I do not believe a man can ever leave his business. He ought to think of it by day and dream of it by night. – Henry Ford
I was listening to Drew Houston, the billionaire founder of Dropbox, being interviewed on the Tim Ferris show and talking about a tennis ball.
And then there is the tour guide on a Copenhagen boat who drily said that she chose to be poor when she chose to study history.
The two of them have something in common – and something different from many of us.
If you’re from a country like India, you are taught that you need to study so that you can make a living from what you learn. So, you’re told, you can be an engineer, doctor or lawyer. Your parents believe you have a choice because you can choose what kind of engineer, doctor or lawyer you want to be.
What about the tennis ball?
Well, Drew had a dog – a Labrador – that usually did very little. But, when a tennis ball came out she got very excited and chased after it – she was completely obsessed with the tennis ball.
People who study something because they love the subject start life chasing their tennis ball from the start. Presumably that is a good thing.
Then again, it might not be. If you really love doing something – writing, music, art – what happens when you start doing it for money?
Sheffield, it turns out, has a good claim for having the first football club in the world, inventing many of the elements of the modern game. The game was played mostly by people with money – playing as amateurs – but things were going to change. Martyn Westby writes about the tensions that erupted when the sport went from being an amateur one to a professional one.
An amateur is someone who does something without being paid. Someone who does something for the love of it.
An amateur is also someone who is rather fortunate in not needing the money. Or wanting it. And the amateurs were very unhappy about professionals coming into their sport.
The professionals won, however. We now have professional sports – that’s the stuff you see on TV. And you see a much higher quality of sport than might have happened if amateurs were the only ones who did it.
The point here is that if you love doing something, then getting money for it may make it a job and less of a labour of love. If you get paid for each word you write then you will probably start resenting each word for the time it takes away from you.
On the other hand, if you do something you dislike, then you are exchanging your time for money and it’s going to eat away at you.
But… what if you do something for long enough? Will you start to get better at it and perhaps even start to like it? Can you act yourself into changing your mind about what you’re doing?
There’s no real right answer to this. If you are obsessed by something and it’s something that other people will give you money for, then you’ve got something that could make you a living.
The one thing to avoid is piece work. Try and separate the money from the work. I think it was a Kahneman finding about motivation – if activity and reward are closely linked then you’ll stop acting when the reward stops. If they are further apart in time, your mind doesn’t connect them in the same way.
In reality, I suspect few people would carry on doing something they hate, if they feel they have a choice.
It’s probably really a dislike, or distaste or aversion.
In fact, the thing that probably stops you changing is less to do with what’s outside and everything to do with what’s inside.
After all, if you’re in a situation you dislike you can do one of two things.
You can change your situation.
Or you can change your mind.