Loving What You Do Versus Doing What You Love

A lot has been made in recent years about “doing what you love.” I attended dozens of talks by well-known entrepreneurs and business executives when I was in grad school at MIT from 2004–2006. Being passionate about your business was the most common tidbit I heard.

It seemed intuitive to me. If I could start a company around something I was passionate about, I knew from experience, I would put in whatever time was necessary to get the job done. The big drawback that no one talked about is how many of your passions are also great business ideas? It’s hard to turn a passion into a startup in many cases.

By definition you aren’t passionate about many things. In the mid-2000s, before I started my first company, I made a list of what really enjoyed doing: web programming, data analysis, and watching/talking/writing about UNC basketball. That was it. Pretty boring I know, but it ultimately led me to start StatSheet.com, a website dedicated to presenting sports data in interesting ways. I loved working on it. I’d work on StatSheet during any spare moment. It was kind of like a hobby I really enjoyed, but it was also my job.

Eventually we changed directions with the company. We started building a platform to automate sports writing using data. That led to us completely change our business model and today the company is called Automated Insights. It resembles nothing from the passion-based idea I started with. The odd thing is, I still love working at Automated Insights. I’m having just as much fun as I did back in 2007.

That led me to a realization that loving what you do and doing what you love are different things, but serve the same purpose. I never understood before how someone working on relatively uninteresting products could really love what they are doing. I assumed they were settling. But it’s not that you have to be passionate about the products (although you could), you might love the environment or the process that produces the products.

Jason Fried recently wrote Do you have to love what you do? When I hear that line of thinking, it sounds like sour grapes. It’s similar to when you hear someone talk about never finding a true love. They become skeptical of people that claim they have found someone they’re madly in love with. It’s the same way with work. A lot of people think it is crazy that I love to work.

Those that don’t really love their work find ways to minimize it. “Work Less” is a popular mantra for this crowd. Four day work weeks have become fashionable. They work to live, not live to work. There is nothing wrong with that, but having seen the other side I’d rather have work I can’t live without.

One of my favorite books is On Writing by Stephen King. He writes about a similar work ethic: “I write 365 days including Christmas, workaholic dweeb or not.” He said he feels the most unease during the moments when he isn’t working on a book at all. That’s what I’m talking about here. When I’m actively working on something, the feeling drags me out of bed early every morning and makes me stay up late. During lulls, I’m uncomfortable, fidgety, not content.

For me, it’s hard to sit around and do nothing. I’d much rather work (and I’m not referring to checking email or sending text messages.) I still spend lots of time with my family and do non-work related things, but the nooks and crannies of my day are filled with work, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.