Absolutes and contradictions
There’s been quite a bit of commentary regarding a recent Stanford study that proclaims "following your passion" is lousy advice. It reminded me of a premise for a blog post I was considering a few years ago after mentoring a number of entrepreneurs looking to launch their next great idea:
“Don’t let passion overshadow common sense.”
This sounds like reasonable advice, which is why I wrote it down on a note card that perches above my workspace along with dozens of other thoughts and ideas. Here are a few others I’ve jotted down:
Reputation is your ROI.
Be generous with your time.
The empty narcissism of awards shows. (credit to Jeff Goodby for this idea)
There is a level of absolutism in all of these, a stated right way and an implied wrong way. As a writer and strategist, I can defend these premises. When I do, I’ll likely hold onto them as some form of truth, something close to absolute. I find that worrisome.
I’m careful to write about these things – and numerous others – even when I believe the premise is good (can we agree that being generous with your time might be a good thing?). My journalistic background tells me to be objective, recognize that there are two sides to every story and the truth is somewhere in between.
Instead, like those poetry refrigerator magnets, I flip premises and rearrange the thoughts to reveal something different:
Don’t let your passion, your common sense or your ROI overshadow your generosity.
Reputation can be narcissistic.
Generosity is your awards show.
I find there's as much truth in these ideas, too, even though it’s not where my mind initially went.
What if passion is allowed to overshadow common sense? Not indefinitely, but briefly and occasionally? What if that seemingly absurd risk (lack of common sense) results in something spectacular? Then what?
We’re not inherently wrong to acknowledge things we've long held as truths. Attempting to contradict them also can do us well. It’s where growth and possibility and wonder make their cameos outside of the well-intended plan.
Recently Jeremy and I interviewed Jeff Frane for the Joy Venture podcast. Jeff’s love has always been bicycles – with a dream to design the kind of bikes he and his friends would love to ride. It’s a dream at age 6 that sounds quaint, something that parents would say – go for it! But in your mid-20s with an unrelated college degree and its requisite debt, being broke, living out of a van, and working a warehouse job at a bicycle parts shop, common sense says something entirely different: Abandon your passion. Grow up. Get a real job.
Jeff said something that contradicted that wisdom when we asked what his parents and family thought of his career trajectory. It went like this:
“The truth is I had a job. I was working and contributing to society. That’s all that really mattered to them – and to me.”
We do a lot of projecting of our absolutes on others in an effort to be right. When their contraction of our absolute view proves us wrong, too often we try to explain away the so-called anomaly instead of being inspired.
Absolutes lean toward conformity with unquestionably neat and tidy answers. For the would-be entrepreneur, nothing kills a joy venture faster than immovable absolutes.
On the other hand contradictions are somewhat rebellious; messy with peaks and valleys. People who are actively discovering, developing and desiring to spread their joy know their venture is going to require them to improvise and go with their gut at some point. There’s no clear roadmap. They know it’s not about the plan, it’s about the pursuit.
Test your absolutes. Be open to asking “But what if...?” once in a while. Contrary to conventional wisdom, you might be absolutely surprised what comes of it.
Above image: Micah Lexier: Here, Not Here (Red, Detail), 2017 // Courtesy Birch Contemporary // Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid