“If you wouldn’t do you job for free, then quit.” If you haven’t heard this before, you’ve probably heard similar advice, and while on the face it seems awfully extreme, entrepreneur David Fuhriman explains how following it helped him turn his career in the right direction.
Photo remixed from Benjamin Ragheb
On May 12, 2009, I read a list of advice my brother-in-law received during graduation from Yale Law:
- An hour of sleep before midnight is worth two, and an hour of work before noon is worth two.
- Always pick your kids up from school. That’s when they want to talk.
- Never let your skill exceed your virtue.
- Never take less than two weeks off when you have a child or for your honeymoon. Don’t let them talk you down.
- When you mess up, admit it frankly and quickly, and move on.
- Always do your very best in your job, but if you don’t like what you’re doing enough that you would do it for free, quit. (This seems extreme, but at the same time mentally liberating.)
This last one hit me like a bolt of lightning. Of course I had heard similar advice, like do what you love and you would never work a day in your life. But this one was different. Would I do it for free? That is a pretty high standard. I enjoyed the job I had. Everything has ups and downs, but generally is was OK. I was doing work that I enjoyed. I was working with technology and finance/accounting — it provided enough of a challenge and the company was growing well. But I knew that I wouldn’t do it for FREE.
What did I love enough that I would do it for free? I figured that if I was actually willing to do it for free, then that would be a good start. So I explored taking the CFA or CAIA certifications — maybe I would like to do more security analysis. No. I started looking into commodities and opened up a margin account, funded it with some money. But that wasn’t it. Did some real estate analysis, properties in the mid-west have attractive cap-rates. No.
I ended up coming back to what I used to do: helping small companies grow. This time I wanted to grow something scalable — with national or international scope. I started attending tech events, reading everything online, buying books, and discovered something I love doing for free — and what I do really well. I am very good at working in the space between technology and business. I ended up quitting my job to work on these things full-time. I discovered there are two reasons to only work in a job that you would do for free.
This is the thing that most people kind of intuitively understand. Maybe it is because we have all had some days, or weeks, or years… where we HATE waking up and going into the job. Where many of us trip up is trying to identify what gives us enough satisfaction that we would do it for free. Most people I talk to think that this means that they should work in video games, sports or some other recreational activity that they enjoy. This perspective blocks one’s ability to actually discover what they love.
The process I recommend to discover what you would do for free is to discover what you loved doing when you were 12. Why? There is something a little innocent about that age where we are developing our own personality and growing up but not old enough to get distracted by things such as making more money, working in a prestigious career etc… In the words of the Black Eye Peas:
I feel the weight of the world on my shoulder
As I’m gettin’ older, y’all, people gets colder
Most of us only care about money makin’
Selfishness got us followin’ our wrong direction
So what did I love doing when I was 12? Playing soccer. But as I explored what it was that I loved about soccer, I loved being the best player on the team. I loved leading the team. I loved playing creatively, doing the unexpected. I loved quickly finding solutions to problems on the field and planning tactics before the game to get an advantage. I loved practice and constantly improving. Now I do the same things that I loved when I was 12 — but I do them with tech companies.
We should only work in something that we would do for free because only then we will have the intrinsic motivation to attempt to achieve mastery — or getting better and better at something that matters. Mastery is something that I found in my process of discovery. Books such as “Drive” by Daniel Pink and “Delivering Happiness” helped me understand that when we are really focused on becoming a expert at something that matters, we cease trying to accomplish things because of the external motivations. For example, when I was in college I had to take a Geology class. I didn’t care about geology and I took the class just for a grade. I don’t remember much from that class. I enjoyed Economics though and I earned a minor in Economics because I enjoyed the theory and enjoyed learning. I never had to worry about getting an A in Economics, because I was mastering the material.
But mastery does not refer to perfect execution and knowledge. As Pink says in his book, “the mastery asymptote is a source of frustration. Why reach for something you can never fully attain? But it’s also a source of allure. Why not reach for it? The joy is in the pursuit more than the realisation. In the end, mastery attracts precisely because mastery eludes.” I believe that we can only pursue mastery of things that we do based on internal motivation. Not if you are there to collect a pay cheque.
So how about you? What would you do for free? Well you must find out what it is and quit your job so you can do it. You will enjoy your work much more and will become an expert in your field.
If you wouldn’t do your job for FREE, then QUIT. [BernMedical]