I believe the path to a purposeful, sustainable career is to choose work that you both genuinely enjoy and that is net positive for your energy.
I realize this line of thinking is reserved for the privileged folks who are optimizing at the top of Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs, but I suspect many of us (who would choose to read this) will have these choices over the course of our careers.
My father-in-law is a pediatric neurologist and, at 75, still reads Neurology Today religiously, even though he’s partially retired. He’s genuinely curious about advancements in the field that is his life’s work despite being at the end of his career – it still brings him energy. Stephen Wolfram (Mathematician, and founder of Wolfram Alpha) is in his mid-60s and is still motivated and energetic because he genuinely enjoys his work – here is a good interview with him and Tim Ferris, where he talks about this extensively.
I recommend understanding the things that bring you energy and things that drain energy from you (for more, check out “Manage Energy, Not Time“). If you want to measure this, you can develop an “energy scorecard” that lets you know when you’re energy tank is empty. I try to reflect at the end of each period (day/week) of work, take a mental note and see if I feel drained or energized, and ascribe it to different types of work, but I’m not super regimented about it.
I love learning new things and evolving as it brings me energy, even when I’m working long hours. I consistently feel this way when I’m in a fast-changing industry (e.g. crypto now, mobile games back in 2010) and/or a fast-changing company (typically in “scaling” mode). I don’t enjoy “being static” and find that the quality of my work goes down if I’m standing still for too long. Sure, we all have to do things we may not enjoy or don’t bring us energy (e.g. taxes), but you can pick the task for the right “energy zone” for these tasks to make sure you still get to them.
There are, of course, periods in our careers where we have to be in an energy deficit, but that should be an intentional choice and for a fixed period. For example, we may pick earning over learning because that is what is best for us, and our families, over the long term. It’s always best to both learn and earn (and gain energy) from your work, but it’s not always easy to find work with both. Gary Tan (Head of YCombinator) says it well in this Tweet thread.
I like to work with people who are dynamic, passionate, and care about the users of the products they create. I enjoy collaborating with people who don’t just work for a paycheck or for other external validation and have a clear intrinsic “why” for their work. It’s also a quality in founders that I look for when making angel investing.
I enjoy angel investing because there is so much variety, and I get to learn from incredibly innovative, interesting, and thoughtful people (and ask them questions). I’d love to continue to angel invest as it’s consistently brought me energy over the last decade. However, I don’t learn that much about building companies from investing (I need to live it myself),
I generally like to sprint (and be heads down) for a few years in a space and then reset, reflect and decide if I’m ready for another “tour of duty” in the same space or company or look for alternatives that may bring me more energy. I’m not the kind of person who can just execute the same exact for a decade, in a way that would make me energized and fulfilled. Angel investing through my fund (Musha Ventures) is the only thing I’ve consistently done for a decade plus, but the spaces are always evolving, which keeps it exciting.
Given all this, my best guess for what gives me the most energy is combining early-stage investing with building products in a fast-changing industry. I plan to continue to be intentional and keep tweaking if this changes over time.