I was recently asked by someone why I do (or carry on doing) what I do. It’s such a simple question yet it startled me. It’s easy enough to jump in to a knee-jerk textbook answer. But its really hard to articulate why it really is that you do what you do (short of things like necessity, habit, or lack of choice. The ‘why not’ is not a valid answer.
So I applied the ‘amnesia test’. If I woke up tomorrow and had no recollection of what it is that I do, devoid of any emotional attachment to it, or habit, what would be the ten criteria I would write down in evaluating whether ‘it’ is what I really want to do? Here’s what I came up with:
1. Do I really enjoy it? Plain and simple. Do I feel eager every day to get out of bed and crack on doing it? Or do I snooze the alarm clock? Somehow my body clock precedes my alarm every single day, no matter what time zone im in or what time I set it to. Not the be all end all but certainly a good start.
2. Can I do it better than others? Or stand a good chance to be amongst the top handful of people in the world in what I do? If I push myself can I compete with them ferociously even if today I’m still the underdog? This can’t be for high level things like ‘being a CEO’, or an investor . It has to be specifically for the field you specialize in. Be brutally honest in drawing that boundary but equally honest in the answer. Life is too short to waste it in second place.
3. Can I make a difference in the world doings what I do? Is what I do important, in a meaningful way, beyond just making money. Happiness is amplified multifold (in most people and certainly in my case) when there is a purpose to what ‘it’ is other than short term gain. It has to outlive you.
4. Does it keep me challenged? Do I work on hard enough problems that rack my brain every day and push my limits? The only thing worse than not being good at what you do is – paradoxically – being too good at it. Boredom is far worse than the agonizing feeling of trying to crack really hard problems, sometimes out of your depth. That’s how I feel every day.
5. Do I learn every day doing it? This goes hand in hand with 4) but its not exactly the same. You can be challenged without necessarily developing yourself. There are different forms of challenges, those that test your endurance, those that test your interpersonal skills, your ability to adapt or your ability to stretch and venture into new grounds.
6. Do I get to work with people I enjoy? One of the worst moments in my memory as an entrepreneur is walking into the company I founded and feeling alien. Feeling that this is not what I had in mind. It’s a painful feeling, that thankfully I no longer have and one I will never forget. It’s like watching your kid grow and one day you take a look at him and think: how on earth did you turn out this way? This experience thankfully became a catalyst of change for me. I implemented ruthless cut-throat cuts getting rid of all those misfits. The people left behind now at PeoplePerHour are like family. Bonded by something beyond a contract of employment. We are on the same page. Before we weren’t even in the same book!
7. Equally, do I get to NOT work with people I don’t enjoy? Choosing who to work with is as important as being able to say NO to those you don’t like. Which is not obvious. In most jobs you will have some asshole you cant get rid of – even as a Founder. Maybe its an investor, a member of management planted by them, Clients you depend on etc. At PeoplePerHour we are lucky enough to be at the top of the food chain and choose who to work with. As I often like to joke: there’s only space for one asshole in the room. And that’s me!
8. Do I get to NOT have to do the things I don’t enjoy. Jeff Bezos was asked once whether he would do another Startup if he sold Amazon. To which he chuckles: “that’s; like going back to kindergarten”. There is an awful lot of things a founder needs to do in the beginning that they don’t enjoy and are not good at. Reaching a point where you no longer need to do this is an important soft milestone that - in my experience - paved the way for accelerated success. It means you can focus on the things you enjoy and are good at.
9. If I stopped doing it would it matter to anyone? A measure of how much you matter in the world is to imagine what would happen if you just didn’t. Would anyone care? And by that I don’t mean how many people. You can have more impact in this world if 1000 people really REALLY care versus 10 million who sort of do.
10. Does it allow me to develop myself in other ways, other than just doing it? Does it give me the time and energy to be a more complete person? If what you do is completely dominating your life firstly you will not be as productive in it. You will develop tunnel vision and lose your creativity. I find that my best ideas hit me when I’m doing other things, like a sport or painting or reading, visiting a museum or writing a post like this, or just lying on the beach. Over the past 12 months I’ve made a concerted effort to do more of those things and as a result I’ve become a lot more productive at my work. And happier!
So there it is. That’s my 10 point checklist. What’s yours?