Monday, May 03, 2010

Loving What You Do

Maria Bartiromo has been on a little publicity tour to promote her new book, in which she reveals the "10 laws of enduring success" she has identified over a career spent succeeding and talking to some of the world's most successful people.

I've happened upon a few of her interviews and one of the laws I keep hearing her talk about is this: you have to love what you do, because if you don't love what you do you'll never put in the time and commitment necessary to really be successful.

Hard to argue with that, but the concept was just stark enough to get me thinking, do I love what I do? Do the people I work with love what they do, and how many of our friends, neighbors, family members could pass this test?

I asked a colleague recently whether or not she "loved" what she did and after a few moments articulating all the benefits and positives of her job and position she seemed to get there. I asked an older relative at a family function the same question and got a "no" before the words were even clear of my mouth. "It's a living," he said, and - apologies to Ms. Bartiromo - I have to believe this reflects the majority view, especially among older generations.

I wonder what percentage of the workforce "loves" what they do, five percent, 10, 25? And is it higher when you move from blue collar to white collar? That seems obvious but it doesn't feel exactly right. Are the accountants, actuaries and lawyers filing into cubicles in corporate offices across the world any more likely to "love" what they do than day laborers spending their days out in the fields under the sun, contractors who know how to use their hands to build new living spaces, fire fighters? Not sure about that.

You can see how someone who makes millions each year talking about business on television and flying around in private jets would love what they do, same thing a movie star, musician, professional baseball player or John Grisham. Anyone who has the money, success and freedom to live pretty much as they want would be expected to love what they do, or was it the love that got them there in the first place? How about the woman who quit a lucrative marketing job to open a Main Street bakery and focus on a personal passion to create the best breads, sweets and pastries the world has ever known - a true labor of love - does she qualify, or does she wake up at 3 a.m. every day cursing the alarm clock, the uncertainty of her economic situation and wondering how she got there?

Steve Jobs, in his celebrated commencement address at Stanford University a few years ago hit on this concept, to some extent, when he said:

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Sounds great, but how many people who aren't the CEO of a preeminent computer company are really in a position to apply this daily "last day" mirror test as Mr. Jobs describes it?

I think this would be a fun and interesting thing to open up in comments and really get a dialogue going. Are there parts of your job (stay-at-home Mom qualifies, without question) that you enjoy and others you dislike? Where do you come down, on balance, and would you be able to pass Ms. Bartiromo's test?

Do you love what you do?

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Slaughtering Darlings (a.k.a., Writing)

When I watch awards shows on television, I sometimes like to rewind the DVR (used to be the VCR) multiple times in order to focus in on the immediate reactions of the people who didn't win, sitting in their little picture boxes and taking in the unfortunate outcome, and on the winner as they share "real" moments with a cherished few on the way to the stage, where they will stand and speak in the spotlight to everyone. So, in addition to making me a bit of a maniac, this demonstrates my endless and enduring fascination with the nuance and subtleties of throwaway moments. Offstage asides. Honesty, whether intended or incidental.

The same dynamic and curiosity is in play when a historic or notable document is found, or celebrated or offered up for sale. I look at the words that are familiar, like everyone else, but in many ways am even more interested in the cross outs and scribbles, the ideas that didn't make the cut, that were abandoned or thought better of at some point as part of the creative process.

There were a number of stories this week about John Lennon's handwritten lyrics to "A Day in the Life," going up for sale at auction. I thought the news was interesting, but really appreciated the ability to see the precious artifact myself in a pop-up window on a computer screen, thanks to Reuters. The style of the handwriting, what the paper looked like and, notably, the visible edits, the twists and turns that occurred on the road to a song that would eventually take up permanent residency in the minds of millions.

And there it was, right near the top:

He blew his mind out in a car
he didn't notice that the lights had changed
and all the people turned away...

Only that last line was crossed out, the people weren't turning away, in fact, "a crowd of people stood and stared, they'd seen his face before."

That lyric is, of course, the one that made the cut and was ultimately recorded. But I'm still stuck on the little 180-degree flip that went through John Lennon's mind and caused him to reverse course. The people were going to turn away, but instead they stood and stared. Why? What made them change their minds?

Struck me as a great example of writing and the creative process, and how ideas and concepts are built up and knocked down into a "final" that is shared and, if it's good enough and lucky enough, celebrated and remembered.

A day in the life. Of a writer.