I was struck by this article by Rob Johnson, printed in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal . Headlined “Point. Set. Match. I Lose.”, the story concerned how Johnson, an avid amateur tennis player in Orlando, Florida, became disillusioned with his career as a journalist and decided to gain certification as a tennis teaching pro, then work at various resorts in the Orlando area. It was a business model where he would be his own boss, doing what he loved, wearing comfortable clothes and working with carefree tourists rather than cranky editors. Not to mention the fact that his overhead would be low, and he would keep the majority of what hotels would charge guests for lesson fees.
But the reality turned out to be different from Johnson’s expectations, and he ended up working with clients who wanted tips on local restaurants and shopping as much as they wanted to improve their tennis games. Or with kids who wished they could have spent another day at Disney World instead of on the tennis court. His adventures in entrepreneurialism ended in a pile of unused “Coach Rob’s EZ Tennis Academy” T-shirts that now lie in his basement. And for Rob, at least, teaching tennis took the joy out of playing tennis.
So Johnson returned to working as a journalist and playing tennis for fun. But I appreciate his honesty in sharing the experience of trying to blend his passion for a sport with his career. It provides helpful input in thinking about what I might want to do.
It may at first seem like you’ve failed if you realize you’ve bumped up against your limits. But just like when you have to draw the line with your kids, and they hate it but secretly appreciate knowing what your rules are, it’s actually helpful to discern your personal boundaries. Last week I attended a thought-provoking conference for alumnae of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. One of the speakers, renowned entrepreneur and investor Heidi Roizen, cautioned attendees about the “flip side” of accepting venture capital: while it’s great to receive significant financial backing for your entrepreneurial concept, VC funding comes with high expectations for return on investment. While she conceded that not everyone at the GSB finds her views popular, she said that for many entrepreneurs, the choice to maintain a “lifestyle business,” where one makes a good living but chooses not to “go big or go home,” can be a perfectly acceptable decision.
When you live in Silicon Valley, where Facebook just went public for a record-setting $104 billion, it’s counter-cultural to state the view that one can be happy with a job providing merely adequate income for one’s needs and wants. While Johnson and Roizen come at their messages from different backgrounds and most likely different economic profiles, the core of what they say is similar: maximize career happiness by doing something you enjoy, but don’t get fooled into thinking you would enjoy working at something that’s better left to others. Respect your limits, and you’ll be happier.
Works for me.