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The Courage Crutch: A Remarkable Life Requires You to Overcome Mediocrity, Not Fear


The Cult of Courage

The rhetoric surrounding career advice is saturated with calls for “courage.” Here are a few representative quotes I grabbed at random from the web:

  • “[S]ensational and successful entrepreneurs…had the courage to pursue what makes their heart sing.”
  • “As we move out of our comfort zones towards either accomplishing new things or approaching new levels of greatness, it’s normal to lack courage…”
  • “A great deal of talent is lost to the world for want of a little courage.”
  • “In our day-to-day lives, the virtue of courage doesn’t receive much attention…Instead of setting your own goals, making plans to achieve them, and going after them with gusto, you play it safe. Keep working at the stable job, even though it doesn’t fulfill you.”

The storyline told by such quotes is simple: You know what career decisions would leave you happy and fulfilled, but “society” and “your family” are fearful, dull, stupid, and devoid of useful wisdom, and will therefore try to scare you out of following this good path. You must, therefore, build the courage to overcome their fear-mongering so you can live happily ever after.

The influence of this narrative, and the broader courage culture (as I named it in SO GOOD) that supports it, provides me a ceaseless source of annoyance. Given that it’s graduation season, and the topic of career happiness is therefore relevant, I thought I’d offer a few thoughts about why this trope irks me so much, and why you should treat it with caution.

Three Problems with the Courage Culture

Here are my main issues with the ideas promoted by the courage culture…

First, it’s narcissistic. The courage culture sets up a narrative where you are the noble warrior resisting overwhelming efforts to coerce you into conformity. It supports an almost conspiratorial worldview where unnamed forces are massed against your efforts to do something great.

The reality, of course, is that you’re not Frodo, and there’s no occupational Sauron to evade. No one cares what you do for a living. They care only about what tangible value you offer the world.

Second, remarkable accomplishments are hard, not scary. Almost without exception, building a remarkable career requires that you become remarkably good at something valuable. This requires time and is hard. But it’s not particularly scary. By the time most people are skilled enough to do something remarkable, the decision can seem more obvious than fear-inducing.

Consider, for example, the founding of Apple Computer. Steve Jobs took the plunge into starting the company because Paul Terrell placed a six-digit order for Wozniak’s remarkable Apple 1. When someone offers you hundreds of thousands of dollars for a product you designed in your spare time, you don’t need courage to start a company, you need, instead, the will to bust your ass (which is exactly what Jobs did).

Stephen King provides another good example. He wrote in his spare time since he was a boy. He didn’t quite his job to write full time, however, until after he sold the paperback rights to Carrie for $400,000. To quit a job that was paying him one-twentieth of that amount was an act of reasonable accounting, not courage.

Third, it’s insulting to people who know more than you about life. The idea that society, and, more specifically, your parents and community, are steering you toward unhappiness because of their stupidity and irrational fear of uncertainty, discounts the fact that their advice is drawn from many years of experience. They’ve lived longer than you. They’ve been through different careers. They’ve watched friends try different things. (If you’re an echo-boomer, they’ve probably watched friends try wild, outlandish things.) They have, in other words, many hard won data points to pull from when they offer their thoughts.

It’s possible, in other words, that your parents are discouraging you from quitting your job to start a blog business because it’s a bad idea — not because they’re myopic and meek.

Bottom Line

The courage culture paints a tempting picture of how people end up with remarkable lives. It tells a story where you’re the main character, fighting evil forces, and ultimately triumphing after a brief but intense battle.

The reality is decidedly less exciting. Remarkable careers require that you become remarkably good. This takes time. But not necessarily a string of defiant rejections of some mysterious status quo.

(The brevity of the courage culture’s recommendations are a big part of their appeal. It takes a few weeks of courage to quit your stable job to pursue something bold. Building a real skill, by contrast, takes a long time and is much less fun. We shouldn’t be surprised that people prefer the abridged version of this particular story.)

For most people who aspire to a passionate working life, in other words, the key is not overcoming fear, but instead overcoming mediocrity.

(Photo by Kevin Krebs)

49 thoughts on “The Courage Crutch: A Remarkable Life Requires You to Overcome Mediocrity, Not Fear”

  1. This is a refreshing take on the idea of success, Cal. Reality is rarely as romantic as you see it portrayed to be and you’re right. We’re not superheroes with all these things trying to bring us down. It takes far more than courage and I think that’s the missing ingredient when people think of the ones who “made it.”

    For example, a lot of people say that I’m courageous for doing what I want to do and that’s why I’m “successful.” Not only that, but they fail to realize they’ve actually taken a few of the same steps I started out with as well. It’s not because I was less afraid than them, but it’s because I didn’t settle for mediocrity. I settled for no less than perfect because I did bust my ass off. It takes courage but it also takes skill.

  2. Well Cal, it’s not exactly insulting to people who know more than you about life – but you might find them quietly smiling from time to time.

  3. “insulting to people who know more than you about life”
    LOL! I learnt my lesson. People are clueless about the most basic things with regards to success! The answers are not in blogs, or parents, or teachers who ‘know more than you’ but in research papers and thick books by professional psychologist researchers.

  4. When I think of courage, two ideas come to mind: desire for some esoteric ‘better’ and strength in the face of an event that is emotionally or physically taxing.

    Most often, we set goals, hoping to yield a better outcome. Learning a new skill is almost always difficult, and the discipline required presents itself as a challenge to overcome established routines/mindsets. It sounds more like you’re making the argument that courage is not some transient process from which you garner success .. but rather, it’s the repeated exercise of displaying courage to continually build skills and monitor improvement aimed at success.

    Good point on the wisdom of our parents/elders — and good thing I’m still young enough to take that advice! : )

  5. “there’s no occupational Sauron to evade” – I spilled my coffee reading that! Aptly stated.

    On a side note: Do you have any articles in working for new Grad students? I read the two you already wrote and want to apply them right from the start. But any other advice on “how to be a superstar” specifically in grad school?

  6. This is a great post Cal! As an aspiring entrepreneur, many of my friends think that I am going to quit my job and start my business overnight when I get enough courage. I try to explain to them that I am building a sufficient amount of career capital first, testing the demand for my skills in the market by doing side projects, and then start my business. I agree that courage has very little to do with building valuable skills over time.

  7. Hats off! A fresh perspective.. and upon some introspection, certainly true. “It takes a few weeks of courage to quit your …” That’s all! After that, it’s how you learn (or unlearn) things. Brilliant!!

  8. The courage crutch is a great complement to the passion fallacy. Your blog has completely changed my career. I went from trying a new industry every 6 months to doing weeks of research before settling on software engineering. Now comes the hard work of learning the skills to build the career capital and achieve a remarkable life. I recommend your book to every young person making career decisions.

  9. I think you talk about mastery of a skill a lot on this blog; the advice is always on point for me if I’m thinking about my career aspirations. For instance, here you say developing a remarkable skill “requires time and is hard”. However, I think that it’s also easy to get caught up in the 10,000 hour rule (and similar notions about what mastery requires) for skills to which it really doesn’t apply. Perhaps this is outside the scope of this blog, but it’s helpful to remember that skills we only want to be good (read: not SO GOOD) require much less of our time.

  10. I agree. And I disagree.

    While I agree that many online blogs sensationalize the notion of “quitting your corporate job to pursue your passion”, I also believe that it does take true courage to pursue/seek an unconventional environments to build skills that help develop deep passion. Indeed some skills simply cannot be built in existing environments because the infrastructure may not support true innovation. Perhaps this is why many entrepreneurs start new companies instead of building them inside of existing corporations.

    I think the deep issue that many people have(and perhaps, many of these people may misinterpret your book because of it) is that many corporate environments are not designed to nurture innovation. And frankly, there are different ways to build the same skills that lead to passion generation, as you call it. Or perhaps you believe that certain environments or systems are better incubators for passion generation through skill building.

    To your first point – it takes courage to be narcissistic about your role in changing the world, which perhaps one could argue fuels true altruism . . .

    To your second point – something can be hard AND scary at the same time. But that’s not even very profound. What is more interesting is that it takes courage to be persistent in the face of defeat (e.g. your earlier Steven King stories), which makes your point ironic.

    To your last point – you ground your point in the assumption that age breeds wisdom. Or that fear of uncertainty dissipates over time as we grow older. And we know that’s clearly wrong.

    My question to you – is it more courageous to pursue technological innovation in an academic environment while pursuing tenure or in an a new company whose future is uncertain? My second question – if the end goal is to do something remarkable in the world, does it matter?

  11. Great insights. As with most ideas that spread (including the “courage culture”), they contain at least a vein of truth. Becoming great at something (a task, subject matter expert, visioneering, etc) that others value (ie: will pay for) is a primary building block. I suspect you’d agree, however, if people choose something they have no interest in (ie: passion), they will find it much more difficult to stay focused, compete, and ultimately persevere.

  12. Cal, I generally like your posts a lot, but I think you missed the boat entirely on this. You write like a person who’s never needed courage, and whose natural occupational inclination happened to offer an obvious way to earn a living. That’s not true for many of us. I’m a lot older than you are, and, looking back to when I graduated from college, I see now that I was in fact very scared about how I would earn a paycheck and keep a roof over my head. I wish that someone had urged me to have a little courage, and patience, and pursue what I really wanted to do, instead of finding a quick way to earn a living. I’ve regretted that ever since. Your counter-points to the find-your-passion mantra raise some good points, but I think you’re in danger of becoming as one-sided as the find-your-passion people. I would hate to see you discouraging people who really do need a little courage to make the hard decisions that are right for them.

  13. Your point is well-taken, but I think success takes courage too. When I was in Tokyo last month, my college roommate explained to me how he bet everything on his networking company, and lived off nothing for months at a time.

    Then he sold his company for $1.2 billion in the biggest enterprise software acquisition ever.

    Hard work? Yes. And courage? Definitely.

  14. First of all, let me say how pleased I am to find this blog. Cal, I’m stoked to have found you, I will be back, and I will share this with friends.

    Now, to the substance: can it be both courage and work? Or, in my opinion, frequently it’s courage before work.

    I agree with much of what you said and I won’t try to argue many of your points here, I also need to read SO GOOD but I think that your two examples illustrate the importance of courage and work.

    Take Steve Jobs: His story is well known but his path took many unconventional turns before Apple: attending calligraphy classes in college, dropping out of Reed College , travelling to India, experimenting with LSD, and considering a monastic lifestyle.

    There can be no doubt that conventional thinkers (and maybe even some hard workers) looked at Jobs at that time and, if they did not overtly recommend he change course, they certainly inwardly questioned the wisdom of his decisions. (“Why doesn’t Steve just buckle down and start developing a skill set?” they must have asked themselves.)

    It took courage, not necessarily hard work, not at these points, for Jobs to continue on his own path.

    When the Apple opportunity arrived Jobs’ constant exercising of his courage had helped him become sufficiently comfortable with himself and his life direction to know that Apple was what he wanted to invest his time in. It was at that point that the hard work came. And, just as you say, Jobs met the task. However, it required courage for him to stay on his own path and get to that point.

    Similarly Stephen King: I read elsewhere on your blog about the thousands of rejection letters he received as a young writer. It sounds like it was maybe 10 years or more of writing before he had any success, and maybe even more than that before Carrie.

    It must have taken courage in those early years for him to initially decide that he wanted to be a writer and I’m sure it took courage every time, in the literal face of those who wrote him and told him he couldn’t or wouldn’t ever be a writer, he sat down to write.

    After graduating from college he could not immediately find a job, so he starting making money selling stories. He could have done a number of more “conventional” things to put bread on the table – he had a child at that time – but he had the courage to keep writing knowing full well that very few aspiring writers, even those who write a lot, actually ever make a living doing it.

    I don’t discount the role of hard work in King’s life. He’s absolutely prolific. But what he did also took courage.

    So, I think that hard work is crucial. I don’t want to discount it. However, I think that courage may precede hard work and/or courage may be so intertwined in hard work, that, in some cases, the two can’t be separated.

    Looking forward to following the blog!

  15. I agree with everything in this article, Cal, and it’s refreshing to find someone who actually tells the truth in this space, rather than superficial guru-speak.

    However, I disagree on one point. You write:
    “building a remarkable career requires that you become remarkably good at something valuable. This requires time and is hard. But it’s not particularly scary. ”

    I think it is. It’s very scary to face one’s own lack of skills every day (which is what deliberate practice forces us to do).

    In a way, the “courage crutch” is actually the less courageous worldview, because it’s a short-term solution to a long-term problem (that we suck at what we want to do, and we need to learn).

    I wouldn’t say that courage isn’t important to become exceptional, but I would say that the current zeitgeist misses the point of what real courage is.

  16. I agree with the overall idea, but sometimes there is some courage involved, and you occasionally have to decide that the well-intentioned advice to not do what you’re doing is wrong, or at best is given with incomplete perspective.

    For example, I once encountered resistance (indeed, bewilderment) from friends and family when following the next logical step in what I’m good at (software development). I left a rather comfortable job in state government to take a three-month contract in another state while my wife was pregnant with our first child in order to have the opportunity to quadruple my yearly income. From my perspective it was both “reasonable accounting” and a measured risk, but to the family and friends we were leaving behind it looked pretty nutty. Now that I’ve had that three-month contract for several years, I’m really glad I had the “courage,” if you want to call it that, to stick with the decision.

  17. In your own book you recommend turning down a promotion to ask for what you really want. Do you not think that takes sme courage? A promotion is seen as a mark of success and by turning it down you go against the expectations of society.

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  19. To quote some lines from another post on this blog from December 2009 entitled “If You’re Nervous About Quitting Your Boring Job, Don’t Do It”

    Cal said:

    “If you’re in a job that’s boring but tolerable, and you feel nervous about quitting, you might consider trusting this instinct. Your mind might be honing in on the economic truth that you don’t have a skill rare and valuable enough to earn you a substantially better deal somewhere else.”

    Essentially what Cal is saying in this post is the very same thing that he said two and a half years ago.

    Quitting your job shouldn’t take courage. You shouldn’t need courage to overcome your nerves because if you’re sensible, you will only quit your job if you already have valuable skills, knowledge and experience from which you can earn money in another job or industry, whether you’re thinking of setting up your own company or working for a different company that may still be corporate in nature.

    The point is that courage in the face of adversity isn’t necessary if you remove adversity from the equation by being SO GOOD YOU DON’T NEED COURAGE.

    Sounds a bit like the title of a book someone recommended to me.

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  21. I got “so good” as a birthday present and just finished reading it. I really love this perspective, because it explains so much. I too had a career that I was not happy with. But as much as I didn’t enjoy the jobs, I spent many years working on what you call my career capital, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

    When I started looking for a career pivot, so many people encouraged me to become a “coach” and go down that cookie cutter path you see on blogs and the internet. And I was really resistant to this idea as well as the “follow your passion” concept. (For the record, I am a licensed psychotherapist).

    I got really bummed about this and just felt like throwing the baby out with the bathwater and started to get tempted by the path of just going into something I knew nothing about.

    But a series of recent events, highlighted by what I read in the book, I realize I don’t have to do that, because I spent years becoming a craftsman, and since I’ve been in business pretty much my whole life, just use those skills both in a way that fits me in a practical way.

    Anyway, great work, great read!

  22. I find your dismissal of courage in career success to be tconsistent with the opinions of those who have grown up in a privileged environment.

    You have written a large amount on how developing valuable skills leads to a greater amount of agency in your life. This is valuable advice; the title of you book `So good they can’t ignore you` is a great message. However history is littered with people who were ‘so good’ but were ignored. This ignored are often people who were not born into the ‘right’ group eg. women, non white, of low socio-economic parentage etc. To continue on in the face of being brilliant but ignored takes courage.

    One of the greatest scientist of all time, Marie Curie, was sometimes seen as ‘just a woman’. In the speech of the awarding of the Nobel prize to Becquerel, Marie Curie and Piere Curie, it was implied that Marie Curie was a `help’ to her husband, rather than an academic equal.(

    The recently published Moss-Racusin study shows that for members of marginalised classes, being good is not enough. ( The social baggage attached to your name (female or `foreign`) is also important.

    My counter to your argument is that becoming so good they can’t ignore you, only works if you are visible in the first place. It takes courage to push the boundaries of what society expects, and courage to continue when being constantly (and unfairly) overlooked.

  23. Cal, If I had read “So Good” when I was 19 instead of 59, my life would have been completely different. Well, better late than never. And, as a reasonably successful entrepreneur (albeit later in life than most), I can attest to the truth of most of what you said in the book and in this article. I can’t tell you how many times the media and individuals tried to pin my husband and business partner with that mythical narrative of the daring and driven risk-taker. When asked what drove him to start our company, he used to say, “I lost my job and I wanted to eat.” Yes, there was some risk-taking and some courage required, but mostly it was hard work and a little creativity. That, and not having a lot of other options at the time.

  24. Great post, Cal!

    Been following your blog for years, but this is the first time I feel compelled to comment. Was gonna write a lengthy reply, but I see others have already voiced my thoughts very well.

    I love you’re fresh perspective, and I think tackling the courage/passion hypothesis takes a lot of, well, courage.

    But I think you’re a little too dismissive of this philosophy. I agree it’s a more romantic/pleasurable perspective, but it’s not without substance. I think blending your hard/deep work philosophy with passion/courage makes the most sense.

    (a) it takes an ounce of narcissism (or, more charitably, “self-esteem”) to realize the potential we have to provide value to the world. This part of the courage hypothesis is consistent with your theory, so I wouldn’t discard it.

    (b)As an aspiring scientist, I think great contributions require both hard-work and daring. Passion fuels deep work, and courage directs this ambition in unprecedented directions . Afterall, I’d argue that novelty and remarkability are highly correlated.

    (c) I really like this point, because my generation can be overly dismissive of those who are wiser and more experienced. That said, you can’t ignore contextual/generational transitions that our cohort is most privy too. Of course, quitting your job can be incredibly reckless, but I think youthful narcissism and overconfidence is a needed prerequisite to catalyze career and value.

    Having read SO GOOD and the rest of your entries, I don’t think you disagree with my points above. Moreover, I am only 21 and beginning a PhD program, so I defer to your additional life experience. Nonetheless, while combatant articles like this can spark reader engagement/reactions, I think you should seek to integrate and blend the passion and deliberate-work philosophies.

    Keep up the amazing work. You are an inspiration to me.

  25. Courage is still a necessary component of striking out on your own. Leaving a support structure of a regular job for the mostly-unknown world of independence is a leap, even for people with in-demand skills and known customers.

    One of the things that makes this easier, in my opinion, is knowing where you want to be when you make this leap. 45 years ago, an old cowboy told me “The secret to a happy life is know where you want to live and live there. Know what you want to do and do it.” Either ignoring that advice or exploring the first question, I lived in a variety of places that I either hated or felt nothing for and without a homebase I didn’t find the gumption to break out of my boring jobs until I almost accidentally landed somewhere I wanted to stay.

  26. A really good article.

    I agree completely with point number 2. If doing something really cool or amazing is scary, then the person doing it is probably wildly underprepared.

    On one level, doing anything for the first time can be a little scary, but if you have no idea what you are doing, that fear is much greater. On the other hand, if you have been preparing for some time (reading, research, practice, networking) in an area, it does gradually become much more obvious that you can and should be doing it.

    Perhaps this comes down to our fast results and immediate gratification society that many of us are unwilling to succeed slowly and instead are only interested in immediate success?

  27. Cal, I don’t understand your point. Also both of the examples you gave just shows the importance of courage. If Stephen King did not give up on writing and sending his manuscripts to publishers after hundreds of rejection letters, then it just shows how much courage and perseverance he had. Same for Steve Jobs, the fact that Steve Jobs sold Apple I has more to do with the things he did before he reached that point, and he reached there because of courage he had, had he followed your advise he might get two low paying jobs as a college drop out and remain insignificant for the rest of his life.

    Also, I don’t know you but I think you might be coming from a privileged background since you easily fluff the importance of courage. Most people in this and other societies are either lower or lower middle class people and those people also occasionally have dreams. Guess what? When you work at two minimum wage jobs it must be next to impossible come back to your home and write the next greatest novel or start the next Apple. This is exactly why courage is over emphasized, because for the majority of society, dreams cannot be side projects since they simply wouldn’t have enough time. Here’s what Stephen King says about writing: “Read and write four to six hours a day. If you cannot find the time for that, you can’t expect to become a good writer.” I guess I made my point. Sometimes, especially when talking about human emotions, it might be better to listen and think rather than judge, because if millions of people emphasize courage then it may actually be that important for that many people.

  28. If I’m reading this right, this post lacks some precision. What you seem to be truly set against is the use of the word courage in the context of *discontinuous career leaps*. A valid point. I would not discard the notion that courage is required for many of the small steps one must take along the way to mastery, however – the fear of doing something new can be very real for many.

  29. You need courage when you have a passion or will to do something but know that the circumstances or environment are against you.
    This doesn’t have to be on purpose or ill-willed by the opposing “forces”, but just a question of compatibility.

    Still, some existing incompatibility of systems or people is no reason to give up what you strive for. Courage is to find a way that works despite obstacles that threaten you, because you feel and know what you do is valueable.

    Not everything requires courage, but depending on your life and circumstances, surprisingly many tasks can require courage. A fragile environment that just works because it somehow settled in a stable state like a house of cards, requires courage to change.

    The valid point you are making is that this courage-“wisdom” makes it seem like courage is the only thing you need. It’s just a start and a necessity for the work that follows.

    Besides that careful planning and learning can create more stability and safety. But I think the real key point of why courage is touted as so important is that many people can get stuck in such fragile but temporarily stable systems that it requires taking risks and therefore courage to advance.

    Another point of this courage-culture is that it makes you believe everyone can get rich or succeed in whatever they choose to do. This is obviously impossible due to limited resources, but an entirely other problem.
    The opposite tendency though, is to stop people from reaching their potential and using their way to reach it.

    Finding your own way is good, it advances society as a whole, simply because of the diversity of approaches and insights it creates. Monoculture is never good.
    And going against monoculture requires courage. When you fit in you’ll just wonder what everyone around you is fidgeting around aimlessly, instead of just integrating. Giving it time, you’ll see it stabilize to a new interesting entity, that compliments the existing in a fruitful way.

  30. Reading this post made reminded me of:

    1) Van Gogh’s life. He definetly had the courage “follow his passion”. And who can deny he was “remarkably good”? He went crazy and killed himself in the process of trying to make a living out of his art, though. The man had courage and skill, yet failed to achieve a remarkable life, trading his pictures for a night at the barn and some food.

    2) An Economist article on South Korea. According to it, South Korean economy suffers from too much conservativism and overachievement.Young South Koreans are obsessed with working for the government or for the chaebols (huge companies like Samsung). South Korea needs, the article adds, more mediocre people and college dropouts. Furthermore:
    “In South Korea the biggest obstacle to a more creative economy may be the fear of failure. Creativity in any field requires experimentation, and experimentation necessarily entails mistakes. Unfortunately South Korean society is intolerant of failure, and South Korean finance especially so. (…)
    Mr Kim attributes this to the South Koreans’ notion of jeong, the strong sense of social obligation that they feel towards members of their circle.”

  31. Reading this post made reminded me of:

    1) Van Gogh’s life. He definetly had the courage to “follow his passion”. And who can deny he was “remarkably good”? He went crazy and killed himself in the process of trying to make a living out of his art, though. The man had courage and skill, yet failed to achieve a remarkable life, trading his pictures for a night at the barn and some food.

    2) An Economist article on South Korea. According to it, South Korean economy suffers from too much conservativism and overachievement.Young South Koreans are obsessed with working for the government or for the chaebols (huge companies like Samsung). South Korea needs, the article adds, more mediocre people and college dropouts. Furthermore:
    “In South Korea the biggest obstacle to a more creative economy may be the fear of failure. Creativity in any field requires experimentation, and experimentation necessarily entails mistakes. Unfortunately South Korean society is intolerant of failure, and South Korean finance especially so. (…)
    Mr Kim attributes this to the South Koreans’ notion of jeong, the strong sense of social obligation that they feel towards members of their circle.”

  32. My comment is similar to SREN’s comment. Before you can be an excellent writer, you need to be a mediocre writer. Stephen King must have gone through a lot of painful and humiliating (and well-deserved) failure before becoming a success. He must have felt a lot of despair at times. A lot of people must have said discouraging things to him. Even when he started getting good at writing, he probably encountered a lot of obstacles.

    “Courage” doesn’t necessarily mean quitting your day job; it also means facing up to the kind of negative experiences I mentioned above; doing your best to learn from them; and pressing forward. And I think it’s pretty important for success.

  33. I just discovered your blog. I am a 31 year old lawyer from Romania, I quit my job a year and a half ago and traveled through Europe, south-eat Asia, India and Mexico, for a little more than one year. I left (and now came back to) Romania with the idea of doing something different than what I had done before: corporate lawyer, specialized in mergers and acquisitions. But reading your blog I understood that what I truly want and need in my life is not necessarily more “passion” in what I do as a living (I can put passion in whatever else I am doing, my interactions with my friends, my family, my tango classes etc.), but rather, as you put it, what I need is autonomy, competence and relatedness!

    Coming back to the topic of this post, many people told me I was courageous to quit my job (and you can imagine that in Romania, a more conservative and still communism-scarred society, examples of people doing this are far less frequent that in the States). I honestly tell you that I did not feel it like an act of courage: I just felt that it was important for me, at that point in my career, to take some perspective and to take a step back, reconsider what I want to do with my life. It is not that I found a new passion and “went for it”. It was just that years of hard work as a lawyer allowed me to save the money and have a “break” when I felt I needed to.

    I truly think that, whatever we are doing as a living, we can get passionate about it as long as we feel we are “competent” that particular field and that people appreciate our work (it’s just human nature, I think). And maybe here, in the element of competence for happiness in one’s life, is where your theory is related to the “passion element”: when you are interested and love something you do, when you put your passion into it, it is maybe easier to get very good at what you do, to put in the hours of hard work necessary in order to become the best. Thus passion for your work is not, I think, a pre-requisite for a happy and fulfilled life, it is just an added bonus, one that helps you go through the hard moments when work is boring and you just feel stuck.

  34. It really takes a huge amount of courage for someone move out of his comfort zone and pursue his passion and want he really wants in his life, be it quitting his current job or changing his career plans . While it can be hard at first, the outcome would be very rewarding once you were able to surpass this turn-over in your life. Make sure you have your family and friends behind your back to support you all the way in achieving your true desires in life.

  35. I have always acted from conviction: I walked the line between “courageous” and “stupidly impulsive” for many years. I have quit many jobs and changed careers several times (I am 37). I have been the one to speak up at staff meetings on taboo subjects and have confronted bosses (in public and private) about flaws in the system many times coworkers have approached me and said “I would never have said or done that but wow, you are brave.” As a result I’ve instigated change and earned respect from some, and certainly learned what I was made of, (and most importantly, felt morally at peace), but I’ve also put myself in a position where I’ve felt I had no choice but to quit a job, I’ve burned my bridges like no one’s business, I’ve been passed up for promotions, denied raises, and I’ve suffered a degree of anxiety for this over the years.
    Outside of work, it’s been similar: I have had many unusual adventures, I’ve travelled all over the world by myself, and I ended relationships because they were not the relationship I felt “in my heart” that I deserved. (and received enormous criticism for this, suffered dearly for heartbreak, etc- but I can’t regret it). At every junction people marvelled at my courage, (and probably often said behind my back that I was foolish). I bring this up because it’s just something I’ve always heard, because I did take the plunge every time, and it was not easy. Even when I felt I was doing the right thing, I wondered very much if it was the smart thing, and often concluded that it wasn’t, but I did it anyway.
    However, I realized I was not successful at a point in my life, by my own standards: I wanted to change careers *again*, I didn’t have savings, I didn’t earn what I’d like to, and I was single and didnt want to be. (The marks of a highly impulsive person, aren’t they?) So I began to change my approach, to be very much in line with what is recommended in this blog post, and it’s working marvellously for me. I am of the conviction that this approach is really much more conducive to helping a person to achieve the life they really want.
    However, (and this is a big however), there is more to life than success. I might be an extreme example, but you must also develop your character, your inner strength, self respect, self love, and for that reason there is incredible value in taking wild risks, which is necessary for cultivating courage. I am honestly a rock. I can also feel other people’s strength, and even if a person is quite successful and happy, some just feel paper thin to me, especially those who I know have gotten by in life via hard work and focus, making smart choices, not deviating from the straight and narrow. I can’t explain it, but I feel almost like I can make this type of person crumble just by looking them in the eye. It just feels so easy to crush them (not that I would! ..necessarily) or cause them to fidget madly, sputter, and go red in the face just by calmly stating my true opinion or some logical counter-argument to something they’ve just said, at a party or something. It’s not a case of me being offensive, and I do know he difference…it’s just being *true*.
    On the other hand, I can spot another rock like me a mile way. I hope my story helped someone. I hope it helps me. Lol. Cheers!

  36. I am turning 70 this year. I’ve done a few things right along the way, but also have done many things wrong and as they say, you often learn more from your mistakes than from your victories.
    But I’m still learning and growing about one of those victories begun back in 1999 when I created a concept called “NetWeaving” – a pay it forward form of networking that is all about helping others, rather than focusing on what someone else can do for you.
    Over time, what has evolved, has been nothing short of phenomenal which you can see if you ‘google’ the word to see how this NetWeaving concept is now spreading around the world.
    I came across this very interesting blog, which also contains some great ‘replies’ as I’m working on a course for NetWeaving at a major college. The first element though is about how “NetWeaving” can help facilitate ‘collaboration’ which is absolutely essential for innovation to occur. That’s unless you’re Da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Steve Jobs, etc.
    To be a great “NetWeaver”, you focus on helping others both by connecting and introducing them to someone whom they would benefit meeting, without concern for how you will benefit.
    You also learn how to ‘position’ yourself as a ‘gratuitous’ ‘no-strings-attached’ resource FOR others.
    Finally in line with both of these first two skills, you learn how to build a Trusted Resource Network across all industries and professions so that over time you can become ‘Generalist Expert’ which is one of the things that many of the greatest thinkers in history always have done. You look for people who are extraordinary and what they do – first find a way to help them – then over time, hopefully make them part of this remarkable network.
    But I would be the first to say that it definitely takes COURAGE to step outside your comfort zone, if you really want to build a career over time dedicated to helping others with simply the fervent belief in the law of reciprocity and that ‘What Goes Around, Does Come Back Around’.
    Follow the two motto’s of NetWeaving and most will find, it’s not only a great way to build a career, but a great way to live your life: “Good things happen to those people who MAKE good things happen.” “When you open the door for someone else, you never know who YOU will meet as a result”.
    And when you help someone as a ‘connector’ or provide them with ‘gratuituous’ resources or information and they turn the table on you and ask you how THEY can pay you back, just ask them to ‘pay it forward’ and do the same for someone else.
    And thanks Cal. Great blog. Several recommended books if you like the NetWeaving concept – “The Speed of Trust” by Stephen M. R. Covey, “Give and Take” by Adam Grant, “The Go-Giver” by Bob Burg, “To Sell is Human” by Dan Pink, and “How to Be a POWER Connector” by Judy Robinett..
    Bob Littell, Chief NetWeaver and Past President of the Pay It Forward Foundation


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