Study Hacks Blog Decoding Patterns of Success

Louis C. K. on Career Capital

April 24th, 2013 · 19 comments

The Power of Diligence

The comedian Louis C. K. lives a remarkable life. How did he make that happen? Here’s an interesting quote from a recent New York Times interview:

There’s people that say: “It’s not fair. You have all that stuff.” I wasn’t born with it. It was a horrible process to get to this. It took me my whole life. If you’re new at this — and by “new at it,” I mean 15 years in, or even 20 — you’re just starting to get traction. Young musicians believe they should be able to throw a band together and be famous, and anything that’s in their way is unfair and evil. What are you, in your 20s, you picked up a guitar? Give it a minute.

Notice his use of the phrase “horrible process” in describing his rise. This is exactly what is wrong with telling people: “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life” — you’re providing them a flawed description of reality.

Careers you love require a lot of work. Sometimes even “horrible” work.

You can’t escape the necessity of career capital

(Hat tip: 99u)

19 thoughts on “Louis C. K. on Career Capital

  1. Alexander says:

    I have never liked the quote “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life” but I couldn’t put the finger on why I didn’t like it. Your post was helpful.

  2. Al King says:

    I suspect the source of ‘do what you love’ advice is the experience that, when you have a goal you’re willing to work for, you can accept and even enjoy the ‘painful’ work. People can misinterpret this, and then, when they come against those barriers, think “I don’t love this bit!”, but that’s probably the kernel of the cliché.

    In my own experience, generally managing my anxiety better – basically, by recognising critical & defeatist thoughts as occasionally useful but ignorable – has allowed me to work harder at all sorts of things, from distance running to reading maths papers.

  3. Louis C.K. is a very profound man. One of my favorite quotes happen to be by him.

    “I’m bored’ is a useless thing to say. I mean, you live in a great, big, vast world that you’ve seen none percent of. Even the inside of your own mind is endless; it goes on forever, inwardly, do you understand? The fact that you’re alive is amazing, so you don’t get to say ‘I’m bored.” -Louis C.K.

  4. Jayant says:

    I once read this Quotations.. “it is not like when you are pursing something you love, it is a bed of roses-it is hard, hard work”. and now this just supported it more.. but the main problem is to know what we really want. like what kind of career we want. at what we are really good at.

  5. Ryan says:

    Cal,

    So are you a proponent of never switching crafts, even after a 20 or 30 year career? I ask because there are two modes of thought, especially in my line of work (military): retire and start a “new” career, or just keeping doing the same thing. Of course I’m making the assumption that one will never choose to stop working at all, but I believe it’s still worth asking. Thanks

    Ryan

  6. Study Hacks says:
    People can misinterpret this, and then, when they come against those barriers, think “I don’t love this bit!”, but that’s probably the kernel of the cliché.

    I agree. A lot of the problems people have with career advice is that the original idea has long since been lost, and people hear what they want to hear. The same, for example, holds with “follow your passion.” A lot of serious people give this advice but actually mean something pretty close to career capital theory. When people hear the advice, however, they think “there’s a perfect job waiting for me if I can only figure out what I’m meant to do…”

    So are you a proponent of never switching crafts, even after a 20 or 30 year career?

    No. Steve Martin, for example, wrote books and plays banjo pretty well. So he did more than one thing. But his total number of things was quite small, and he put in quite a bit of time into everything he decided to tackle.

    Ditto for me and writing + academia. I do two things. But I’ve been doing them both for over a decade. And, essentially, nothing else (professionally).

  7. istvan says:

    There’s people that say: “It’s not fair. You have all that stuff.” I wasn’t born with it. It was a horrible process to get to this.

    The problem with this is the self-serving bias behind it. The New York Times does not interview all the people who are not successful, but put the hours in, who also went through the “horrible process” but in one way or another were not that lucky. Don’t get me wrong: you have to put in the hours to be successful, but it is a necessary and not sufficient condition.

    On the other hand putting in the hours should not necessarily be horrible. I like Louis CK but i don’t really want to switch life with him. The problem is with the definitions of “success” and “remarkable”. Ultimately what matters is, what kind of person do you want to be, not how “successful” or “remarkable”. But that is just my personal opinion…

  8. Sid says:

    Louis CK talks about his attitude of deliberate practice at this moment in this interview .
    Seinfeld replies: “You see, this is how he got good.”

  9. Jakub says:

    Very true; working in the web, film and games industries before, there is a running joke of the “idea guy”, the one who wants to be on the team with his wonderful “ideas” for plots or designs, telling everyone else what to do, but never really contributing anything tangible to the project. They may be “following their passion” but without putting in “the work” they simply aren’t accomplishing anything.

    Sure you may be enjoying what you do, but there’s always a multitude of tasks that need to be done to enable you to do what you want to do, or not-so-fun problems that will arise along the way. It would be great if we could all just do what we love and live in a happy-work-utopia, bit realistically, we all need to do a bit of grind-work every now and then.

    This makes it sound a bit gloomy, but really, once you accept it as a fact of life, it really isn’t that bad. And frankly, after doing the “horrible process”, reaping the benefits feels so so so much more rewarding!

  10. Molly says:

    So if you shouldn’t choose a career you’re passionate about, and you shouldn’t do what you’re good at, what should the basis for choosing a career be?

  11. Cal,

    I agree with Louis C.K. I am a young entrepreneur involved in two online start ups, and I spend most of my day doing things I don’t want to do. However, I feel that the reward of watching something grow and have success is worth every second of “horrible” work. My newest project can be found at our pre-launch blog http://www.adanote.com.

  12. Sara says:

    OMG, the site you mentioned under your article is awesome! Thank you very much.

  13. Christine Ghattas says:

    Yes, yes. This sums the truth up nicely: “Careers you love require a lot of work. Sometimes even “horrible” work.” I am forever telling my students that.

  14. Vinod says:

    My son chuckled when he saw a book recently published by E. O. Wilson titled Letters to a young scientist. The first chapter is titled Passion first then training. He chuckled because that is exactly what he did not do. He has just been accepted into a Masters in Applied Social Science degree course and he has only recently begun to talk about passion after all the hard work.

  15. just a reader says:

    Cal I have downloaded your entire (unique , awesome )blog archive in the fear I might miss something ( have the books , but not read yet )
    Is the book the same as the blog ? Might I miss something if I read only the books ?
    Thanks ,I appreciate your work really much.

  16. rick says:

    Explain Lena Dunham.

  17. Nwokedi says:

    There is, research to support the importance of “grit”: http://www.sas.upenn.edu/~duckwort/

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