Optimizing for fun

Hi readers,

I recently came across a survey where senior executives ranked their favorite activities and the amount of time spent. "Work" consumed the most time and was one of the least favorite activities. I wondered what my age group would say about their work? Almost everyone I know is out to change the world and disrupt things.

Over the last two years I’ve been on my own mission to understand what my friends feel about their jobs. Everyone I’ve spoken to at length, even those most infatuated by their careers, have expressed some doubt. They’ve questioned their choices and sometimes seemed deflated: “I thought I would be disrupting this field, but I am basically cataloging documents.” “I spent my summer trying to get a famous dog to advertise my startup on Instagram.” “I thought social work would be less emails and more substance.” There is this misbelief that doing what you love is supposed to be easy. And when it’s not, hopelessness sets in. And my friends were the lucky ones who already knew what they were passionate about. What about the rest of us who are basically making this up as we go along? What do we do when things don’t work out? When the H-1B lottery fails you, the start-up runs out of funds, and your boss turns out to be a narcissist? What then?

Doing what you love doesn't mean it's supposed to be perfect. I’ve had times when everything has gone horribly wrong. What I like about McKinsey is that it offered me the flexibility to keep trying new things. Don’t like your project? Try the next one. USCIS rejected your visa? Move to London. Changed your mind about working in healthcare? Try the Education practice. I work with McKinsey’s Energy Practice and in my early days I was struggling to figure out how to choose projects. Should I solve for travel, or lifestyle, or performance reviews? A friend told me to “optimize for fun.” Since then, I try to seek out projects that excite me. When I wanted to travel, I did projects in Thailand, Australia, and Colombia. When I wanted to engage on meaningful topics that had a broader relevance on society, I worked on clean energy and sustainability.

I’m passionate about many things and it can be quite confusing. But I know one thing: I don’t want to spend my days waiting for Friday evenings or dreading Mondays like Garfield.