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Don’t follow your passion and know when to call it quits (book review)

The Algebra of Happiness: Notes on the Pursuit of Success, Love and Meaning

By Scott Galloway

Penguin Random House

$28

This review first ran in the July 20 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

algebraA special public service announcement for all freshly minted grads who were told during their convocation ceremonies to pursue their passion and never quit.

It’s lousy advice that may not lead you to a life well lived, warns Scott Galloway.

“People who speak at universities, especially at commencement, who tell you to follow your passion – or my favourite, to ‘never give up’ – are already rich,” says Galloway, a professor at New York University’s business school and author of The Algebra of Happiness.

“And most got there by starting waste treatment plants after failing at five other ventures – that is, they knew when to give up.”

Instead of pursuing your passion, figure out what you’re good at and then spend years getting better at it, whether that’s building treatment plants, practicing tax law or installing kitchen cabinets.

“The emotional and economic rewards that accompany being great at something will make you passionate about whatever that something is.”

Scott also has a reality check for 20-somethings who intend to maintain perfect work-life balance while stepping onto the bottom rung on the ladder of success.

That balance comes at a cost, says Galloway. “If balance is your priority in your youth, then you need to accept that, unless you are a genius, you may not reach the upper rungs of economic security.

“The slope of the trajectory of your career is (unfairly) set in the first five years post-graduation. If you want the trajectory to be steep, you’ll need to burn a lot of fuel. The world is not yours for the taking, but for the trying. Try hard, really hard.”

To maintain a steep trajectory, you need to get the easy stuff right. For Galloway, that means showing up early, having good manners and always following up.

Galloway also has advice for those of us in the back half of our careers. “The number one piece of advice seniors would give to their younger selves is that they wish they’d been less hard on themselves. Your limited time here mandates that you hold yourself accountable. But also be ready to forgive yourself so you can get on with the important business of life.”

And our most important decision is not what credential to earn, what career to pursue or what investments to make but deciding who to spend our life with. Choose wisely, says Galloway.

“Who you marry is meaningful; who you have kids with is profound. Raising kids with someone who is kind and competent and who you enjoy being with is a series of joyous moments smothered in comfort and reward.

“Raising kids with someone you don’t like, or who isn’t competent, is moments of joy smothered in anxiety and disappointment. Sharing your life with someone who’s unstable or has contempt for you is never being able to catch your breath long enough to relax and enjoy your blessings.”

Galloway’s book expands on the final and most popular lecture in his brand strategy course. So, if like Galloway’s students, you’re wrestling with life strategies around what career to choose and how to set yourself up for success, reconcile ambition with personal growth and live without regrets, you’ll find some proven formulas in the Algebra of Happiness.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager at McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

 

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