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 dot.com era, get banned from Wall Street for lying, and then reinvent yourself as BusinessInsider? I know. Me neither.
“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.