I recently rewatched Larry Smith’s TED Talk Why you will fail to have a great career. I watched it when it first came onto TED about two years ago now, but being caught up in My Year of TED the message didn’t sink in very well.
Larry contends that you will not have a great career because you can only do that by following your passion, and very few people ever do this. Of course, we all know we should do it, everyone keeps telling us that is what will make us happy, and that is what will make what we do truly memorable – but you won’t do it.
He goes on to explain the reasons you won’t do it, which boil down to the fact that you will make excuses for not finding your passion. These include the ideas that you have to be lucky to find it and be able to pursue it; that geniuses are the only ones who ever get there; or that the people who do it are weird in some way, and I am normal – all complete crap by the way.
Worse still, people convince themselves that if the concept that working hard will give you a good career is true; working really, really, really, really hard must give you a great career. That is totally wrong, and I hope you all realise that. If you work really, really, really, really hard all you will get is burnt out, underappreciated, used up, and completely frustrated that you put in so much effort – and still do not have a great career.
And even if you do search for your passion
The second part of Larry’s talk is even more interesting – that some of you will try to find your passion, but you will either fail to identify it, or fail to live it. The people who fail to identify often do so because they confuse an ‘interest’ with passion – which will not carry you through to that great career.
Those that do find it may not fare any better, since the majority of the people that find their passion and do nothing with it. As Larry explains, most people will use the ‘human relationships’ excuse – they are not willing to pursue their passion at the sake of their relationships. That a great career requires sacrifice and a commitment of time and energy that precludes being a great <father, friend, husband, mother, wife, etc.>
This is a ridiculous point of view, since following your passion and leading a great life, can benefit everyone around you. People who have great careers – the artists, scientists, engineers, astronauts, politicians, doctors, educators and so forth, who inspire people with the creations, achievements and abilities – are seldom remembered as being ‘bad people’ who lacked any form of interpersonal relationship.
The whole idea of using this as an excuse for not pursuing your passion is just that – an excuse. The real reason that you will fail to have a great career, Larry comes to at the end of his talk:
You know why. In your heart of hearts, you know why, and I’m being deadly serious… It is because you are… You know what you are. You’re afraid to pursue your passion. You’re afraid to look ridiculous. You’re afraid to try. You’re afraid you may fail. He’s right, you all know that he is completely and utterly right.
Fear is the thing that will hold you back from pursuing your passion, from having a great career – and an even greater life. I lived with the first of these fears for many years: a fear of trying to discover my passion. In hindsight, it was driven a little by not thinking I was remarkable enough to have a great career, but mainly it was driven by the belief that I wasn’t anything enough to be an exceptional person who deserved one.
Overcoming the fear, yeah who am I kidding
Committing to My Year of TED was a massive mindset shift for me – I had overcome this innate fear that my passion would be ordinary, or unachievable. To my surprise, I managed to get over that hurdle, and now I’m on the second part; overcoming the fear of pursuing my passion. After the confidence of clearing the first hurdle, I know I can clear the second.
Even still, I am constantly afraid of all of the things that Larry lists: I am afraid that I am not enough to do what I have to do; that I will pick the wrong way to pursue my passion; and that I will end up failing. But I keep Larry’s final line in mind…
So, those are the many reasons why you are going to fail to have a great career, unless… Unless…
I am living the ‘unless’, I have been since the middle of 2011 when I started this whole crazy experiment with my life – and I will live the unless right up until the point that I do have a great career, regardless of how it looks. I refuse to give up just because I am afraid of failure; there are worse things out there after all – like a mediocre life for one.
Are you brave enough to have a great career? Have you even faced the first fear of understanding your passion?