Do What You Want; Never Retire; Die Broke

This is my professional philosophy.

Each of these platitudes separated by a semicolon merits its own book. But I’ll just provide a quick synopsis here.

Do What You Want

The philosophy of “doing what you want” requires some strategic thinking. This is not simply a matter of finding your passion. Every year, the United States produces more theater majors than computer science majors, which is, of course, foolish.

The ideal scenario is to find an overlapping area in the Venn Diagrams of what you like to do, what you do very well, and what other people are willing to pay for. The better you get at what you do, the more people are willing to pay for it, and the more flexibility and autonomy you’re likely to have in your career. This is a virtuous cycle.

If you have no skills that anyone is willing to pay for, then you may have to spend a lot of time working to pay for your rice and beans, and you have little time to do what you want. This is a vicious cycle.

(For a good summary of why “finding your passion” is not the end-game of your professional development, I recommend reading So Good They Can’t Ignore You, by Cal Newport)

Never Retire

What you do matters more than what you have or what you get. What you do is who you are.

Find the sweet spot where people are willing to pay you for what you do well as early in your career as possible. Then nudge the boundaries of that sweet spot further and further in the direction of what you like to do.

If you can pull this off, where you’re good at what you do, and you like it, and people are paying you, then why would you stop?

This isn’t me advocating for working yourself to death. Live and live will. Build rest and mini-sabbaticals into your days and into your career as often as you can. But don’t ever stop working or growing or developing. That’s death.

I’m not a fan of Warren Buffett in every sense, but I do very much admire that he continues to work as much as ever, at age 85 (along with his partner, Charlie Munger, who remains as active as ever at age 92) even though there are only a handful of people on earth who need money less than he does. Of course, they are exceptionally gifted people, but I think the traits that make them so successful are among the same traits that allow them to be so productive at such an advanced age.

Find challenges that stimulate you and where you feel engaged and appreciated. And never stop.

Work as if you don’t need the money (but never forget that someone has to pay for your rice and beans).

The conventional wisdom is that we should do as much crap as possible between the ages of 22-65, and then stop and try to live off our savings. This is garbage.

We should try to get better at what we do as long as we’re breathing. And then, as we get good at what we’re doing and people are paying us for it, to narrow the gap between work and play.

Die Broke

“Die broke” might be an oversimplification of my philosophy. A better articulation of my philosophy might be: Live and die with utter indifference to how much money you have in the bank. In this, I think that Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger are great role models.

Buffett and Munger live with utter indifference to the amount of money they have in the bank.

As a guiding principle, life shrinks and life expands in direct proportion to your willingness to assume risk. . . . The right time is always right now.

– Casey Neistat

(The good part starts around the 3-minute 40-second mark)

Those who believe that they first must seek out great wealth before they can pursue life’s greatest opportunities will rarely obtain wealth or great opportunities.

There was a long period where I figured I had to make a lot of money doing crap I was lukewarm about doing so that I could retire and then do the stuff that I really wanted to do.

But I now realize that you just have to go and do what you think is important now. That’s true if you’re wealthy or poor.

You can stockpile money, but you cannot stockpile time. And the longer you delay doing what you want because of a financial or personal obstacle, the less likely it is that it will ever happen.

The right time is always right now.