Barbara Sher on how to find and do what you love
October 27, 2011 8:11 AM   Subscribe

Inspired by Steve Jobs' admonition to find what you love to do and not to settle? Barbara Sher has been teaching people the importance of finding and doing what they love, even when it might be multiple things--all without saccharine positive thinking--for decades, starting with her bestselling book (now free online) Wishcraft. (Youtube channel, Discussion forums)
posted by shivohum (21 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
I own both Wishcraft and I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was. I initially borrowed the latter from my therapist after she recommended it to me during a particularly stereotypical bout of freaking out about not knowing what I wanted to do with my life, and loved it so much I went out and ordered both of Sher's books right away.

"I Could Do Anything" in particular is really down-to-earth for a self-help book, and the thing I personally really liked about it was that Sher provided a bunch of interesting exercises for exploring your own personality, instead of trying to tell you categorically what was good and bad. The exercises came in a variety of diferent formats--written, conversational, meditation--and I found that they tended to approach things more laterally, which I liked. Instead of asking, for example, "why did you choose to be an accountant instead of a writer", the exercises might involve employing the socratic method to gradually dig deeper into your underlying attitude towards X, and find out maybe where that came from.

I'm not really doing the books justice because I'm trying to stop myeslf from gushing. Some people aren't particularly interested in navel-gazing and figuring out where their problems came from, but if you're the introspective type, I'd highly recommend her writing.
posted by Phire at 8:31 AM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

You mean I can lie about drinking beer and playing video games without fear of reproach now?

posted by GallonOfAlan at 8:32 AM on October 27, 2011

This post reminds me, for some reason, of how much weight I lost with this 1 weird old trick...
posted by Stoatfarm at 8:35 AM on October 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

I love doing too many things, so am passably good at lots of stuff and really excel at almost none of it. I've come to terms with this, as there's no single thing I do (music, caving, printing, photography) that I'd give up to have more time for the others. I'm extremely lucky that my job has a creative component, and that I get paid to do something I love doing. I don't love printing most of all, but at times, it's very gratifying and I've come to accept that I'd never actually feed myself with the other things. That's okay. I hope everyone enjoys their shirts.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:36 AM on October 27, 2011

I did what I loved. I ended-up loathing it.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:41 AM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thorzdad : did you actually loathe it, or the situations (the gatekeepers, perhaps) that arose from pursuing a career in it?
posted by The River Ivel at 8:48 AM on October 27, 2011

"...we're bad in so many goddamn ways it's hopeless..."

Beautiful context. Spot on target.

Love it! Awesome stuff, thanks for the post!
posted by emmet at 8:57 AM on October 27, 2011

The Barbara Sher stuff I've read (I Could Do Anything... and Refuse to Choose) was useful to me, but mainly in offering techniques to deal with attention problems.
posted by drezdn at 9:08 AM on October 27, 2011

I offer my students this advice: do what you can't imagine not doing.
posted by oddman at 9:14 AM on October 27, 2011

"Bad career advice: Do what you love."

I think what makes Sher's stuff so good is that it rejects the utterly silly dichotomy between doing what you love and doing what you need to do to earn money. (See also "I work to live, I don't live to work" and the whole absurd concept of "work/life balance".) She's totally on board with the idea that your specific way of doing what you love might be to find a job that you're not that excited about but that allows you the time and mental energy to pursue unpaid activities that make your life worth living. I take her two crucial points to be a) you still have to start with the question "what makes you happy?", however you choose to answer it, and b) the answer need not be unitary, ie., that there's one thing above all from which you derive your life's meaning.

For me, above all, she's a constant reminder not to fall prey to the very strong cultural message that being a specialist is necessarily more fulfilling (or economically secure) than being a generalist.
posted by oliverburkeman at 9:17 AM on October 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'm fine with "Doing what you don't hate too much".
posted by octothorpe at 9:21 AM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

I love doing too many things, so am passably good at lots of stuff and really excel at almost none of it.

Barbara Sher would call you a Scanner.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:44 AM on October 27, 2011

Nah, too much negativity attached to that. I'm actually a modern-day Renaissance Man.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:50 AM on October 27, 2011

Lawrence: Well what about you now? what would you do?
Peter Gibbons: Besides two chicks at the same time?
Lawrence: Well yeah.
Peter Gibbons: Nothing.
Lawrence: Nothing, huh?
Peter Gibbons: I'd relax, I would sit on my ass all day, I would do nothing.
Lawrence: Well you don't need a million dollars to do nothing, man. Just take a look at my cousin, he's broke, don't do shit.

(Fuckin' A)
posted by dirigibleman at 10:42 AM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Well you don't need a million dollars to do nothing, man.

It's called Disability. It's not a bad lifestyle once you learn how to include spending money in the 'nothing' you're doing.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:12 AM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I love what I do for a living.
Now to find where to do it where assholes don't make me cry at 8:30 am because they're email is just riddled with "you're incompetent/never do anything right."

Sorry we agree on 9 pm launch. 9 pm I log in to test.

It's a website people. It's not like we have a patient on a gurny in a life or death matter. Keep the attitude, rush, stress to yourself. A border around the image isn't the end of the world.
posted by stormpooper at 12:14 PM on October 27, 2011

As a kid I loved cooking with my mom. When I said I wanted to grow up to be a chef, she said, "Don't do what you love for a living because you will grow tired of it, and it will become work." She meant to avoid turning what I love into drudgery, and I appreciate that. Now I do .edu IT work and I cook at home, and food is still a joy to me. (We exchanged emails the night before last about a Giuliano Bugialli recipe I was trying to recreate and adapt. She write that she was glad I was still cooking!)
posted by wenestvedt at 12:46 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I love this author. I have this problem. I just wish there was a job where I could do a lot of what I love and switch back and forth between projects. I vaguely debated doing an Ask Mefi about it today before figuring I might as well be asking where I can find unicorns to play with.

I have actually thought of an awesome concept-- kind of a cross between a think tank and "Pimp My Ride" in which a bunch of crafty consultants try to figure out random problems-- but who would hire us?
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:07 PM on October 27, 2011

I read a Hunter S. Thompson quote years ago: "I've always considered writing the most hateful kind of work. I suspect it's a bit like fucking, which is only fun for amateurs. Old whores don't do much giggling."

I've reframed the idea in my mind as "Be careful what you do for money." Doing it for money means there's an obligation and you end up having to do it when you don't want to.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:51 AM on October 28, 2011

"The Irish don't know what they want and are prepared to fight to the death to get it." — Sidney Littlewood (1895-1967)

In today's information-driven culture where we remain in constant contact with others and stay within the grasp of work 7/24/365, sometimes you have to fight for the right to do nothing at all. From The Benefits of Doing Nothing:
Nothing means nothing. Nothing means having no agenda, no goal to achieve, nothing that engages your mind in any way. Nothing means that your mind is allowed to be free to wander.
"Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits." — Satchel Paige (1906-1982).
posted by cenoxo at 5:59 AM on October 29, 2011

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