Loving what you do.

I spend quite some time these days coaching friends, former colleagues or fellow entrepreneurs about “what should I do next“. There are some interesting parallels in these discussions. Strikingly, the self-imposed limitations of what people feel they can do constrain people’s choices in an amazing way. And this is true for any income group. Despite the fact that single mom with a low wage job has fewer choices than the millionaire several times over.

I found over time that many people can not simply tell you what they love best. But when you ask people why they are unhappy in their job, it is rarely because they don’t love what they do, but  more often because they feel they can not do things the way they want, or because the someone as a boss who does not value them and their achievements.

In this context, stumbling upon this very inspirational blog post from Cal Newport, author of a study guide, (thanks, Dave Ambrose for the link) has structured my thinking on career achievement amazingly.

Newport quotes work from Edward Deci who found that

“To be happy, your work must fulfill three universal psychological needs: autonomy,competence, and relatedness.

  • Autonomy refers to control over how you fill your time. As Deci puts it, if you have a high degree of autonomy, then “you endorse [your] actions at the highest level of reflection.”
  • Competence refers to mastering unambiguously useful things. As the psychologist Robert White opines, in the wonderfully formal speak of the 1950s academic, humans have a “propensity to have an effect on the environment as well as to attain valued outcomes within it.”
  • Relatedness refers to a feeling of connection to others. As Deci pithily summarizes: “to love and care, and to be loved and cared for.”

So for students, Newport argues that they should find something the really like and then become excellent at it. This will nearly always enable people to find a work environment where they can achieve a great sense of autonomy, competence and relatedness. Newport:

Your love of a subject will grow with your level of competence and autonomy

This also explains why many CEOs are unhappy in their jobs. Even if they are competent, the often suffer from a lack of autonomy. And if you encounter an entrepreneur who is unhappy, you can check with him whether his level of autonomy is where it should be.



  1. hi there, writing from spain. briefly, are you up to get questioned by new entrepeneurs?? if so, please let me know how come. i´m trying to start up a project and lack so many things, data i mean!!
    thanks, and of course congratulations, just outstanding!!


  2. Hi Jesus,
    I have a lot of great discussions with entrepreneurs because I scout some talent for new startups for my own incubator-like outfit, Upspring. I also tend to have a great exchange with successful serial entrepreneurs via entrepreneur organsation (EO).
    So far, I have not a structured process for this, but I like to respond to a onepager describing what you want to do and where you are at the moment.

  3. “Newport argues that they should find something the really like and then become excellent at it”

    This is the problematic phrase. It has to be in question, if you can get really good in on thing by only loving it. There is no guarantee for that. Bad cooks, bad painters are never getting better by loving their job. The problem is by first loving a thing and never getting really good in it, you will fail stronger then ever, because you lost your excuse that you did something you must do…

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