Newsletter 9 August 2023: Passion distraction; Banned books spread; AI spawns travel drivel.

Mark Dumont

How to grow a great career by not following your passion, private equity and AI roil publishing, plus 3 people to follow, 3 great reads, and plug nuts

Don’t follow your passion

“Follow your passion” is terrible advice.

Your career develops over years and decades. As you live through it, you have to make a living. People won’t generally pay you to do what thrills you (and in the rare cases that they would, you’ve probably got that job already).

What are you passionate about? Painting little Dungeons & Dragons figures? Trolling liberals? Making things up, er, I mean, writing fiction? Follow your heart and you’ll end up struggling to make rent and pay for health insurance.

People’s passions change. When reggaeton stops exciting you and you instead get passionate about fighting book bans, what’s that going to do to your career? Normally, nothing. But if your career followed your passion, that’s going to be an uncomfortable shift.

I’m not suggesting you mindlessly follow whatever direction the currents of the career world take you. Here’s are four principles that, taken together, make a fine alternative to aimless passion chasing.

Escape your drudgery. It’s called work for a reason. But if your work is excruciating and tedious, you need to change. Figure out what you hate, and make the necessary transition to escape it.

Follow your curiosity. Following your passion implies that you know what your passion is. What will excite you may not be visible to you yet. Find opportunities to try new things. Get on stage and give a business talk. Coach people. Write strategy memos. Create videos. Master spreadsheets. Every new thing you try at work is a chance to move in a productive direction and, in contrast to your “passion,” it’s likely a direction in which your current career can actually grow.

Indulge your passion. If you love something, do more of it — even if it doesn’t pay off. Go to a science fiction convention. Volunteer at a veterinarian’s office. Join the local conservation group and maintain trails. Play pickleball. You won’t likely make a career out of those, but you’ll feed your soul.

Create change. No one wants to struggle endlessly without seeing an impact. Whatever you do, after you’ve done it for a while, you probably have an idea of how it can be done better. So figure out how to change things — where you work now, at a new job, or even as a freelancer. Nothing motivates like successfully creating change. (And nothing demoralizes like the inability to do so.)

Careers improve steadily and sometimes suddenly. Opportunities appear. But you’re not going to be ready for them if you’re chasing your passion. You’ll be ready if you’re engaged enough to know what “better” looks like and to spot it when it appears.

News for authors and others who think

KKR is buying Simon & Schuster. Yup, KKR, the private equity giant that squeezed the life out of Toys R Us and left it bankrupt. Competition is good for publishing; private equity, most likely, is not.

The Andy Awards will recognize great ghostwriting. Ghostwriting can be an intense and amazing collaboration that generates impressive results. If you’re the author or ghostwriter of a book published in 2022 or the first half of 2023, nominate your book. (Why “Andy”? Because of such books are often listed as “by” an author “and” a ghostwriter.)

Publishers’ and authors’ heads continue to spin (gift link) as they worry about AI writers. According to industry analyst Thad McIlroy, quoted in the New York Times, “People are being quite secretive about it,” he said. “Big publishers are very worried from a legal perspective, and worried about author relations if they admit that they’re using these tools.”

DPLA (the Digital Public Library of Americais allowing people to borrow ebooks of titles banned in their area. And MoveOn.org has organized a banned bookmobile touring states like Florida that have banned thousands of books. As activist John Gilmore once said, the Internet treats censorship as damage and routes around it.

Amazon is now full of dreadful travel guides (gift link) assembled by AI, attributed to fake people, and endorsed with fake reviews. You want a real travel guide? Buy it in a real bookstore.

Three people to follow

Paul Stregevsky, who never stops thinking deeply about what he reads and how authors write.

Trena White, the generous and intelligent publishing-services wizard at Page Two who will find the best way to get you into print.

Jason Falls, Author of Winfluence, podcaster, and consultant with the spiciest takes on influence and how it’s changing from behind his magnificent beard.

Three books to read

The Point: How to Win with Clarity-Fueled Communications by Steve Woodruff (Morgan James, 2023). Pithy and short, a complete guide on how to get to the point and stop wasting my (and everybody’s) time.

Empowered: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Products by Marty Cagan with Chris Jones (Wiley, 2020). Essential guide for the new science of digital product management.

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink (Riverhead, 2018). The right time of day — and time of life — to do everything better.

Plug nuts

If you haven’t bought the comprehensive guide for business authors, get a copy now. Audiobook available: listen to my dulcet voice for 8 hours. Or, if you already got a copy, do me a favor and write a review.

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