You Never Know What You’ll Learn At A Conference, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:32am

Sigh. Let’s enjoy a moment of quiet.

To be precise, a moment of refrigerator hum complete with disturbing rattle. We’ll ignore domestic disturbances.

I was in New York last week, at Ignition 2012. It’s a conference held twice a year, where various executives speak on aspects of technology and business. Fascinating. Almost like traveling to New Orleans during Mardi Gras, Shanghai suburbs for the Autumn Festival, or Sweden for St. Lucia’s Day. In other words, an experience of humans wholly focused on somewhat peculiar social acts of critical importance to their culture.

That refrigerator just stopped humming. All to the good.

I heard Steve Case, who led AOL to the top, Jeff Bewkes, the testosterone-fueled, tough-as-nails CEO of Time Warner, and Andrew Mason, the embattled founder and CEO of Groupon. Among others. All interviewed by Henry Blodget, himself of no little notoriety. Can you imagine the audacity required to make your name predicting stock prices during the era, get banned from Wall Street for lying, and then reinvent yourself as BusinessInsider? I know. Me neither.

But one speaker’s words have been replaying themselves in my mind above all. Jeff Weiner of LinkedIn said:

“I think it’s really important that you optimize for both passion and skill. Often times you see people optimizing for one with the exclusion of the other, and I think that it’s going to lead to a more of a challenging path.”

This sounds at first like something we’ve all heard over and over. You know, “Passion blah blah blah, Learning blah blah blah, You can do anything blibbety blah to the 10th.”

But if you really parse it out, I think Weiner’s offering a bit of a new perspective. His precision, as precision often does, opens a blocked analytical path.

Imagine you optimize for skill. Here come scads of liberal arts majors miserable as lawyers. Imagine you optimize for passion. Enter legions of Hollywood waiter-actors. Imagine the right balance?

I have to use my own history for the deconstructed case. My native skills are, and always have been, qualitative pattern recognition, i.e. analysis of that which can be spoken or seen without numbers, and writing. Pretty straightforward. Maybe for you the skills bit takes some more time to sort through. That’s OK. We’ve got time.

My passion, well, that’s another question. Defining the concept of passion carefully would have made a difference. While I always loved to observe and to write, my fear of failing at it denatured passion into anxiety. Had I asked myself, “What can you do, Lisa, to love more or fear less?” a set of manageable next steps might have emerged from those fogs of the early 20s. Fear often feels huge and all-powerful, when it’s really not. It’s a just thing like any other.

It’s quite clear how optimizing for skill and passion benefits the young. Young ones, sally forth. If not today, then Monday. There’s always room for goofing off.

But most of us reading here are in our 40s and 50s. Does this mantra still apply? I think so, yes. First, never stop getting better at stuff. It’s not too late to improve. Second, and quite interesting, is midlife passion. I find the greatest joy of this time in our lives is that we have, with luck, figured out when to trust our own thinking. To know when we’re right, and when we’re probably wrong. Besides, in all seriousness, what’s left to be afraid of at this point?

So much fear, up in smoke.

And without fear – not to sound like Deepak Chopra, only to follow the very precise statement of a CEO to its logical conclusion because High WASPs don’t do bromides, but I can’t help myself – there’s more room in passion for love. More forward progress becomes possible.

Jeffrey Weiner might be appalled that a middle-aged High WASP liberal woman from California took his capitalist incantation on this course, but hey, I paid my way and I’ll bring home whatever insights I choose.

Have a very lovely weekend all.

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  • Reading your post gave me an additional insight in something I have been brooding over for some time now. Thank you.

    7:20 am
    Lisa said...

    My pleasure.

  • I think the question ““What can you do to love more or fear less?” is a good one. One I don’t ask myself enough as I try to figure out who the woman Hannah is as opposed to the girl.

  • As always, wonderful food for thought. Thank you. May your refrigerator behavior this weekend.

  • Why is it that refrigerators need to make noise?
    Getting better at one’s craft feels so much easier after 25 years on the job.
    Perhaps for me personally I am looking for growth and in a new area.

    I am listening to a different voice these days and after much rumination have blogged about my thoughts.

    You are ever so eloquent on Saturday morning, as bright and hopeful as a shiny new penny. Always inspiring…
    Thank you,

    7:21 am
    Lisa said...

    I think you are seeking to do what you really love.

  • A terrific quote, and something that I’ve been hearing more often at college graduations, etc., and I think incredibly important for those beginning to choose their paths in life. But, also very meaningful for those of us who perhaps have one career behind us, and are looking for a way to inject more passion into skills we already have. Speaking for myself, I left behind my career as an interior and architectural designer in my early 40’s, and was able to paint full time. Very recently I reflected on a similar version of that passage, as I was becoming bored with painting. My conclusion (after analyzing my skills and my passion) was to leave behind figurative painting for now, and for the first time move into abstraction. I’m having a fantastic time, and even go to my studio on weekends! At 60, I feel reborn in my studio.
    Thanks Lisa, for such a thoughtful and reflective post. And I hate refrigerator noise, and get worried that the condenser is on the way out.

  • Lisa, our refrigerator at our farm always gives me a bit of pause until it quits humming. During lunch today, I found myself asking my husband, “What is that noise?” until I realized it was the refrigerator.

    Your post today is very insightful and I will be thinking about it and trying to apply what I have learned.

  • I love your Saturday posts, they always leave me thinking.
    I’m in my late 30’s and I have been reflecting on this quite a lot lately. Just this week, I was remembering Leo Buscaglia’s quote on paths with heart, which our High School Literature professor read to us at the commencement ceremony, in our final year (“Your decision to keep on the path or to leave it must be free of fear or ambition. I warn you! Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself, and you alone, one question. . . Does this path have a heart? All paths are the same; they lead nowhere. There are paths going through the brush, or into the brush. Does this path have a heart is the question.”). I don’t think I truly understood what that meant until I was in my thirties and got rid of (some) fears…

  • Hi Lisa, I like your thinking about finding the right balance between skills and passion. I’m imagining it as a Venn diagram, with the intersection between the two circles as the sweet spot.

    Just wondering, what do you consider “skills”? Is it something one can learn, as in law school? Or something one is naturally inclined towards? Or a combination of both?

    Thank you as always for your writing and thought. Hope you are enjoying the weekend :)

    7:22 am
    Lisa said...

    I think of skills as what you learn, but your best skills will take advantage of your natural talents and temperament.

  • Amen!! Sparring, loving & leveling at an exponential, mind-blowing rate :D

  • What a great conference to attend. I think the right balance of passion and skills produces highly effective and happy individuals.

  • Thank you Lisa for this post. Had I only understood this all earlier.. but today is a new day.
    Midlife, what an opportunity. Passion and skills, we all have them, let´s use them : ).

    7:23 am
    Lisa said...

    I spend a lot of time trying to give young people the benefit of my experience. Not that they always appreciate my great wisdom:).

  • Oh, St. George–I mean Lisa–how you have slain the mighty dragon with certain and surgical precision; how you have whipped the curtain aside on the mighty Oz!

    “Fear often feels huge and all-powerful, when it’s really not. It’s just a feeling like any other.”

    Took my breath away. I think I’ll copy this on a Post-it note for those moments when fear is going Godzilla all over my inner Tokyo!

    7:26 am
    Lisa said...


  • Excellent post and discussion – as a completely miserable lawyer (or, maybe less miserable now that I’ve left a large firm and can shape my own future) with a liberal-arts background, I second or third the need for some kind of passion or at least interest in the mix. You only go so far forcing yourself through something where there is no connection except for the fear of failure, of letting down your family, of proving someone’s prediction that you’ll be a failure and waste of their money, and your own terror that you have no worth and reason to exist. Living with all fear and no passion just results in someone dead on his or her feet at age 40. Thankfully I still appear to be at least 50% alive and therefore have a shot at a future, but many I’ve known who have gone already no longer have that…

    7:26 am
    Lisa said...

    Oh I do hope things get better. I suspect they will, now that you’ve left the worst of it behind.

  • Whenever people ask me for career advice, I always say “Find what you like and what you’re good at and choose something at the intersection of the two.” So glad to know that I’m on the mark!

    Really enjoyed this

    Delia Lloyd

  • Useful quotation to think about . . . intersects with a few things I’ve been meditating on. Thanks for the Saturday morning fodder, so well articulated.

  • This one fascinated me. Not so much the topic, but the way you wrote about it. “…humans wholly focused on somewhat peculiar social acts of critical importance to their culture.” knocked my socks off. In fact, I read it yesterday and wanted to digest the post before returning for a visit to read it again. It is as brilliant today as yesterday.

    Love the way you write Miss LPC!

  • You are GREAT!!! Your skill is our passion…
    By now you know which skill and you know who is passionate.

    7:26 am
    Lisa said...

    Aw. Thank you.

  • I’d say Mr. Weiner did his work, at least one member of his audience was inspired and motivated.

    I had a moment to reflect on something similar myself this week when I read of the death of Zig Ziglar. When I graduated from college my Dad slipped me a book by Mr. Z. To this day I remember the echo of “do what you love, don’t worry about the rest.” I think throwing your own skill into the bowl was probably mentioned even then, but doing what you love was so much more appealing.

    7:27 am
    Lisa said...

    See, those statements were impossible for me, as I ALWAYS worried about the rest. I needed the next level of detail about how to get through the worry:).

  • Weiner’s quote stimulated asperity in me: “optimize”? I recoil when I hear life’s big questions presented in techno-speak. Contrast that with “What can you do, Lisa, to love more or fear less?”

    His language is sterile and from the head (“I think it’s really clear…” ), yours, poetic and from the heart. His distances, yours invites that richness and complexity.

    Every bad decision or wrong turn in my life was driven by fear. Fortunately there was enough love, within me and from others, to buoy me in rough water. Or as Weiner might put it, a sub-optimal period.

    7:28 am
    Lisa said...

    I understand your reaction, but Mr. Weiner came off quite thoughtful and humble. Thank you for your kind comments about my own language, however, I swear he inspired the poetic feelings as he spoke.

  • ah…i love that you wrote this now. and that i read this now… i have been struggling for the last several months with the idea of “do what you love and the money will follow.” in theory, i guess i buy into this, because for the last almost 7 years, up until earlier this year, i have been quite successfully doing what i love.

    but 3-4 months ago, it became harder and harder to make it work. i’m barely making enough money to justify it anymore, and i wonder if it’s because my passion is waning a bit. i haven’t lost my passion completely…but it’s a funny thing, because it’s easy to have passion for something that’s lucrative for you, and harder to keep it when it becomes more draining. and vice versa ;)

    perhaps that doesn’t make sense, but i’m glad i said it anyway. and thank you lisa for always writing something that makes me think. and reflect upon who i am and where i am going.

    7:29 am
    Lisa said...

    I admire you and what I know of your endeavors enormously.

  • I think you can quite freely state that you have reinvented yourself in small ways since starting this blog, and even before then, right? I try to write everyday. I have non-public blogs, and they help me with that outlet, particularly since my handwriting does not = my free-flowing thoughts!

  • Having just crossed over to the other side of 50 I find myself thinking constantly about what is next. I don’t feel the need to completely reinvent myself but I do need to make some changes. Never stop getting better at stuff! Thank you for writing that.

  • Yes, there’s more room in passion for love. Definitely.

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