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Success or Happiness?

Updated: Sep 2, 2019

We talk about our career choices as if they are mutually exclusive: either you make tons of money and buy fancy things you never have the time to enjoy, or you do what you love and live in poverty, but you’re happy. You sell your soul to Goldman Sachs or write poetry nobody reads. Not Steve Jobs. People often eulogize Jobs for his revolutionary success, but for all his accomplishments, he also came off as an intensely fulfilled human being. Jobs managed success and happiness. And the advice he left behind for entrepreneurs is immensely inspiring.

Jobs said you can have both. And he told us where to start: Do What You Love.

BusinessWeek columnist Carmine Gallo writes:

In 2005, Steve Jobs told Stanford University’s graduating class that the secret to success is having “the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” Inside, he suggested, “you already know what you truly want to become.” Jobs followed his heart his entire career, and that passion, according to him, made all the difference. It’s very difficult to come up with new, creative ideas that move society forward if you are not passionate about the subject.

He was addressing some of the brightest and most privileged college graduates on the planet, and he was telling them to leave the comfort zone of their smart colleagues, MBA degrees and fancy consulting jobs, leave that all behind, and strike out on their own. Leave the herd and start your own tribe.

Sounds nice, but this is not easy advice to follow, at least at the start, because it runs counter to tens of thousands of years of human conditioning. If you stick with your group and conform to what the group’s doing, you are going to be safe, because the group is protecting you. When you leave the herd, all bets are off. You’re alone, uncertain, different, rejected, vulnerable. It’s a very old fear, an animal fear.

But we are not animals living in the Serengeti anymore. We are not going to die if we leave the herd. Quite the contrary: it’s where we go to thrive.

Once you start forgetting about what you should do and how, and removing the old constraints and limits and fears – salary, what will others think, is this something I know how to do – all these fears restrict the possibilities you can explore. When you remove that, there’s a whole new world of possibilities out there.

The barrier and the issues you think you are going to face are all in your head. You are basically restricting yourself because at the end of the day, if you’re smart or if you went to a good school or have the privilege and opportunity to work in the startup industry, there’s no limit to what you can do. Unless of course you stay where you are.

When we started Totsy, the dominant thinking was that flash sales online only worked for impulse buys, things you wanted but didn’t need, like designer clothes. Fashion is about the impulse buy, luxury items.

We took a risk and bet that flash sales would also work for products you need. So we decided to focus on a specific vertical sell products new parents need. There was a risk people would not buy that way in that segment because it’s not about Marc Jacobs, it’s about buying a toy for your baby.

And for the success we’ve found here, we are not going to stay put. You have to keep reinventing yourself and taking new risks.

I started my career with a PhD in veterinary medicine. When I made the decision to work in pet nutrition for Colgate Palmolive and then Nestle Purina, I was effectively closing the door to practicing veterinary medicine. Then at a certain point I left that behind and went into luxury fashion at Louis Vuitton, and then left that behind again to become an entrepreneur and start a company that had nothing to do with pets or high fashion.

Most jobs today’s graduates will have don’t exist yet, or might be in an industry that doesn’t exist yet.Your college major may not be as important as you think. Zac Bissonnette writes for The New York Times:

Many students encounter tremendous pressure from their parents to adopt “practical” majors, and I’ve talked to a handful of students whose parents flatly refused to provide for their educational expenses unless they majored in something career-oriented. With less than half of recent college graduates landing jobs that require a college degree, this concern is understandable. But it’s misguided. In recent years, research into the importance of choice of major has led to a surprising conclusion: it’s really not all that important.

All the more reason to start with what you love. And if you’re long past your days of undergrad, do you abandon financial stability to follow your passion?

Not exactly. Success and happiness are not mutually exclusive. The co-authors of Just Start: Take Action, Embrace Uncertainty, Create the Future give some excellent practical advice in Harvard Business Review on how to get started:

If you can’t afford to do the thing you’re passionate about — for example, if you do it, you won’t be able to feed your family, or it would keep you from graduating college (which is something you think is more important than whatever you’re passionate about) — then no, you’d better not bet your economic life on it. A basic principle concerning how you should deal with an unknown future is that every small smart step you take should leave you alive to take the next step. So, make sure you attend to your lower order Maslow needs of food and shelter and the like. But even this doesn’t mean you can’t work on your passion a little — even if it’s just for 15 minutes a day.

Need some more encouragement to leave the herd and start your tribe? Take it from Jobs:

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