November 9, 2013

It’s not easy to find the right market for who you are. (The way I’m using the word “market” is essentially the same as “audience”.) We are told “Do what you love, the money will follow.” What this advice ignores is what the market/audience loves (or at least like). We do not live alone in this world, and we humans are social animals; we can’t just think about what we love ourselves. The evolutionary forces within us would make sure that we feel bad if we just thought about ourselves. So, what we should be looking for is not a match made in heaven, but a perfect compromise.

Too often people blindly and stubbornly commit to succeeding in a particular market that they choose when they barely understood themselves. This is particularly problematic in the US where the society pressures everyone to specialize in college or even earlier. Not many people consider applying their drives/passions in different markets. I believe this is because they tend to only consider the symptoms of their drives, not the cause. 

For instance, the reason why some people love music might be because they like to perform in front of an audience, not because they love music per se. They choose the market of music, struggle for years, miserably fail, and finally give up in their 40s. This is unfortunate because in the world of business, being able to perform well in front of an audience is highly valuable. Not many people can stand in front of a large audience comfortably, captivate and inspire them like Steve Jobs did. Many business executives wish they had that ability. Even in the world of startups, entrepreneurs are expected to be able to pitch their ideas in front of an audience (investors) and get them excited. Not many people can do this well. If some of those failed musicians weren’t so inflexible about how they apply their own drives (not the symptoms), they might have found the perfect compromise in business.

So, before we say to ourselves, “I love music”, “I love writing”, “I love painting”, or “I love” anything, we should stop and think, “Is it really music that I love?” Think about why we love what we love, identify the deeper cause of it, and find the market that loves us for it.

To be clear, I do not mean to say that we have to make money from doing what we love. We don’t have to. But if we are not making money from doing what we love, then we have to make money in some other way. And, I assume we all would rather do something that we enjoy doing. It would not make sense to choose something we absolutely hate as we would be spending the majority of our lives doing it. Also, it would be hard for us to succeed in making money from it if we hated it. We have to align our inner drives with what we do for a living to some degree. If you don’t have to work, you would not need to wrestle with this issue at all, my thoughts here would be irrelevant to you.

Some people do take up jobs that they hate in order to support their artistic/creative activities at home. They seem to have decided that there is nothing outside of art (or whatever they are passionate about) that’s enjoyable in life, so they don’t even think about looking for an enjoyable career. They just suck it up and drain their souls at work, and see it as unavoidable. I find this a bit unreasonable.

Take Alfred Hitchcock for instance. Suppose he was born 50 years earlier. Filmmaking as a career would not have existed then. Does that mean he would have just been a miserable, uncreative person? I doubt it. Given his creativity, I think he would have found a different career where he could have applied his talents.

I love cooking, but I have no desire to be a chef. I’ve thought about why I love cooking and have come to the conclusion that it’s not cooking per se that I love. Cooking ultimately is about chemistry and physics. I like it because I’m able to apply my theoretical and analytical propensity to create something that other people can interact with and enjoy. I love seeing my theories come true. I also like making things that other people can enjoy; there is an entertainer in me. Cooking is just one way that my drives manifest themselves. Give these more fundamental requirements for me to love something, I could think of other careers besides being a chef that I would enjoy. If I somehow convinced myself that being a chef is the only worthwhile thing for me to pursue in life, I would probably be miserable.

I can also see what type of jobs I would not enjoy. I like seeing my product reflect who I am. I’m a craftsman. So, I don’t like working as a team-member for a large project. Some people are the opposite; they care more about the experience of collaboration than they do about the final product. In music, they might prefer playing in a large orchestra. And, they might also enjoy working on a large project as a computer programmer (musicians are often great programmers because they both require the ability to manage abstraction).

Because I love seeing how other people react/interact with things I create, I would not be happy just creating things for myself. For whatever reasons, I don’t particularly enjoy interacting with other people myself, but I love seeing how people interact with my creations. My inner drives do not care whether I can monetize my product or not as long as enough people find it useful, fun, and/or interesting, but I’ve been able to monetize my products/services enough to make a living.