Work can be a job, a career, or a calling. Juliette Sellgren and I discuss this on her podcast, The Great Antidote.
Talking Big Ideas.
“We do not learn from experience . . .
we learn from reflecting on experience.”
~ John Dewey
Juliette Sellgren recently interviewed me on her podcast, The Great Antidote. Juliette is a research assistant at the University of Virginia and a budding economist.
I’m a big fan of Juliette. She thinks deeply and engages well with her guests, many of whom are my intellectual heroes: the Nobel laureate Vernon Smith, Deirdre McCloskey, Don Boudreaux, Matt Ridley, Tyler Cowen, and many more.
Below is a slightly edited segment from our discussion. I encourage you to subscribe to The Great Antidote and listen to our full conversation.
Juliette: Do you think that you’ve achieved your professional goals?
Bob: There’s a saying that you can have a job, a career, or a calling. I’ve had all three in my life and now, with our company, it’s a calling. It’s never a slog, it just feels awesome and fun. I get to hang out with buddies and we help each other out. I love it.
Juliette: Do you have any recommendations for making your work your calling?
Bob: I think it’s really important to do two things. One is to listen to yourself and two is to listen to others. We’re not always good at making space for this.
I encourage people to carve out time every day to do some sort of introspection. Maybe it’s talking into an app like Otter, where it transcribes everything you say in real time. Or maybe it’s journaling to get everything out of your head. Perhaps it’s going on a run or a walk in the woods to create space for your ideas to emerge.
And occasionally, carve out a day or two to unplug and go somewhere like a cabin in the woods. Make time to really listen to yourself. It’s not something we normally do.
The second is to listen to others. It’s hard to see ourselves accurately because evolution built us to survive and reproduce – not to seek truth. To find our calling, we have to come to really see ourselves. And introspection probably isn’t enough. We need to get honest feedback from other people.
The philosopher Naval Ravikant has this quote I love where he says excellence doesn’t come from 10,000 hours. It comes from 10,000 iterations.
The vast majority of progress in our universe comes from iterations. This is how markets create wealth. It’s how natural selection creates biological diversity. It’s how engineers build amazing things, and it’s how skills and knowledge develop – through iterating based on feedback.
You cannot sit in a vacuum and figure out your calling in life.
What you do is, you go into the world and you start doing stuff. Then you carve out space to listen to yourself, to others, and to the world around you. And then you regularly iterate based on what you hear.
I had over 30 jobs before I started my company. It was through tons of iterations, tons of self-exploration, and tons of conversations with people that I love and trust and respect – and really listened to – that I came to realize my path.
Juliette: Yes. Go on.
Bob: When I was a kid my mom told me that I’d be a good coach. Decades later, when I worked at the Mercatus Center, the Executive Director Dan Rothschild took me out to lunch and said to me, “You love coaching people on speaking, why don’t you start a program at Mercatus that focuses on teaching people speaking? You can stop running the media team and go build a coaching program.”
I said I would love to do that!
Shortly after starting the coaching program at Mercatus, Maryrose and I would do lots of walks together. Now she’s the CEO of our company and my wife. Back then, she was my colleague and girlfriend. On our walks she’d really listen to me. She’d help me clarify how much I admire entrepreneurship, and how cool I thought it would be to be an entrepreneur. She’d encourage me: “Why don’t you expand the coaching program into your own company?”
And there were a bunch of others who helped me as well. It took all these people seeing me and my potential to get me to discover and build my calling: a coaching business focused on public speaking and listening. There’s zero chance I would have started The Ewing School without their guidance and support.
Listening to the people around you is super important for helping you to find your calling.
Juliette: Listening to others – and having people in your life who listen well to you.
Bob: Yes! Absolutely. We need people who truly see us. As we mature in life, we learn to give more of our attention and energy to deeply seeing others and encouraging them to grow.
Our default is to focus on ourselves. The hallmark of effective leadership is to focus on others – to really see them and help them on their path.
Listen to our whole conversation here: