strategies people use when investing fascinating. The most interesting to me is how the best investors try to make the decisions unemotional and formulaic.
I don't have any passion for the stock market, but I do really enjoy striving to make decisions based on evidence and probabilities and not emotion. The "what" there isn't interesting to me - stock market - but the "how" is really fascinating to me and something I'm really passionate about, so I could talk stocks and investing for hours with someone if they're doing it an interesting way.
The "how" passions are probably even harder to guess from a book that you enjoy it - you do need to jump in, try some stuff, ship some stuff, and see what happens. But I reckon that's the formula for all passion-discovering - take some action, deliver some concrete things, and then evaluate how well it suited you. Passion rarely strikes when you're sitting sitting and contemplating. Jump in, build, create, experiment, ship... then evaluate to see how it suited you.
Good and observation and questions, Miguel! I'd love to hear your take on narrowing down your passions sometime since I know you're working on fascinating stuff.
If you're interested, Miguel wrote about his experience with Ashton here -
It was this video that was popular (I enjoy it too!) -