Derek Sivers

Programmer, writer, entrepreneur, avid student of life. I make useful things, and share what I learn.

Compass in Your Gut

I consider this the most important lesson I ever learned.

For years I let smart people talk me into things that just weren’t right for me. I’ll bet you have, too. I went down wrong paths, doing things I wasn’t excited about, because someone or something convinced me it was what I “should” be doing.

Then I finally figured out something that’s made all the difference, and I’ve been happier and more successful since:

There’s a compass in your gut that points two directions : exciting and draining.

No matter what advice anyone gives you - no matter how smart the person telling you what to do - you need to let this compass override your other decisions.

Whatever excites you, go do it.

Whatever drains you, stop doing it.

For example: I’ve seen too many musicians get into music because they love playing drums. They love it so much they want to do it for a living. But then the world says, “If you’re going to be in the music business, you have to read this book on music business law. And you need a great website. So you have to learn HTML, and JavaScript, and how to stream audio files on the web. And you need to understand marketing, and accounting, and blah blah blah....”

Soon this drummer is spending all his time doing everything but playing the drums, and decides it’s not worth it! He gets a job at a bank and loses interest in his drums, because a career in music now seems tedious and overwhelming.

Yes, the people who said he should know all that stuff meant well, but nothing is worth losing your enthusiasm. Nothing!

You have to pay close attention to that compass, even in little day-to-day decisions. You get offered a gig - they’re on the phone waiting for an answer - is it exciting you or draining you? To make a new website is going to take about 10 hours of work - does that excite you or drain you?

If it doesn’t excite you, don’t do it.

There’s almost nothing that you must do. Whatever drains you, someone somewhere is excited about doing. Find them and let them do it.

Work towards this ideal, and soon you’ll be doing only what excites you the most, all day. Then you’ll find that doors open for you, opportunities come your way, life seems to go easier, because you’re doing what you’re meant to do.

Compass in Your Gut