On October 13, I wrote a blog post called “Without Risk, There is No Passion.” Melinda Guillemette left a very insightful comment that deserved its own post in response.
Greg – I’ve been thinking about this for a day or so. I know you’re right about the relationship between risk and passion, because I rappelled down an office building, scared the crap out of myself, and I would absolutely do it again.
To clarify, my assertion is as follows: If (a) you take a risk and (b) you fail and (c) for some reason you’re psyched to do that thing again, then you’re passionate about whatever it was that you just sucked at.
So let’s say Melinda rappelled off the Compass Bank Building, but forgot to lock the carabiner, and as a result, the pulley mechanism disengaged from the rope mechanism, and she fell fifty-eight feet onto a ficus¹ tree, breaking her left ulna and clavicle. That would be failing.
But let’s say that as the EMTs wheeled her to the ambulance, she looked up at the Compass Bank Building and said, “I can’t wait for my ulna and clavicle to heal so I can strap on a harness and rappel off that mofo again.” Assuming it wasn’t the morphine talking, then I’d say she’s pretty effing passionate about rappelling off of buildings.
Without a massive failure, it’s hard to tell if rappelling is anything more than an enjoyable activity. TRY-FAIL-REPEAT is an excellent indication of passion, and if you’re searching for passion, TRY (risk) is the most important part.
But I’m not sure I understand how this thinking applies to work. Are you saying we should ALWAYS feel like we’re taking a risk at work? Or that we should ALWAYS feel passion? If so, experience says no. Or are you saying we should gravitate toward those things that make us risk and feel passion? If so, experience says yeah, probably. Sometimes, work is not about pursuing passion. Sometimes, it’s just about getting the job done. That’s why it’s called work and not rappelling. Or shopping. We all know this. The question in my mind is, ‘Should we pursue those things about which we are passionate to the exclusion of other things?’
We’re all familiar with the saying, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Apparently that’s attributed to Confucius. I thought it was a said by a guy who owned a bicycle shop. Whoever said it, they were full of shit.
Melinda’s right. You can be passionate about rappelling off office buildings, but you may hate the process of applying for rappelling permits from the city of Albuquerque.² True passion compensates for its accompanying BS.
Being able to engage in your passion as your occupation doesn’t mean that you’ll never have to do anything unpleasant again. But it makes the unpleasantness worth it, and if you’re smart, you’ll outsource the unpleasantness or hire someone to take care of it for you.
Should we always feel passion? – YES
I want to feel passionate about everything that I do. I’d love to live my entire life in a state of flow. However, that’s an aspirational objective, not an achievable one.
How much of our lives should be spent taking risks? – 10%
Consider the barbell strategy, an investment strategy outlined by Nassim Taleb in his book The Black Swan.³
The strategy is to be ultra-conservative and hyper-aggressive at the same time. He suggests you invest 90% in zero-risk securities and put the other 10% on wild bets and long shots. That way, the most you can lose is your measly 10%, and the most you can win is infinity if your wild bet is the next Google or Apple or Comedy CPE.
Most people don’t take regular risks, and accountants take even less. What if you spent 10% of your time planning and executing risks, taking wild bets and pursuing long shots? That would probably become your favorite half-day every week.
Start by shooting for 10%, and the more you discover and engage in your passions, the more you’ll naturally take risks that are in line with those passions.
Should we pursue our passions to the exclusion of other things? – YES
Find things you’re passionate about, and work to prune all the other crap away. You don’t have to do anything that you don’t want because you’re an American (sorry New Zelandish readers). If you don’t like doing something, stop doing it. If you like doing what you’re doing, but you’re not passionate about it, continue doing it while you search for something that you’re passionate about. And when you find something better, risk what you have to get it.
Life gets really complicated when you have to pursue one passion at the exclusion of another passion, but that’s a pretty great problem to have.
¹IRS agents favorite trees are FICAs.
²I hate spelling Albuquerque.
³That crazy ballerina knew a lot about trading derivatives.
Greg was born in Akron, Ohio, in the shadow of the Firestone tire factory. He began to swim competitively when he was eight, swimming for the Mountlake Terrace Lemmings. He graduated in 1995 from the University of Washington with a math degree. He chose math for the ladies. After serving ten-years as an 8th grade math teacher, he decided it was time for a career change, mainly because he “couldn’t stand those little bastards.” He began his accounting career with a local CPA firm in Orem, Utah, where he consistently failed the QuickBooks ProAdvisor advanced certification exam. Greg currently works as the Controller for the Utah Valley Physicians Plaza. He lives in Provo, Utah, with his wife and two kids. He enjoys eating maple bars, drinking Diet Pepsi, and swearing.