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January 15, 2012 10:56 AM   Subscribe

Why you will fail to have a great career

After three-decades and 29000 students at the University of Waterloo, Larry Smith's passion for economics is renowned. He has also coached several of his former students to help them position and develop their businesses, the most famous of which is Research in Motion, and he sits on the advisory panels of start-ups to provide guidance on financing, and negotiation with investors and venture capitalists. Here, he presents his thoughts on why people have or don't have great careers.
posted by esprit de l'escalier (113 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Timing.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 11:17 AM on January 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Bullshit, frankly. It's the just (passionate) world fallacy.

Passion, won't get you a "great" career. When most people say "great", they mean the standard accoutrements of the American Dream, enough money for a house/wife/kids, 40 hour work week, health care. Your passion can take you to great careers, or it can lead to failure, bankruptcy and being alone.

The man has spent too much time with startups. Sure, if you're a middle class white dude with a degree from MIT/Caltech/University of Illinois Urbana Champaign with a degree in Computer Science, following your passions is logical thing to do. Save up some money, get funded, found the next Google/Facebook/Microsoft. Or go work at one of them, or work damn near anywhere else, because hey, computer jobs are fairly thick on the ground at the moment. This speech consists of empty platitudes for a lot of other people, because they don't have the privileges that people like Larry Smith don't see. I'm not even talking about just race, but the privilege of being in one of the hot areas of the economy.

And one more thing, business feeds on passion like this. Any industry that attracts a lot of people because of "passion" will have shitty hours, shitty pay, and will fire you at the drop of the hat, because there are 20 people lined up outside of the door with stars in their eyes. And I'm not even talking about the outright scammers. See video games/music industry/Hollywood/journalism/writing/insert creative pastime here. I don't call 100 hour work weeks a great career. I don't call 20k salaries a year with less job safety than a McDonalds a great career.

Also:

the most famous of which is Research in Motion

lolz
posted by zabuni at 11:23 AM on January 15, 2012 [142 favorites]


To be honest, I'd settle for inventing velcro.
posted by carter at 11:28 AM on January 15, 2012 [8 favorites]


No. It's because I simply don't care.
posted by jonmc at 11:29 AM on January 15, 2012 [9 favorites]


"passion for economics"? after the recent performance of Economists, that's almost like a "passion for homeopathy". Can WE please have fewer posts here full of bullshit advice?
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:30 AM on January 15, 2012 [21 favorites]


Can I still follow my bliss?
posted by Burhanistan at 11:30 AM on January 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


I feel old. That talk would have excited be ten or fifteen years ago. Now, it just sounds incredibly naive.
posted by bardophile at 11:33 AM on January 15, 2012 [14 favorites]


A "great career" is not necessarily a barometer of self worth as this vid implies. However, for those people where it is the overriding reason they feel they were put on this little blue marble, then I guess this guy is spot on.

For those of us who think there is more to life than an employment career, this guy is talking like Charlie Brown's teacher.
posted by lampshade at 11:34 AM on January 15, 2012 [12 favorites]


I had to turn this off after three minutes. Can someone tell me if he also advises to dance like no one's watching?
posted by mhum at 11:37 AM on January 15, 2012 [41 favorites]


Excited "me", even.
posted by bardophile at 11:37 AM on January 15, 2012


I can remember a time when passion was reserved either for Easter or the bedroom.

If I were ever to use the word 'passion' in an interview for a job, I would hope the other person would look slightly disgusted, then bid me a firm good day.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 11:38 AM on January 15, 2012 [51 favorites]


Well, I enjoyed the talk, and Smith--it reminds me of Joseph Campbell's advice to "follow your bliss" in your life in order to attain happiness. I have to say that, though I have been resistant for fear of job insecurity, I have myself decided to do just that...I'm still unsure if it's the right choice (not that I'll ever know what that might be), but I feel like if I'm at least doing something I love for the rest of my life, I can deal with the future stresses that might entail.
posted by nonmerci at 11:40 AM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


So he has a great career telling young people they will never have what he has? What a simpering, creepy little cheesedick, who for some reason, sounds like Katherine Hepburn on helium.
posted by timsteil at 11:45 AM on January 15, 2012 [10 favorites]


The biggest difference I've learned after college is the "passionate careers" are always very vague notions and usually more about being in a role rather than the specifics of the day-to-day actual work you do. Many people who love their jobs end up there quite randomly and their title might be "mid-manager at a printing company" but no one is going passionate about that until they're in the role and working with people they like.

A better approach is to find the very specific tasks you like doing and the types of environments you work well in. Even if all you've done is work at McDonalds, you can think about what parts of the job you like and what you hate. Some people love interacting with customers, some hate it. Some like working in teams, or independently, or doing repetitive tasks or finding ways to get things done faster. Whatever parts of your job you like, follow and refine those, don't pursue some archaic "career" - a concept that doesn't have much place in a world where people leave jobs every few years, technology keeps changing things, and pensions no longer exist.
posted by lubujackson at 11:46 AM on January 15, 2012 [23 favorites]


Define "great"

and I'm beginning to really hate TED and all its extensions fwiw
posted by infini at 11:47 AM on January 15, 2012 [12 favorites]


If I were ever to use the word 'passion' in an interview for a job, I would hope the other person would look slightly disgusted, then bid me a firm good day.

Whereas my current experience in job-hunting seems to indicate that not using the word passion means they'll bid you a good day as you're insufficiently desperate to be as wax in their hands. Who would have thought business analysis required the devotion of Nijinsky!
posted by winna at 11:48 AM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why you will fail to have a great career

Is it because I value my life more?
posted by DU at 11:49 AM on January 15, 2012 [18 favorites]


I can't decide if this is unintentional propaganda to serve the status quo, or insightful albeit incomplete, life advice.
posted by polymodus at 11:50 AM on January 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Academic theater at its lamest
posted by phaedon at 11:56 AM on January 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


Oh dear. I don't know why, but I found myself repelled by his insistence that people aren't going to have a great career - which is defined as what? Something spectacular like the creation of warp drive? - because they are afraid, and will look for excuses.

So I have an issue with:

1. His definition of what qualifies as a great career (achievement) - nothing else?

2. The idea that on my grave what would be mentioned is something I created, rather than something that motivated me, or my values. Like infinite curiosity about the world, or a commitment to being a good friend, family member, etc.

3. His dismissiveness: really, why knock the people who created velcro - that stuff is great. Just wait til you need it.

Though I agree, if you have the privilege of being able to pursue something that seems infinitely interesting, and happens to intersect with the things you are skilled at, that is lovely. But he is focused way, way too, too much on outcomes, which he accuses people who don't follow their passion of doing (because they care too much about the outcome of money, or stability, etc.). A very western definition, that feels very limiting.

Lastly, the definition of what qualifies as a great career is actually often personal. He does not allow for that reality.
posted by anitanita at 11:56 AM on January 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


1. His definition of what qualifies as a great career (achievement) - nothing else?

Basically, anything glorious. His two examples being a performing magician and nobel prize physicist.
posted by polymodus at 12:00 PM on January 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've noticed that extremely successful mathematicians often have their personal lives kinda "sorted out" from a relatively young age. I figured all that time and energy wasted hunting down relationships cost many people enormously.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:00 PM on January 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


Great job important:
1. prof of economics with tenure
2. prof of economics without tenure
3. prof of economics adjunct or part time
4. economics degree, PhD.---no job

which is the great job?
posted by Postroad at 12:03 PM on January 15, 2012


I enjoyed the energy but had to stop watching when he was so dismissive at the person who created Velcro.

That, and it's still possible to have a good and great career by working hard and pursuing your interests (yes, interests) while exploring your passion for basket weaving or whatever as a hobby.
posted by GoldenShackles at 12:10 PM on January 15, 2012


I have been repeatedly told about how great Ted talks are. The first time I looked at their website, Tony Robbins was one of the talks that popped up. Yeah, great.

This talk is pretty much exactly why I don't like Ted talks for the most part. They seem to exist mainly for the purpose of the audiences being able to feel good about themselves in that particularly tepid way that's so popular now.

I am an artist, but I have no real career whatsoever if it is defined in economic terms. I have the odd show but I rarely sell anything. But, I do feel very fortunate about the quality of my work these days and that has always been the most important thing for me. Not sure that buddy boy here would consider that a good career.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 12:14 PM on January 15, 2012 [14 favorites]


We Canadians - If we're not funny, we're insufferable.
posted by kneecapped at 12:17 PM on January 15, 2012 [9 favorites]


Wikipedia: "Velcro is the brand name of the first commercially marketed fabric hook-and-loop fastener,[1] invented in 1948 by the Swiss electrical engineer George de Mestral. De Mestral patented Velcro in 1955, subsequently refining and developing its practical manufacture until its commercial introduction in the late 1950s."

Vive Monsieur deMestral who DID something besides talk.
posted by Cranberry at 12:17 PM on January 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


> I have been repeatedly told about how great Ted talks are. The first time I looked at their website, Tony Robbins was one of the talks that popped up. Yeah, great.

This was a TEDx talk, which is like some kind of zombie franchise bully pulpit. The bar for entry for the actual TED symposiums is a little higher. That Robbin's talk, at least the one I'm thinking about, is actually not all that bad. He's not trying to sell anything there, more he's being self-deprecating and cussing a lot.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:18 PM on January 15, 2012


TEDx is very different from TED. Think of it as the difference between pro sports and weekend warriors. The pros are almost always good (though every now and then you get a Tebow). The weekend warriors can have very very rare moments where they approach their ceiling of being almost not crap.
posted by srboisvert at 12:20 PM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'd imagine that an economics PhD without any current job has a higher expected lifetime earnings than your first three positions, Postroad.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:22 PM on January 15, 2012


So does a plumber.
posted by jonmc at 12:24 PM on January 15, 2012 [8 favorites]


I don't have a dream or a single defining passion. Like people entering the dating market searching for the captital O, rest of your life perfection One who will complete you, dream based job hunting is about as reliable as those guys in comedy videos of the past who strapped on elaborate flying contraptions before jumping off high places.

It's also a very toxic and irresponsible attitude. Most people did not dream to be municipal sanitation workers, home health care aides, long haul truck drivers, retail sales clerks, the closest to a dream they were following is not to starve and live in a box. But there's a pernicious idea that one component of success is that weird fantasy called the "American dream", people are just paying down time in shitty situations until sufficient dream following has been met and their passion drops fulfillment like mana from heaven.

It's the reason why unpaid internships in high demand industries in creative fields thrive, why my grandparents tell me about how noses held to the grindstone deliver anything I want and seem innocent to the idea that it's not going to get me anything other than a flat nose if you don't grab the right grind stone and why the idea of improving things for people on the bottom is seen as a useless idea, after all everyone are just embarrassed millionaires until they dream their way out of the hole, so why fill the hole in?
posted by Phalene at 12:25 PM on January 15, 2012 [36 favorites]


not only do you have to work yourself to death you have smile during.
posted by The Whelk at 12:28 PM on January 15, 2012 [15 favorites]


From the comments it feels like watching this talk might not be good for my blood pressure, so can someone please clarify: Is this actually a talk by an academic economist putting down the engineer who came up with the idea for velcro for not having a great career?

That's pretty baffling, I thought creating something billions of people use every day is about as big an achievement as you can get.
posted by Dr Dracator at 12:34 PM on January 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


I think he's more putting down the notion that the inventor of velcro was "passionate" about velcro. Which on the face of it sounds plausible, but actually just reflects a very myopic view about what people can be passionate about.
posted by selenized at 12:37 PM on January 15, 2012 [8 favorites]


s this actually a talk by an academic economist putting down the engineer who came up with the idea for velcro for not having a great career?

No, that's just one of the things he does in fifteen minutes. But yes, it is exactly that annoying.
posted by bardophile at 12:37 PM on January 15, 2012


II thought creating something billions of people use every dayending up getting rich after going on a walk with your dog is about as big an achievement as you can get.
posted by DU at 12:38 PM on January 15, 2012


These kinds of talks are always one sided and always come to the same conclusions because honest, diligent failures to be "great" are never invited to present their side of the story. Looking over this discussion so far it's clear that were kind of getting fucking sick of that.
posted by nanojath at 12:40 PM on January 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, dog-walking was probably invented in the stone age - we sure took some time to come up with velcro, the guy must have brought _something_ to the table.
posted by Dr Dracator at 12:41 PM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I loved my job and I was good at it (except for the absolutely miserable parts and the annual why we need to have just one more round of major layoffs meeting). I'd be lying if I told you that I'd never graphed data, looked at the resulting curve and then felt the way a leopard must feel when is sees a plump gazelle with a limp and a hat made out of parsley just standing there in the middle of the savannah. I'm not sure but I may have drooled a little, or shaken my butt from side to side like my cat does when it's about to show a stray styrofoam peanut who is boss. Unfortunately, I worked for an organization who felt that us knowing what the fuck we were doing was not equal to focusing on our deliverables. I was once given the "negative" feedback in my annual review that I was too theoretical. Shortly after getting the word that I was going to be laid off I was told by my boss that I probably one of the ten most knowledgeable people in the world about my little thing. On my last day I all but skipped out to my car. Gaze on my works ye mighty or something.

The reason you won't have a great career is the same as bad money driving out good. Nobody wants great work. They want work that's good enough and meets arbitrary deadlines. There's no time to do it right but there's always time to do it over, etc. You won't have a great career for the same reason you can hardly by furniture that will still be around in 10 years - the next guy through the door will cheerfully do a half-assed job at whatever it is, but will have smaller salary demands, do it quicker, etc. It's hard to market passion in a world where annual goals documents are what passes for giving a damn.

If you have a complex problem that needs shaken by the throat until dead, MeFi mail me.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:43 PM on January 15, 2012 [67 favorites]


I kept waiting for the punchline where he reverses and concludes that selfish pursuit of career achievement over relationships is ultimately unsatisfying. 15 minutes of my life wasted.
posted by stp123 at 12:48 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Patton Oswalt if he got his PhD
posted by phaedon at 12:51 PM on January 15, 2012


I kept waiting for the punchline where he reverses and concludes that selfish pursuit of career achievement over relationships is ultimately unsatisfying. 15 minutes of my life wasted.

I was like oh - oh okay it's a parody of the kind of things people tell themselves and the excuses they make the reveal should be right about now- and then the nonsensical kid/magician thing where you'll feel bad if you tell your to follow his dream? And then it just turned into sentimental word salad.
posted by The Whelk at 12:51 PM on January 15, 2012


...and that's why you're going to be livin' in a van down by the river.
posted by markkraft at 12:52 PM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is a man who has been told far too many times that he is a great speaker.
posted by oliverburkeman at 12:52 PM on January 15, 2012 [9 favorites]


I have a feeling that having a "great" career means spending lots of time around people like this guy. If that's the case, I don't want a great career.
posted by madcaptenor at 12:52 PM on January 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


I used to work for an industry association, and I started up and managed a number of special interest groups for employees in our industry, such as software dev managers, product managers, and HR folks.

HR folks are loopy. Just nuts. I knew this when they started a book club, and the first book they decided to read was "A Passion for HR" (or something similar).
posted by KokuRyu at 12:53 PM on January 15, 2012 [10 favorites]


Talks like this drive me up the walls, especially in times like these when many people have to eat their souls to fill their stomachs. They can't even think about having "great careers" when they can't even get jobs that pay enough to keep food on the table and roofs over their heads.
posted by Anima Mundi at 12:55 PM on January 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


"A romantic is someone would destroy the object of their affection than have it defiled."

In my experience, the ugly part of having a great career is compromise: to trade your greatest aspiration for money, to sacrifice the absolute best you can do in the name of getting the rent paid. Everyone has their price. Most are shocked to find out how little that is.

Nearly every engineer dreams of being a great as Tesla. Almost none would want to live his life.

So no, if you want to a great life, remove money from the equation. Give a hearty "fuck you" to any dolt who thinks you will trade any more than the absolute minimum of your time and focus for a paycheck. I will suffer the indignancies of any job gladly, will occasionally give you my absolute best just because I can, if only to keep your greedy little paws away from the things that truly matter.

Not everything in this world has a dollar sign attached.
posted by quintessencesluglord at 12:57 PM on January 15, 2012 [10 favorites]


I'm just as cynical about the 'finding your passion' career advice bullshit as everyone else. That said, if you're looking for a Ted Talk about this kind of thing, this one by Gary Vaynerchuk is much, much better.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:00 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


From the people that brought you "Just get a job!"
posted by hellojed at 1:02 PM on January 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


What if your passion is grilled cheese sandwiches followed by long naps. I could do that for the rest of my life, easy.
posted by The Whelk at 1:09 PM on January 15, 2012 [33 favorites]


The last thing I would want to do is to earn money from any of my passions. Working means someone else is paying you; you're compromising your own integrity for their means. It would break my heart. I work at a job that's occasionally interesting and fulfilling, but it's not exactly my passion. It pays the bills and keeps a roof over my family's head. Beyond that, I pursue my own passions on my own time.
posted by jimmythefish at 1:10 PM on January 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


"Finding your passion" is absolutely absurd as a piece of career advice. What people need to find out is how their talents are useful in the world and how to take prudent risks and how to recognize and recover from failure.

Almost every successful person has mastered these three things. Everyone I know who has failed to fulfill his or her potential has fallen short on at least one, if not more, of them.
posted by MattD at 1:11 PM on January 15, 2012 [53 favorites]


In the department at the university I'm at (doesn't matter what and where), I have seen some of the most brilliant people I know, absolutely amazing. None of them have stayed in the department, they're all gone now. Why? Because the department leader's stance was and is: "But we do this thing because we have the passion! for this! We do it because we love! what we do! .... (and therefore I won't compensate you for your slavery, because, y'know, passion.)"

It's sad. Brilliant people left because of unbearable stress and uncompensated obligations, because, as young brilliant people, they were supposed to feed on pure enthusiasm.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 1:13 PM on January 15, 2012 [9 favorites]


My father, who worked as a pipe fitter at a synthetic rubber plant for almost 30 years, dismisses the idea that anyone should expect to find their work "fulfilling," an attitude I suspect is more typical of his generation than mine.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:14 PM on January 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


What if your passion is grilled cheese sandwiches followed by long naps

I've got some tomato soup. I smell something great here
posted by Brocktoon at 1:16 PM on January 15, 2012 [11 favorites]


But we do this thing because we have the passion! for this! We do it because we love! what we do!

This is a major flaw of many a management style. My take is, which bottom line do you prefer your employees worry about constantly?
posted by Brocktoon at 1:20 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's sad. Brilliant people left because of unbearable stress and uncompensated obligations, because, as young brilliant people, they were supposed to feed on pure enthusiasm.

Sorry we can't give you a raise this year unless... unless.. unless....
posted by phaedon at 1:24 PM on January 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I smell something great here

That's all the tea I'm making in preparation for opening my new Tea & Soup & Sandwiches & Pillows & Blankets Palace. Now if only I could find a master sandwich artist, a master soup chef and a master pillows-and-blanketsmith...
posted by byanyothername at 1:25 PM on January 15, 2012


He left out the "become a dick" part.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:30 PM on January 15, 2012


Of course working just to keep the Tea & Soup & Sandwiches & Pillows & Blankets Palace afloat and on on fire takes 12+ plus days and dealing with the public and learning the tax and health code inside out and taking out a line of credit that by the end of the day you've forgotten the last time you really had Tea and Soup and Sandwich and a nap without being consumed with anxiety and dread.
posted by The Whelk at 1:32 PM on January 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


I believe the technical term is "goat fucker".
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:33 PM on January 15, 2012


Doh. Missed the link there. Which, oddly enough, is about a guy who did do things he was passionate about.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:34 PM on January 15, 2012


Could a get a gazelle on rye with Swiss cheese at the Tea & Soup & Sandwiches & Pillows & Blankets Palace?

Mmmmmmm. Gazelle.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:37 PM on January 15, 2012


The word " 12 hour days " should be up there somewhere
posted by The Whelk at 1:39 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Of course working just to keep the Tea & Soup & Sandwiches & Pillows & Blankets Palace afloat and on on fire takes 12+ plus days and dealing with the public and learning the tax and health code inside out and taking out a line of credit that by the end of the day you've forgotten the last time you really had Tea and Soup and Sandwich and a nap without being consumed with anxiety and dread.

Here's another thing. Your passions may, in order to be turned into a monetary pursuit, may involve so much ancillary bullshit that it makes the passion part of a job only a minor fraction of what you do. Loving books != owning a bookstore, although it can. And I don't think a passion for video games translates into doing QA on Barbie Horse Adventure.

As long as we're putting up links about passion, there's always grumblebee's great advice.
posted by zabuni at 1:44 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Because I want to be a great dad and husband more than I want to work twice as many hours for an extra $40K that will get taxed at 40%.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:46 PM on January 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sorry we can't give you a raise this year unless... unless.. unless....

Don't worry, I'm still at the department. And it is mostly true it's because I lack the enthusiasm and passion. But it is a small and somewat off-kilter department, and as a consequence we've worked out an unarticulated deal, never to be uttered the manner I do here:

(1) I don't care what they do.

(2) They don't bother me, because

(3) Whatever I do as part of the department it looks good for them.

(4) And I get a stipend and grant money for travelling.

Thus, lack of passion is (occasionally) good.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 2:00 PM on January 15, 2012


The word " 12 hour days " should be up there somewhere

I worked in a cubicle farm in a software company for three years. "12 day hours" is what I'd call my experience.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 2:02 PM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I love my corporate R&D job. I might not be changing the world but I get to "follow my passions" and run my own research projects how I see fit on the company dime. Also I have enough free time to "follow my passions" and play in a local band. Again, we're not going to be the next Beatles but fuck it.

Any time a wildly successful person tries to equate a lack of equal success in others to a moral failing (this guy, Zuckerberg, Peter Thiel) I want to grab them by the neck and howl memento mori, motherfucker.
posted by Existential Dread at 2:12 PM on January 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wikipedia: "Velcro is the brand name of the first commercially marketed fabric hook-and-loop fastener,[1] invented in 1948 by the Swiss electrical engineer George de Mestral. De Mestral patented Velcro in 1955, subsequently refining and developing its practical manufacture until its commercial introduction in the late 1950s."

Wikipedia is actually wrong on this one. Velcro is the name of the company that is the original maker of hook and loop fasteners. If you call the company, and I have, they will absolutely deny that there is any product named velcro.
posted by snofoam at 2:42 PM on January 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


What if your passion is grilled cheese sandwiches followed by long naps. I could do that for the rest of my life, easy.

What if your passion is making grilled cheese sandwiches for folk like The Whelk yet earning money from it is, you know, it's illegal.
posted by Kerasia at 3:14 PM on January 15, 2012


As far as careers go, mine has been hit and miss. Been shot at and missed and shit at and hit, but I wouldn't trade it for anything, because all that fucking mess of years is who I am now.

I think this has been posted before, but for the dreamers, for the more artistic types of young people out there reading this thread right now, trying to figure out their lives by picking a major and dreading having to put down their instrument, or paint brush, or pen, I can say with all certitude, I wish I would have been able to get this message when I was 18.

It translates easily across the board for whatever your passion may be. Truly, sage advice.

Danny Barnes: How to Make a Living Playing Music.
posted by timsteil at 3:16 PM on January 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


The reason people don't have great careers is because fools like this are advising startups.

I kept waiting for someone to yell "Rumplestiltskin!" and watch him vanish in a puff of smoke. Chiding adults about what "mommy and daddy told you" in babytalk? Please.
posted by benzenedream at 3:18 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


TEDx: Lol. I can't even think of a good joke about it. The irony is there are lots and lots of great speeches from academic settings on youtube, but somehow these lame, TEDx speeches get posted all the time. Like here's an awesome lecture about the advances in Cosmology over the last 100 years by Lawrence Krauss. Much more interesting then almost all of the TED talks I've seen, except some of the pure science ones, and way more interesting then anything called "TEDx", which are invariably quite ridiculous. I'm not sure why.

There were a handful of "real" TED talks, back in the early days on science that were interesting. One thing about TED: It was created by the editor in chief of Wired, Chris Anderson. Like wired, they seem more interested in ideas that can sound exciting rather then stuff that's truly interesting presented in a thoughtful way.
When most people say "great", they mean the standard accoutrements of the American Dream, enough money for a house/wife/kids, 40 hour work week, health care. Your passion can take you to great careers, or it can lead to failure, bankruptcy and being alone.
Huh? What makes you think that the average person aspires to the "standard" middle class life? I always hear politicians say that kind of thing but when you're talking about the kind of ambitious people who go to TED talks or people who talk about wanting a 'great' career I think you're usually talking about people who want to be "1%ers", at least. Or at least 5%ers. Now, as the name implies, only 1% of the people out there are going to be part of the 1%.

The "American Dream" is what most middle class Americans expect as a minimum, that's what they think they'll have if so long as they 'check the boxes' of getting good grades, graduating college, etc.

Now, maybe that's changing an people are finding "The American Dream" to be more elusive then they'd expected, especially people who grew up in the 80s and 90s.

--
My father, who worked as a pipe fitter at a synthetic rubber plant for almost 30 years, dismisses the idea that anyone should expect to find their work "fulfilling," an attitude I suspect is more typical of his generation than mine.
Maybe, but if you need something where the quality of the output is subjective, like graphic design, having someone be 'passionate' about the output might result in higher quality output. On the other hand, you don't really care if your car mechanic is 'passionate', so long as the car works and you don't get ripped off.
Wikipedia is actually wrong on this one. Velcro is the name of the company that is the original maker of hook and loop fasteners. If you call the company, and I have, they will absolutely deny that there is any product named velcro.
The website is kind of ambiguous: They call it VELCRO® brand fasteners. The probably want to prevent 'gentrification' of their brand, however, their nominclature may have changed over the decades too. If it's "Velcro® brand" instead of "Velcro" now that doesn't mean it was always the case.
posted by delmoi at 3:27 PM on January 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


delmoi: TED wasn't originally created by Chris Anderson - Richard Saul Wurman, an architect and information design, did. I believe he ran it for around a dozen years, in fact, before Chris Anderson bought the conference. I spoke at one of the very last TED conferences run by RSW and, to me, it felt marginally less breathless than the current ones. But it's a different time now.

Another factoid - the Chris Anderson who bought TED (founder of Future Publishing) is not the same Chris Anderson who is currently editor-in-chief of Wired. It is a very easy mistake to make, and in fact I only learned the difference when the editor of Wired UK corrected me. Doh.

--

Back on topic - I once wrote a blog post looking for new people for my company and wrote that we were looking for passionate people. And as has been noted above, games developers value passion because it helps keep people motivated despite, sometimes, low pay and very long hours.

But I feel that most companies don't actually need passion as much as they think they do, because they simply don't have the room to deal with it. They just want/need very hard workers who want they're told - and yes, often for low pay and long hours. Where passion comes in genuinely useful is when people have scope for initiative in what they do, which is pretty rare for various reasons.
posted by adrianhon at 3:45 PM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


The website is kind of ambiguous: They call it VELCRO® brand fasteners.

FWIW, that's not the same as saying that there a fastener called velcro. It's the difference between saying a McDonald's brand hamburger and going to the McDonald's drive thru and ordering "a McDonald's, fries and a Coke."

It's totally possible that they weren't always as concerned with "generification" of their brand, but I can assure you that the company is totally, ridiculously unambiguous about it. They will also threaten you with legal action for implying that velcro is anything other than a company.

I called them one time to try to figure out if they would allow any use of the word velcro to describe a hook and loop closure, and there isn't. Even if the hook and loop closure is made by VELCRO, they won't allow you to call it as velcro. They won't allow you to say "a velcro-like hook and loop closure." If you said, "Come on, I have velcro on my shoes!" They would reply, "No, VELCRO is a large company based in New Hampshire, it could not possibly be on your shoes."
posted by snofoam at 4:08 PM on January 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


I can't claim to have done anything much career wise, but I did invent Post-Its.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 4:16 PM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, he seems not to have noticed that many people have passions which are simply not economically lucrative. My SO's passions are naval theory and naval history; hard to get seed cash for a start-up studying Edwardian naval technology. My passion when I was younger was theatre; too bad my talent wasn't, but even if it had been, that's really not enough to lead to a "great career".

However,

Can someone tell me if he also advises to dance like no one's watching?
posted by mhum at 2:37 PM on January 15 [15 favorites +] [!]


I, too, turned off the video in boredom/amused cynicism, but I can tell you that dancing like no one is watching is very, very good advice. Even if you look like an idiot, you'll have a great deal of fun.
posted by jb at 4:31 PM on January 15, 2012


Great career makes for a shitty life. Have great love, great children, great friends and interesting hobbies. You don't need a career, just a decent job where people respect you and pay you a decent wage.
posted by humanfont at 4:57 PM on January 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


"Finding your passion" is absolutely absurd as a piece of career advice. What people need to find out is how their talents are useful in the world and how to take prudent risks and how to recognize and recover from failure.

Almost every successful person has mastered these three things. Everyone I know who has failed to fulfill his or her potential has fallen short on at least one, if not more, of them.


I don't know. This is seems to be a subjective and narrowly-defined theory of success. This magic trinity described here is essentially: self-knowledge, judiciousness, and perseverance. Easier said than done, and one wonders if there's not some circularity in the definition. Furthermore it remains to be shown that they are in fact necessary and sufficient conditions for "success".

In defense of Prof. Smith, passion is not absolutely absurd. At the most it is idealistic, and at the least there exist people who are genuinely passionate about their life work. Who are we, to advise anyone else not to reach for the stars.
posted by polymodus at 5:02 PM on January 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


Half way through, when he started talking about family, I thought he was going to turn it on it's head, showing people that great careers aren't of ANY value, and that family and personal relationships are what really matter. Guess not.

I've given up my childhood/young adult dreams of being a talented, passionate recording engineer, and made new dreams of being a passionate husband and a caring, available father.
posted by toekneebullard at 5:19 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


UNLESS WHAT?!

DAMMIT YOU'RE A PROFESSOR, YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO TEACH ME SOMETHING!!
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:13 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Phlegmco(tm): "I have been repeatedly told about how great Ted talks are."

I went to the first TEDxPhilly and really enjoyed it; there was a lot of inspiring stuff. The best presentation was, hands down, this one, which I particularly liked because it spit in the face of standard TED-style presentations (the slides even used Times New Roman!).

I think a really great TED talk should cover:
  1. An idea
  2. Why this idea matters
  3. What people can actively do about this idea
I think that most TED talks cover:
  1. How awesome the speaker is
And I think this happens because most speakers seem to think
  1. They are awesome
  2. Their ideas are awesome
  3. They're there, speaking in front of everyone, because of 1 & 2 above
As a result, they tend to focus a lot on the ideas and on their identities, and not very much on process and almost no focus on context. And of course, they don't see of the blind spots in their own ideas because of the awesomeness.

I'll give you an example.

I really hated Chris Lehmann's talk on education. He basically starts out from the premise that high school sucks (and specifically, because of the teaching process; I guess he never had problems with other students when he went to school or something). That's okay, a lot of people feel that way. But the reasons he lays out basically set it up so that someone like me, who actually enjoyed learning high school, suddenly feels like a chump: I was supposed to hate it because students are treated like automatons; it's repetitive; you have to be taught a bunch of things that you're not going to use.

So he has this great idea: teaching can be made better if we make it more personal, more creative, and explain why the thing they're learning is important. Also, fair enough. But here's the example that gets me, which starts right here. Basically, an engineer hired as a physics teacher is tasked to explain why it's important to learn physics. Personally, I would argue that physics is interesting enough to be worth learning for its own merit, but that never comes up as a possibility (instead it was "You'll need this for college"; "it'll help you get a job" to much laughter from the trogolodytes in the audience) which leads to his "profound" punchline:
Why do we learn physics? And the answer that they should have given you all of those years ago:

Is because it is the language of motion. It is the poetry of the physical world.

…We should teach them to understand that if you can do a calculus derivative and you can think logically that way, that will inform your poetry.
He mentions it in the video, but it's worth bringing up that this ASSHOLE is an ENGLISH MAJOR. So in his mind of course comparing physics to poetry is suddenly going to make it relevant. "You think physics is boring? Well, it isn't, because it's just like this other thing" that most High School students think is boring.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:20 PM on January 15, 2012 [11 favorites]


Oh, and on the passion thing. This speaker has a different but similar blind spot.

The truth is, there are a ton of people who have simply made the mistake of being passionate in the wrong career. Pretty much all of entertainment is filled with people who are extremely, extremely passionate. There's no other way to explain why there are so many people who are genuinely talented at what they do, spend a majority of their waking hours improving themselves in this area, who are, if they are lucky able to survive on their passion alone without having to hold a secondary job.

He sees all these great opportunities in, I guess, the business and finance and tech sector or whatever, and says, "why aren't there more people here? Probably because they're not passionate enough" without pausing to think, "Why would anyone be passionate about these things?"

Also, screw great careers if they mean I can't put my passion where it really matters: family, friends, food, and travel.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:37 PM on January 15, 2012


How much you want to bet that if this guy had (by chance) mentored the inventor of Velcro instead of (by chance) the founder of the company who made the Blackberry, he'd be all gung-ho about how important Velcro was to things like the space race.

Also, let's not forget that "inventing Velcro" involved a decade of work in the then-infant era of synthetic materials. Also, I don't know what Smith thinks having a great career entails, but having an avenue named after you probably isn't a marker of bland mediocrity.
posted by belarius at 6:53 PM on January 15, 2012


Look at the context here.

He's speaking at university of Waterloo. I've never heard of it, but his speech is therefore aimed at a bunch of students who, I guess, could easily become well paid lawyers or finance dudes.

In that context, all he's saying to his audience is not to go for the safe, well paying job, that most people in the room have access to, (finance/lawyer) but to think a little bit more about what they could bring to society.

In that context, that's pretty good advice. Many top universities lost brilliant minds to the sirens of finance in the past few years. Look where that got us....
posted by Riton at 6:56 PM on January 15, 2012


I don't get all the hate here for this, though his style of delivery is admittedly a bit grating. Mocking him for advising RIM as a startup after its decline is dumb. It's a company that substantially changed mobile communications and had a good run as the player in the field.

And while I'm privileged and blessed to be in a high demand and developing industry, I don't understand those of you who brag about not wanting to be passionate about a career - it's not a dichotomy. I can be passionate about my job (and am lucky enough to do so) and the rest of my life. Do you really think that the great scientists and artists of the world haven't been passionate about their jobs?

His audience is a self-selected group of people who think that they are the best of the best and he's pushing them to try for the stars without holding themselves back for the wrong reasons. It's not realistic to think that everyone will change the world, write the great American novel, or whatever, but the people he's talking to want to try. Most will fail but some will succeed.

@Phlegmco(tm) - my takeaway from the video is that he would think you have a great career because you were willing to take a risk and pursue greatness in what inspired you. The bit with the listener's hypothetical child was all about pursuing an artistic dream despite the lack of guaranteed economic pay out.
posted by Candleman at 6:57 PM on January 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I went to the first TEDxPhilly and really enjoyed it; there was a lot of inspiring stuff. The best presentation was, hands down, this one yt , which I particularly liked because it spit in the face of standard TED-style presentations (the slides even used Times New Roman!).

Thank you for your take on Ted, I will watch this later. Your point about awesome being awesome, I think that's spot on.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 7:48 PM on January 15, 2012


Do you really think that the great scientists and artists of the world haven't been passionate about their jobs?

I have no real authority to respond here since I am neither a great scientist nor a great artist, but I would argue that passion is forged from a "mere" interest. Several scientists I've talked to didn't really become "passionate" about science until some point in graduate school, or even afterwards. It's hard to be invested in something unless you are competent and have some autonomy, and it takes hard work (of the kind the speaker disparages) to get there. I am increasingly convinced that focusing on courage and passion in this way is putting the cart before the horse.
posted by en forme de poire at 7:59 PM on January 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


He's speaking at university of Waterloo. I've never heard of it, but his speech is therefore aimed at a bunch of students who, I guess, could easily become well paid lawyers or finance dudes.
posted by Riton at 8:56 PM on January 15


University of Waterloo is generally reputed as a math-and-engineering university, although they offer pretty much everything afaik.
posted by joannemerriam at 8:23 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Waterloo is often associated with RIM, but it's also the location of Google's first and largest development centre in Canada, and there is a whole cluster of other large and successful technology companies that got their start in the area. The university itself has received tremendous resources both in terms of government investments, and from legacies bestowed by Canadian technology companies.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:32 PM on January 15, 2012


Wow... this thread is full of people who have apparently come up a bit short... Maybe if a few more of you had had some more passion you'd be sipping martinis from your private moon fortress instead of reading Metafilter in your parents basement...

Of course, I jest... Larry Smith routinely trolls the relationships questions on ask.metafilter.com offering venture capital by the wheelbarrow full to liberals, artists, grammarians, and the assortment of faithful mefites as long as they DTMFA and get into therapy!
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:56 PM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


His priorities are not my priorities. I am content to live my life the way I see fit, taking care of those I love and valuing the life side of the life:work balance.
posted by arcticseal at 9:53 PM on January 15, 2012


I haven't felt my eyes glaze over that thickly since that time I accidentally listened to Garrison Keillor.
posted by dgaicun at 10:11 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why I failed to have a "great career": I couldn't manage to give a damn about having one.
posted by Decani at 11:02 PM on January 15, 2012


"A snob is anybody who takes a small part of you and uses it to come to a complete vision of who you are. That is snobbery. And the dominant form of snobbery that exists today is job snobbery"

-- Alain de Botton: A kinder, gentler philosophy of success
posted by mrgrimm at 11:02 PM on January 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


Trashing passion's the new fashion.
posted by shivohum at 11:03 PM on January 15, 2012


I've been pondering why this talk bothered me as much as it did. Here's what I came up with:

1) The self-consciously dramatic delivery comes across as forced, and therefore inauthentic. It grates on my nerves.

2) I actually think having a passion for your work is very important. But having a passion for your work is different from being passionate about your career. He seems to miss this distinction.

3) This has been discussed by others, but he's remarkably dismissive of professions as being impossible candidates for passion.

4) Despite being extremely passionate about my work, I have discovered that I care more about my family. And this means that yes, my career trajectory has "suffered," but that I continue to do the work that I am passionate about, albeit less single-mindedly. That the speaker doesn't seem to have any understanding of this perspective annoys me.
5) Unless what? Seriously. That ending riled me up no end.
posted by bardophile at 1:12 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think if you're in one of the "helping professions" such as teacher, doctor, therapist, minister etc., you need to have passion for your job. It's a prerequisite. If you're an entrepreneur or artist being passionate about your work is also essential.

However, having worked in a few large organizations, I cannot understand how anyone can be passionate about their job within a bureaucracy. Sure, work in that environment can be fun and perhaps rewarding, but only for the people in the corner office. For the rest of the worker bees who have to deal with office politics and decisions that make no sense, deciding to be "passionate" about their work is pretty comical.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:24 AM on January 16, 2012


For the rest of the worker bees who have to deal with office politics and decisions that make no sense, deciding to be "passionate" about their work is pretty comical.

Oh absolutely. In my ideal world, the people who do that kind of work (even in my ideal world, that work exists. sigh. I have no imagination) would have things outside of work that they were passionate about. And of course, Smith would dismiss them, as well. Because they wouldn't have great careers...
posted by bardophile at 3:59 AM on January 16, 2012


I think we set-up our society for a lot of angst and disappointment when we start pushing the idea that everyone must be "great" and "passionate" at whatever they do. People, by and large, do what they do because they can, or because it became available, or because it's just the way things worked-out over time. And, they do it to pay their bills and live life as comfortably and quietly as possible.

If, by happenstance, you possess the mental qualities that drive you to be passionate about something, well, good for you. You deserve whatever extras that brings you. The problem comes when institutions begin to expect "passion" in all their workers. It's illogical. But, I suppose, it dovetails nicely with the whole "give 110%" mindset. Ultimately, though, I think it's destructive and only serves to marginalize otherwise competent and, perhaps, exceptional workers, simply because they don't display the requisite, and usually arbitrarily-measured, "passion".
posted by Thorzdad at 6:31 AM on January 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


And I always wonder about speakers like this ... doesn't he have a brother-in-law who manages a CVS, or a nephew who is a college dropout and works for a landscaping company, or a wife whose career never really took off, etc? When these people watch this speech does he not expect them to feel diminished, since he so clearly thinks life is all about having what he defines as a "great career"? How does he deal with that? Does he not care?
posted by jayder at 7:24 AM on January 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I haven't managed to have a great career, but I've had some pretty cool jobs that were challenging, taught me new things every day and allowed me to do other things that I also enjoy. Passion? Not so much; I'll settle for "Happy".
posted by Standeck at 7:39 AM on January 16, 2012


WHO THE FUCK IS THIS STEPHEN J?
posted by falameufilho at 7:43 AM on January 16, 2012


I heard a long time ago that employees in some divisions of Dow could get into serious trouble if they referred to anything constructed of closed-cell polystyrene foam as "styrofoam" unless it was in fact made from Dow brand Styrofoam™. I don't know what that really has to do with anything at this point but I never figured out what my Passion was so, you know, I don't have a whole lot going on.
posted by nanojath at 8:17 AM on January 16, 2012


Falameufilho: he means Steve Jobs.
posted by curuinor at 9:30 AM on January 16, 2012


Frankly, I love what I do and it's provided me with some great experiences, but it still sucks in a wide range of ways. For instance, I'm overseas teaching at one of our partner organisations at the moment, and we had a guest lecture by Mr Brown this evening which was excellent and very well received by our students. (is there an fpp on Mr Brown? If not I might have to make one.) Should be great la?

Tomorrow, I have a skype interview for a job that only exists because my union insisted that the university provide a pathway for post-grads stuck in semester by semester contract teaching roles to have a chance to actually make a career. I was informed of this interview about 12 hours ago, the university has had ~18 months to organise themselves and appoint someone to this role.

Then we have all the fun stuff that comes out of the way the government rewards research output. Basically, the incentive structures that they've put upon universities means that we won't see the kind of research that contemporary humanities research is based upon in my generation of academics - we're all too busy chasing the latest buzz word laden research area to take the time and actually do research in the way that Foucault, or Deluze, or Wittgenstein, or William James, or Merleau-Ponty, or Dewey, or Habermas, or Heideigger did - even though they led to key advancements not only in an academic context, but also informed broader developments in policy development, our understanding and use of technology, and the way the contemporary world works. We're all too busy trying to work out ways to monetise the zeitgeist.

I wouldn't say I have a passion for what I do, conversely, if I don't engage in the kinds of things that are implicit in my profession I rapidly become disillusioned, frustrated, and somewhat worryingly depressed. And I do worry that the powers that be understand and exploit this.

Frankly, I often wish I could have just been a plumber - they earn far more than I do now, and still more than the entry level academic job I'm hoping to land tomorrow.

But I still love what I do, and can't imagine doing anything else. I don't think I'd describe the best case scenario as a 'great career' though.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 9:53 AM on January 16, 2012


WHO THE FUCK IS THIS STEPHEN J?

He used to hang out with this guy. This is what I meant to link earlier but screwed it up.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:02 AM on January 16, 2012



These things always give me the itch. Some guy, who got lucky in that what he likes to do happens to be the hot thing of the moment, does some stuff and feels good about it. thinks he'd discovered the key to...whateverthefuck.

What if the passion you bring is something that's not really valued by most of society? You can have all the passion in the world, and it'll never pay. You might enjoy yourself while working and that's about it.

I like what I do for a living. I also like sleeping until the sun's up, going home on time and having my weekends to recreate, relax and pet my kitties. I'm not interested in an 80 hour work week. I'm not interested in traveling from one Sheraton to another because I've done that and after a while everything looks the same in this nation's airports and chain hotels.

I work hard enough, and make enough to live the life I want to live. And that's about it. My big fantasy in life? Getting enough money so my friends and I can build a group of houses, or live in the same neighborhood so we can all hang out together. That's rather small potatoes if you think about it.

Actually, I believe that I'm blessed to be one of the people on the earth that is happy with what I've got right now.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:09 PM on January 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wow, the video really brought up a lot of feelings for a lot of people. It was interesting to read the responses. Although, I think it was unfortunate that so many people inferred extraneous judgments from the video when Larry Smith's goal seemed rather to be to incite young people to honestly fight for their careers.

I also think it's possible to tell younger people to take responsibility for their successes and failures without it being an appraisal of older people based on their successes and failures.

I did like mrgrimm's linked video quite a bit.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 2:47 PM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


...Larry Smith's goal seemed rather to be to incite young people to honestly fight for their careers.

This is definitely a big focus in his classes. He teaches introductory economics at Waterloo, and his sections are probably the most popular electives for computer science and engineering students. Waterloo has produced a lot of tech companies in the last couple of decades, and Larry Smith may well have been an important influence for some of them.
posted by parudox at 3:48 PM on January 16, 2012


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