Paul Graham is one of the smartest, most successful people in Silicon Valley, and recently wrote a post on “What Doesn’t Seem Like Work?”
“If something that seems like work to other people doesn’t seem like work to you, that’s something you’re well suited for. For example, a lot of programmers I know, including me, actually like debugging. It’s not something people tend to volunteer… But you may have to like debugging to like programming, considering the degree to which programming consists of it.
The stranger your tastes seem to other people, the stronger evidence they probably are of what you should do. When I was in college I used to write papers for my friends. It was quite interesting to write a paper for a class I wasn’t taking. Plus they were always so relieved.
It seemed curious that the same task could be painful to one person and pleasant to another, but I didn’t realize at the time what this imbalance implied, because I wasn’t looking for it. I didn’t realize how hard it can be to decide what you should work on, and that you sometimes have to figure it out from subtle clues, like a detective solving a case in a mystery novel. So I bet it would help a lot of people to ask themselves about this explicitly. What seems like work to other people that doesn’t seem like work to you?”
If you think through the things that don’t seem like work to you, you’ll discover a pattern. Does talking to people all day long get you jazzed, but seem to drain others? Does cranking through a multi-sheet Excel spreadsheet give you a secret thrill when it all adds up at the end? Does managing all the headaches that go along with logistics planning drive others batty, but feel like an engaging puzzle to you?
These differences in how you feel when completing a task or a project indicate an aptitude or skill. And that’s what sets you apart from others. We (mostly) feel better, perform better, enjoy it better, when we’re doing something for which we are well-suited. And that’s an important signal to you about where you’ll find the most rewarding work in life.
Focusing on those areas where you are superior will lead to better results in your career. Too often, we waste time trying to bring all of our skills and capabilities up to the same level as our strongest talents. Not only is that unlikely to work, but it takes away from the time you have to master the skills and capabilities where you do have a gift.
So this week, think about what doesn’t feel like work as you plan your next career moves.