“Choose Your Major In College As If You Were Going To Die The Day After Graduation”


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The ‘do what you love’ lore in entrepreneurship is one of the most-often-misunderstood and most-often repeated mottos.There’s truth in the core idea. The business you build should reflect your strengths and weaknesses, and yes, what you like to do. But life isn’t that simple.

Obviously, when you set out to build a business, just doing what you love isn’t enough. It has to be something people want or need. It has to be something people will pay for. I love skiing and hiking and playing the guitar, but I couldn’t make money on any one of them. People will never pay me to ski or hike or play guitar.

On the other hand, you don’t just pick from a menu of hot new business ideas. You look at a mirror and consider who you are, what you like to do, and what you’re good at, not to mention what resources you have. All of that matters a great deal.

I always liked the advice of a professor at Notre Dame who suggested you should choose your major in college as if you were going to die the day after graduation. The idea is that what you like to study is the best way to choose which path you’re going to take later on. It reflects your nature, and, we hope, what you’re good at.

Last week Penelope Trunk posted worst career advice: do what you love on BNET. I hate that title because it oversimplifies the truth. But she ends up making sense, at least it does if you don’t take her title literally. It’s not really bad advice in the sense it’s normally meant.

First, she redefines ‘doing what you love’ in career terms as doing whatever you love most, something you’d do even if you didn’t get paid. That is not the real point. It’s taking the idea to an extreme:

So you will say, “But look. Now you are getting paid to do what you love. You are so lucky.” But it’s not true. I mean, there are things I enjoy more, and I discover new things I love all the time.

I like where she ends up, though:

Here’s some practical advice: Do not what you love; do what you are.

Which takes us back to the real truth. If you’re going to start your own business, it’s going to be work, there are going to be hard times, and you’re going to have to do a lot of grunt work. It helps if you’re in an activity or business area you like. And you’re doing something related to your strengths and weaknesses.

Most of the time, you like the things you’re better at. And, no matter what you do, it won’t always be fun.

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