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Home > Blog > Is Doing What You Love Complicated?
Out of Our Minds
Saturday, January 21, 2006 12:16 AM
Is Doing What You Love Complicated?
Evelyn Rodriguez on Passionate Work

My friend Kamal - who is definitely doing what he loves and helping others to boot with his new venture helping folks collectively pool funds for gifts or their favorite causes and charities - sent me Paul Graham's latest essay, How to Do What You Love, with this note attached: 'The definitive intelligent essay on doing what you love.' Paul starts:

To do something well you have to like it. That idea is not exactly novel. We've got it down to four words: 'Do what you love.' But it's not enough just to tell people that. Doing what you love is complicated.


I've been traveling in tsunami-struck Thailand for the last month and have met dozens upon dozens of volunteers who quit their jobs for extended periods of time, directors of newly formed foundations, and various owners of hotels, bars, dive shops, restaurants, bakeries and more who are doing precisely what they love.

I'll say upfront that rarely do I meet Americans. Thais, French, Belgians, Germans, Swedes, Canadians, Australians, Brits, Scots, sundry expats living in Hong Kong and Shanghai and India, you name it - but few Americans.

Sandra, a friendly nurse-practitioner from Canada, came to Phi Phi, a resort island with limestone crags and turquoise bays hit hard by the tsunami, in February 2005 to set up a community medical center after the local clinic was wiped out. Still an unpaid volunteer into late December, I spoke with Sandra about HiPhiPhi, a successful grassroots organization on the island.

On one hand she understands my question about how she managed to pull this off for nearly a year, but on the other she knows that I know already know the answer. There is a tinge of impatience: 'You just make it happen. It's a choice.'

When I explain that my readers may want a teeny bit more guidance on how to do this themselves she explains that she isn't attached to material possessions or the security of a pension. Still I sense the question doesn't fit. It bristles like ill-fitting underwear.

I'm reminded of the title to Peter Block's book, The Answer to How is Yes.

'Granted, I came to Asia to do volunteer work,' says Tilo, a stonemason from Colorado, who is a key player and a construction consultant for the Tsunami Volunteer Center. 'I was building a soup kitchen in Ko Samet for the low season. At the time of the tsunami, I should have been on a boat to a small island off Railey where no one survived, but I stopped for an extra fifteen minutes to make a phone call to my Dad at the market inland.'

'When I showed up at the TVC [Tsunami Volunteer Center], I felt everything had lead up to that moment,' continues Tilo. 'If you would have told me all this last year would have encompassed, I wouldn't have believed it.'

Talking with Tik over the scent of longan nut, poppyseed, chocolate, lemon cheesecake, and tiramisu sitting on the counter at the Stempfer Cafe she tells me she has a biotechnology degree from a German university. Before I can censor myself, I blurt, 'Then what are you doing here?'


She explains how she hated working in a food control lab. \n\n'I thought making cakes was hard, but it's not,' she tells me. It dawns on me that she is not a waitress, but the co-owner with her German husband. And more importantly, in her last year in Germany she chose to study baking.\n\nI realize you can flip the question: What am I doing here? A backpack journalist jotting notes in eight-dollar-per-night bungalows while her electrical engineering diploma just rots away. \n\nIn fact, Tik's background will serve her well when she opens up the dream baked goods factory and distributes her packaged treats all over Thailand. And having grown up in this province she wants to give work to its people too, she says.\n\n'The farung call me Mr. One Love', says Rakdeaw, whose name literally means 'one love.' His degree in agricultural education usually takes him to farmers in the north provinces, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Burma to teach them how to grow organic crops. \n\nThese days, Rakdeaw is teaching indigenous kids called the Moken at their learning center through Foundation for Children in Tung Wa. \n\nHe talks to me about globalization and the need to preserve their unique culture. 'I'd like to have a library here with Moken [not a written language], Thai and English books. Write down the history and culture of the people. Create a Moken dictionary. Now every day we have old people come and teach five Moken words to the children.' \n\nHe shares with me tidbits of his knowledge of the Moken.\n\n'They have no pockets,' explains Rakdeaw. \n\n'What do you mean?' I'm thoroughly confused. He gestures placing his upturned palms into a bowl. \n\n'They get everything from the sea. It is like gold for them. Always the sea gives fish and whatever they need.'\n\nAh.\n\nThey put their trust in the bounty of the universe, not their savings accounts.\n\nI am beginning to comprehend.


6 comments

Clayton Preston - 2/2/2006 9:36:30 PM
Thanks for great post. I'd like to see a story in WM about Hugh Dixon. Hugh is the director of a Jamaican NGO, whose mission is the enhancement of the ecological, social, and economic conditions of Southern Trelawny. That is to say, to improve everything. Hugh’s personal mission is to preserve the place he grew up and the way of life that he loves. And to improve conditions for the people. He is an agricultural economist by training, and “should� be in the U.S. making 5 times what he makes here. He is one of the unusual ones; One of the best-and-the-brightest that returned home to help build community.

Hugh explains that this rough wilderness area called the Cockpit Country is difficult to access. Currently the land has no economic value. But as eco and cultural tourism destination he can make it the keystone of the local economy and increase it’s value. Hugh’s motivation rides on another set of facts. The simple remoteness of the Cockpit Country has preserved it from bauxite strip-mining. Bauxite, you see, is the main ingredient in aluminum. All that prevents the strip-mining is that the cost to get in is greater than the value of the bauxite. Hugh knows that will change eventually. Ecotourism raises the value of the land, increasing the cost of mining more, further forestalling the possibility of mining. He is also working to have it registered as a World Heritage Site.

Hugh’s organization, Southern Trelwany Environmental Agency (STEA), organizes the annual Yam Festival. This one-day event celebrates the agricultural heritage of the region, honors the yam farmers, provides a link to the past for urban Jamaicans from all over the world, and increases the income of the town by 100% for the year. Other activities of STEA include establishing a B&B program that trains people as B&B hosts and certifies their accommodations. STEA also trains and certifies locals as guides for nature hikes and cave hikes around Trelawny, booking and equipping the excursions. In its infancy, The Adventure Tours is getting interest from the coastal resorts whose customers are looking for other activities.

Janet Auty-Carlisle - 1/25/2006 9:46:07 PM
Hey Thomas, Thank you for that perspective. Here's what I would say about that. This is a public forum, open to people who choose to be a part of it and to offer their opinions on Living a Worthwhile life. I truly believe that any person is entitled to live a life of truth and honouring of their passions, including you. If that comes across as 'selling' in your opinion that's ok by me. Not everybody is going to agree with me, I don't expect it, nor do I wish it. That would just be boring. So, that said, I hope you continue to participate in the discussions, as I will. Living la vida fearless, Jan
Curt Rosengren - 1/25/2006 4:10:49 PM
Thomas, while I certainly respect your opinion, I find that I have a different view. I have always found Janet's comments here to be relevant and in line with the discussion at hand. She's an active participant, which rocks, and she has a lot of really good perspectives to share. I think it would be a shame if she decided to take a less active part in the blog.
Thomas - 1/25/2006 2:54:49 PM
Janet, it's interesting how you use the blog here at worthwhile magazine as your personal marketing campaign. Unfortunately, in the majority of your comments, it's all too obvious that you're selling, which turns off any would-be customers. You might want to re-think your marketing strategy...
Janet Auty-Carlisle - 1/24/2006 3:07:08 PM
Hey Vincea, Welcome. Nice to see another card carrying Canadian in the group. I love your line, as a Canadian I am instrisically wired to honour the rights of others....You rock. Looking forward to hearing more about your creative dreams and how that is reflecting in your passion for human rights. 'When the student is ready the teacher appears.' Perhaps it's your turn now. Living la vida fearless, Jan
Vineca Gray - 1/24/2006 11:54:26 AM
Serendipity has once again been my friend - thank you for this inspiring story. I am in the throws of trying to balance my creative dreams with my passion for human rights. As a Canadian, I am intrinsically wired to honour the rights of others, and yet I want to do it without any trace of self-righteousness. It is great to know that so many other people are finding their way on this path. Thank you.

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