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TED Talk of the week: Larry Smith on why you will fail to have a great career

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JULY 24, 2013

It’s the exact antithesis to anything supportive you’ve ever heard, and we liked it. Larry Smith delivers an incredibly punchy and brilliant talk about why you, yes you, will fail to have a great career or even a good one. In fact, the way Smith sees it, we’re all pretty much destined for a high-stress, low-reward, “soul-destroying” job unless … actually, he doesn’t even give us the “unless” part. Instead, the professor of economics chooses to disarm every single excuse for a mediocre career, leaving us with little more than a shattered ego and a pile of broken excuses. But did we mention we liked it? The talk is incredibly funny — if not a little too close to home. You can watch the video here or read below for our main points.

There are interests, and there are passions. As Smith points out, you would never “go to your sweetie” and say, “Marry me! You’re interesting.” No, that just wouldn’t do for a spouse, and it shouldn’t do for a career either. Passion should be your highest calling, your biggest love and the greatest expression of your talent. Only once you’ve found your passion, will you be able to have a great career but even then you might fail. That’s because …

No matter how many times people tell you to pursue your passion, you won’t. Maybe you’ve memorized Steven J.’s Stanford commencement speech, but Smith still doesn’t think that you’ll pursue your passion anyways. Instead, he thinks that you’re afraid to — afraid to look dumb, afraid to be obsessive, afraid of greatness. This part of the talk was a little like a backhanded challenge; he’s calling all of us pre-careerists out, but the sting of his insults is motivating.

We are extremely good at avoiding greatness. When he’s not teaching economics, Smith mentors startup businesses (the most famous of which is Research in Motion of BlackBerry fame), so he has seen plenty of excuses for mediocre careers. He says that we can think of anything to make an excuse for ordinary careers, whether it be our personalities (“I’m too nice to be a Steve Jobs”), our intelligence (“people with great careers are geniuses”) and even our friends and families.

Admittedly, it was a little hard to garner anything self-assuring from the cagey Larry Smith. However, his talk did end on a vaguely positive note. He said that we will all fail to have a great career, “unless”… But that’s for us to find out.

Image source: bark under Creative Commons

Contact Griffin Mori-Tornheim at [email protected]

JULY 23, 2013

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