You can’t skip straight into a great mission without first building mastery in your field.
For a mission-driven project to succeed, it should be remarkable in two different ways. First, it must compel people who encounter it to remark about it to others. Second, it must be launched in a venue that supports such remarking.
The important thing about little bets is that they’re bite-sized. You try one. It takes a few months at most. It either succeeds or fails, but either way you get important feedback to guide your next steps.
Advancing to the cutting edge in a field is an act of “small” thinking, requiring you to focus on a narrow collection of subjects for a potentially long time. Once you get to the cutting edge, however, and discover a mission in the adjacent possible, you must go after it with zeal: a “big” action.
If you want to identify a mission for your working life, therefore, you must first get to the cutting edge—the only place where these missions become visible.
The next big ideas in any field are found right beyond the current cutting edge, in the adjacent space that contains the possible new combinations of existing ideas.
This is the irony of control. When no one cares what you do with your working life, you probably don’t have enough career capital to do anything interesting.
Giving people more control over what they do and how they do it increases their happiness, engagement, and sense of fulfillment.
This is what you should experience in your own pursuit of “good.” If you’re not uncomfortable, then you’re probably stuck at an “acceptable level.”
It is a lifetime accumulation of deliberate practice that again and again ends up explaining excellence.
The traits that define great work require that you have something rare and valuable to offer in return—skills I call career capital. The craftsman mindset, with its relentless focus on what you produce, is exactly the mindset you would adopt if your goal was to acquire as much career capital as possible.
THE CAREER CAPITAL THEORY OF GREAT WORK The traits that define great work are rare and valuable. Supply and demand says that if you want these traits you need rare and valuable skills to offer in return. Think of these rare and valuable skills you can offer as your career capital. The craftsman mindset, with its relentless focus on becoming “so good they can’t ignore you,” is a strategy well suited for acquiring career capital. This is why it trumps the passion mindset if your goal is to create work you love.
When you focus only on what your work offers you, it makes you hyper-aware of what you don’t like about it, leading to chronic unhappiness.
Whereas the craftsman mindset focuses on what you can offer the world, the passion mindset focuses instead on what the world can offer you.
Irrespective of what type of work you do, the craftsman mindset is crucial for building a career you love.
In Wrzesniewski’s research, the happiest, most passionate employees are not those who followed their passion into a position, but instead those who have been around long enough to become good at what they do.
A job, in Wrzesniewski’s formulation, is a way to pay the bills, a career is a path toward increasingly better work, and a calling is work that’s an important part of your life and a vital part of your identity.
The things that make a great job great, I discovered, are rare and valuable. If you want them in your working life, you need something rare and valuable to offer in return. In other words, you need to be good at something before you can expect a good job.
When it comes to creating work you love, following your passion is not particularly useful advice.