Don't Follow Your Bliss... Follow your Calculated Passion

When I was about to graduate from college, my friend Elliot - a comp sci major - was trying to decide what job to accept. He had two offers.

“I have to make an important career decision,” Elliot told me, as we met up at a bar to catch up.

“Tell me your options,” I said.

Option 1 was a software firm in Elliot’s hometown of Cleveland. It was a safe bet with lots of perceived stability, promotion opportunities, and he would live near his friends and family (and LeBron James.)

Option 2 was a start-up in San Francisco with a lower base salary and lots of uncertainty. Also, Elliot would have to figure out a way to scrape together some cash to get himself out to San Fran.

I could tell Elliot wanted to go to California.

“What’s the worst that can happen?” I asked.

“This crazy start-up goes under in a year, and I come back to Ohio and get a software job. I eat ramen noodles until have enough money to buy dinner.”

That didn’t sound terrible. He’d basically be back in the same position he was today.

“Go for it,” I said. “Now what’s this start-up called?”

“Salesforce,” he told me.

(Things worked out just fine for Elliot.)

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This story highlights an important distinction between pursuing your bliss and pursuing a calculated passion. Elliot wasn’t deciding between a career in software development or to join Osho’s new ashram in India. (SPOILER if you haven’t seen Wild Wild Country - it doesn’t end well…) He had to decide whether to take a big risk with a potentially big reward, or stay safe. The downside of Option 2 wasn’t that bad, so he went for it, and reaped a pretty sweet reward.

I read a lot of articles nowadays that advise to ‘follow your bliss'. If I were to follow my bliss, I’d be eating 12 baklava for breakfast somewhere on a beach in Turkey with at least eight stray dogs. Your ‘bliss’ shouldn’t be your career North Star.

Instead, I urge you to follow your calculated passion. This means having a career plan, carefully analyzing the risks and rewards of job options and career paths, and making a decision knowing both the best and worst possible outcomes.

I don’t mean to say that you can’t have ‘crazy’ ideas. If your real dream is to open a juice bar in Mexico because you’re completely burnt out on tech, go for it, but only when you’ve looked at the financial forecasts for the worst possible outcome.

An idea without a plan is just a wish. That’s the difference between bliss and calculated passion.