Last month Daniel Pink joined one of my Vistage Groups at lunch while we were attending the Vistage International Think Big Conference in Dallas. His book entitled “Drive” on intrinsic motivation was the subject of one of my early blog posts a couple of years ago, and I have been an admirer of his work ever since. We enjoyed chatting with him about what it takes to be a successful author, and how he transitioned to that role from a highly successful career in politics.
Career transition is on the minds of a few of the CEOs in my group as they think about what they would like to do next. As the CEOs of their companies, they have a lot of options–do they continue to grow the business in their current role? Do they hire someone to run it for them, and focus on new product development or other activities that they really love? Do they sell the company and start a new one? Or do they retire?
Daniel Pink talked with us about how he decided to become a writer. He continuously heard from others that he should just follow his passion. The problem was, he couldn’t really identify anything he could say he was passionate about. After casting about for quite a while, his wife suggested that rather than look for his passion, he should just focus on what he does and how he spends his time. As he thought about, he had always been a writer. Before being the lead speech writer for President Clinton, he was always writing articles, whether it was for the high school or university newspapers, trade publications or associations. No matter his workloads or deadlines for his day jobs, he always found time to complete his volunteer assignments on time, even if it meant doing them after midnight the night before a packed agenda.
And so, he decided to become a writer. He said that writing a book takes him about two years — one for research and one to write the book. It is hard and frustrating work, especially when you have a goal of 60,000 words, you spend all day writing 600 words, realize it’s crap, tear it up, and start over. When he is in the middle of writing a book, he would seldom say that writing is his passion, but it is what he does.
So next time you are helping someone think about their next life chapter, don’t just ask them about their passion–ask them what they do.