This 1 Question Can Reveal Your Ideal Career

January 20, 2015

6:30 pm

What seems like work to other people, but not to you?

Y Combinator’s Paul Graham, ever skilled at pointing out simple but profound truths, has a question for people who don’t know what career to pursue: “What Doesn’t Seem Like Work?

He gives the example of his father, who enjoyed solving math problems in textbooks (before learning the material), who went on to model nuclear reactors. As for Graham, he enjoyed writing essays for his friends in college (presumably without compensation) and, of course, is still writing essays today.

If something that seems like work to other people doesn’t seem like work to you, that’s something you’re well suited for. For example, a lot of programmers I know, including me, actually like debugging. It’s not something people tend to volunteer; one likes it the way one likes popping zits. But you may have to like debugging to like programming, considering the degree to which programming consists of it,” Paul Graham writes.

I imagine this question is also part of the puzzle for entrepreneurs trying to figure out what kind of startup to work on. Of course, it’s not the whole story – you need a competitive advantage, something you’re uniquely good at. But if you’re going to be putting in 12-hour days, it’s a good idea to consider things that don’t feel like work to you. Who wants to “work” for 12 hours a day, anyway?

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact [email protected]

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