My wife and I were in New Hampshire recently, visiting family and celebrating the Fourth of July. We went to see her 95-year-old grandmother while we were there. She's frail now, but still beautiful, living in a nursing home. Toward the end of our visit, her grandmother locked eyes with me squarely across the room.
"Do what you love!" she exclaimed.
Wow, I thought. That was a poignant and unexpected piece of advice.
Then, I remembered what I was wearing: a t-shirt I'd gotten last year when my startup was working out of a WeWork temporary office space in Manhattan. "Do What You Love" is WeWork's slogan, and the phrase was written in stylized script across the front of my shirt.
It's a beautiful idea, right? We hear versions of it all the time-as if it were the key to success and happiness. ("Follow your passion," or "If you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life.")
However, after a decade of interviewing some of the world's most successful entrepreneurs and launching a few ventures of my own, I'm here to tell you that those four words are only the second half of a more complete sentiment.
"Find a way to..."
For the advice to really be great, you have to add a preamble, like this: "Find a way to do what you love."
"Find a way... " is really important. It's the action you need to take to achieve the goal. So many times, people are tempted to think of "pursuing their passions" as a process, rather than the ultimate destination. That's a trap.
I'll give you a hard-won lesson from my own life. Almost 15 years ago, I realized I had chosen the wrong career-being a trial lawyer for the U.S. government. So, I packed everything I owned and moved to Los Angeles, where I was determined to do what I loved-become a professional writer. I took classes at UCLA Extension School and joined acting and writing groups. I met great people and had fun. But what I didn't do was find a way to make that way of life successful. Look me up on IMDB... (psych!) you won't find me, because I never had a movie produced.
Granted, life got in the way. Among other things, the attacks of 9/11 happened. I'd joined the U.S. Army Reserve a few years before, and now they came calling for me. Back in the civilian world afterward, I was determined now not just to do what I loved-but to find a way to make it practical and effective. For me, that meant moving back to Washington D.C. and networking the heck out of the journalism and publishing worlds, and leveraging my experience as a lawyer and a military veteran.
I was much more successful in my second attempt. Not to rattle off my resume, but I wound up working for Bob Woodward at The Washington Post, heading to Iraq as a reporter, and ultimately writing my own books and starting a company that helps people find a ghostwriter. Now, I'm an editor for a really cool startup, and I truly love writing these columns for Inc.com.
"...do what you love"
No, life isn't exactly what I thought it would be when I dropped everything and headed to Los Angeles. In fact, it's immeasurably better. It's an ongoing process, sure. If I have anything to share in this world, it's that it's possible to achieve a life where you spend your days doing things that you truly love-but it takes real work and unplanned experiences to get there.
This applies no matter what your passions are. If you love art or music, find a way to make them work for you. If you love being a leader, find a way to become a better one. If you love entrepreneurship, find a way to build things.
That's the journey-the joyous struggle-and it's why victory is sweet. Do what you love-but more importantly, find a way to make it work.