Camp Creek Blog

Open Thread: Words create worlds

Published by Lori Pickert on August 26, 2016 at 12:49 PM

Words create worlds. Accordingly, positive words will create (mostly) positive worlds — whereas negative words will create (mostly) negative worlds. So use your words wisely, especially your questions — as they tend to create the worlds within other people’s minds. — David Cooperrider

• • •

If you received my newsletter last weekend, you know why it’s been quiet around these parts for several months (and why I had to cease publishing the Tip Sheet). If you’re already on the PBH mailing list, but didn’t see the newsletter in your inbox, check your spam folder (or, if you have gmail, your social and promotions tabs); if you want to get the one I sent last weekend, sign up fast and I’ll get it to you before the new one goes out on Sunday.

Easing back into things, I’m reinstituting an open thread most weekends! Have anything you want to discuss? Ask? Share? Do it here! It’s your thread.


Love what David Cooperrider says above about words creating worlds — and the importance of being careful with your questions. When we talk with children about their interests and plans, we can accidentally kill their enthusiasm with the wrong question. We can create possibilities — or we can accidentally squelch them. I’ll put some of my ideas for engagement-killing questions in the comments!

So what’s on YOUR mind this weekend?

PBH Master Class Enrolling Now!

Published by Lori Pickert on August 15, 2016 at 08:48 AM

We are enrolling a new session of the PBH Master Class starting today.

We won’t be having another class until spring 2017!

Class will run from September 5 through October 15 (six weeks) and costs $175.

You can read a detailed class description and student testimonials here.

We’ve already done early-bird enrollment so space is limited!

If the timing isn’t right for you, you can join the early-bird announcement list for the next class.

Thank you, and please feel free to e-mail me with any questions! Hope you can join us! :"D)

Here’s an article I ran across this week:

Are we obsessed with children’s interests?

Reading that title I preemptively started rocking back and forth and whimpering in anticipation.

The article is actually a very good description of how many educators whiff the opportunity to help children dig into their interests (“whiff” as in swing the bat but fail to connect with the ball).

A better title would be “Why do we keep giving kids OUR ideas and lame activities instead of helping them make their own ideas happen?” — because the problem isn’t with children’s interests, the problem is in how we respond to them. Let’s toss out the bathwater, but please, please, let’s keep the baby. Children’s interests are key to generating the important ideas this writer values.

The problem isn’t supporting children’s interests, the problem is how we respond to them.

If we respond with attention and support in an environment where kids are in charge of doing what they want the way they want, interests are a gateway to deep and lasting learning.

If we respond to every question or spark of interest with a flurry of our own ideas, we take away children’s autonomy — we make their ideas unnecessary. When autonomy goes, motivation and engagement follow.

The writer of this article bemoans the fact that teachers aren’t engaging with children’s thinking — a definite problem. But why turn on children’s interests? Or our interest in their interests? That’s moving a further step backward — now we want them to do challenging work in an area that WE have chosen. We’re not just saying, “Your interests are crap — here, do this instead” … we’re saying “School/learning isn’t about doing things that interest YOU.”

The last thing we want is to have children think of learning as something that has nothing to do with them.

You won’t see children’s best work if you maintain 100% control over what they do and how they do it. You won’t help them become self-directed learners and doers. And you risk children coming to believe learning is “stuff other people give you to do and then they judge it and tell you whether you did it right or not.”

The writer describes an unfortunately typical response adults have to a perceived interest — we do not want to do this:

“A recent example was an educator who noticed a small group of children playing ‘restaurants’ in the sand play area — on one occasion — and interpreted this to be children’s interest at play. The very next day she had set up a dramatic play area in the shape of a restaurant and was ready with activities for menu making, cooking and a party for the mums that Friday. However, when the children arrived, they completely ignored the restaurant and went off on another ‘interest’ based play activity for the day.”

All that work of creating a restaurant in the dramatic play area should, of course, be done by the children themselves — and it should happen organically, not because an adult suggests it. For it to happen organically, the environment must be ready, the interest must be genuine, and the adults hanging around must be attentive and appreciative without getting in the way.

As we say so often in the master class, the process itself teaches you how to support children’s interests. If the interest fades away quickly, if you overstep and they tune out, if it is abruptly dropped because of a lack of space or materials — all of these outcomes help you figure out how to do better the next time. To become better, you must practice.

But this doesn’t mean children’s interests aren’t key to the enterprise; it just means you need to do a better job of supporting children to make their own ideas happen.

I’m concerned about why “interest” is in quotes up there (and elsewhere in the article). Are interests not real? Not worthy of our attention? Are children’s interests so fleeting they aren’t worth bothering about? Is the writer saying the teacher in the example is confusing anything the children focus on for five minutes with long-term interests? (I’m hoping it’s the latter.)

Agree 100% with what the writer says here:

We should seek those experiences that children return to time after time — and listen deeply to what children are telling us about the attraction of these experiences and how they might help us better understand our work with these children — rather than popping in and out of our meer cat holes looking for the puzzle, book, game or activity that we can give to children as our input in to this serious endeavour of searching for new meanings.
Yes, yes, yes. But I would add: If you’re new to supporting your children to be self-directed learners, makers, and doers, you may very well want to practice on any old short-term interest that pops up. The way you respond to a short-term interest says a lot to your child about how you will respond to something that is deeply important to them. It gives you the opportunity to say, look, I’m here to help you do things that you want to do — NOT to take over. And it gives you a chance to practice offering attention and support while letting your child stay in charge.
Those short-term interests can also give birth to further interests and pretty soon you have a project that started one place and ended up quite another. Several short-term interests that are linked can become a long, in-depth exploration. If we focus too much on finding an “ideal” project, we may end up discarding a lot of useful experiences that help our children AND ourselves become better acquainted with what doing meaningful work is really like. 
I winced reading through the comments on this piece. Professional educators struggle to get on the same page about what interests are and how they should be supported. Some have no respect for children’s very real interests in television shows, video games, comics, and so on — they are considered unworthy of deep attention. (If we discard children’s real and immediate interests, how likely is it they will ultimately focus on more academic subjects?)
This kind of picking and choosing doesn’t usually bode well for helping children make their ideas happen. When you start saying “this is okay, but that is not,” you swiftly diminish your opportunities for success — and you leave your children a narrow path toward deeper work. We should be opening up possibilities, not shutting them down.
Remember: ANY interest is more likely to be investigated longer and more deeply if it is supported — if it’s given space, time, materials, and attention. And children are more likely to do very long projects after they have experienced doing shorter-term projects — and you are not likely to be able to predict which is which before the work has even started.
I’m pretty sure that the author of this piece simply doesn’t want us to be obsessed with children’s interests to the exclusion of engaging with them intellectually about those interests. But clarity here is essential. Too many adults are struggling with this process. Stop paying attention to children’s interests and you’ve lost before you’ve even gotten started.
The truth is, as a society, in school and out, we are not at all obsessed with children’s interests. We demean them. We reject them. We overlook them. We pointedly ignore them. We claim they exist when we’re desperate to avoid a long-term obsession we’d rather forget. We try to usurp them. We push our own agenda and try to stay in our comfort zone — leading to a lot of lookalike projects in classrooms where teachers frequently replicate the projects they’ve seen at conferences or in books … leading to parents who are frustrated because they keep trying to build a campfire with damp wood.
If you’re doing the hard work of paying attention to your child’s actual interests and supporting them without taking over, you deserve celebration and support. It isn’t an either/or choice — interests OR ideas. It is an if-then choice — if interests are supported, then ideas flourish. We need to keep children in a space where their ideas are NEEDED. This means immersion in something that is meaningful to them, where they have space and materials and support, and where we aren’t getting between them and what they want to do, inserting our ideas instead of listening for theirs.
We need to support children’s authentic interests as an entry point to doing meaningful work, because the less we care about what children care about, the less likely it is they’ll be inspired to have ideas and need to make them happen.
This is the where the work begins, not where it ends.
Supporting children to do challenging work means resisting taking over at every stage of the process. Their interest. Their ideas. Their plan. Their choice of materials. Their budget to control. Their judgment about whether they met their goals. And so on.
We need to be absolutely clear when supporting each other down this path that we can’t have the good stuff at the end without doing the hard work at the beginning. We can’t simply shift children’s engagement, motivation, and commitment away from what they need and want to accomplish — school has been trying and failing to do that for a hundred years. Let’s stay obsessed with children’s interests and simply add being obsessed with their questions, their ideas, their thought processes, their suggestions, their plans, and every other part of what it means to be a thinking, learning, making, sharing, doing, whole person.

Open thread: The psychology of parental control

Published by Lori Pickert on December 7, 2015 at 08:56 AM

Classic PBH advice — Are you choosing the books, materials, and activities? Are you researching the field trip and making the fun plans? Let the kids do it! They’ll be more engaged, they’ll acquire more life skills, and they’ll retain ownership over their work. The more we do, the less they can do.

Yet parents have said to me, “I like being the one who plans things. That’s my role. It’s fun for me.”

Of course it’s fun for you — but as Capt. Picard points out, how engaged are kids if you’re the one doing the fun part? How much ownership do they feel when you’re the one doing the important stuff?

I’ve been reading a great book called The Psychology of Parental Control: How Well-Meant Parenting Backfires, and one basic idea it shares is that parents don’t just control kids through threats and punishment, they also control them through positive-seeming actions like rewards and managing their activities.

Some quotes for you:

“[P]arental control does not simply mean yelling or using physical punishment. … Some parents’ most controlling behavior comes from their desire to provide the very best for their children and to be certain that their children are not missing out on a single opportunity.”

“Parents and other caretakers can control through physical punishment, but they can also control through rewards and even praise.”

“If the goal of a parent is to assist in the development of a self-reliant, competent individual, then there are many ways in which control, although well meant, backfires.”

“If parental control is one end of the spectrum, what is its opposite? One answer is parents’ support of autonomy in their children. Autonomy support is an active process, which involves taking a child’s frame of reference, supporting independent problem solving, and involving the child in creating rules and structures. Using this approach, parents also provide choices for children and encourage their children to initiate their own activities. The goal of autonomy-supportive parenting is to facilitate a sense of self-initiation in children and to support their active attempts to solve their own problems.”

It is easy to see how PBH aligns with autonomy-supportive parenting.

If we’re the ones who choose materials, arrange activities, control the budget, make decisions, and take the role of providing exciting experiences both at home and on the go, we are maintaining control. That puts our child into a passive role. We have every good intention, but we rob our children of agency.

No matter how *awesome* the experience — and the life — we make for our child, they are passive and they don’t feel ownership, agency, or control. They don’t get the critical experiences they need to make their own awesome life — defined however they see fit.

— — —

We are constantly trying to explain to parents new to PBH that they shouldn’t ask for resource suggestions but should instead help their child find their own resources.

The parents are confused — shouldn’t they want to find the *best* books, the *best* resources, the *best* activities?

But that’s a short cut, isn’t it? Asking for help locating the *best* resources means you don’t have to go out and laboriously find them yourself. It means you don’t have to spend time checking out and bringing home and flipping through those books that looked good but were actually useless. It means you don’t have to sift through a lot of possibilities online.

Of course, we don’t want you to do that boring slog yourself — we want your child to do it!

Slowly locating the best resources seems like a waste of time. But it is how children learn. And it is never a waste of time for children to do their own meaningful work, at their own pace, in their own way.

When it comes to learning, we don’t want to take a short-cut.

If they don’t have the opportunity to compare and contrast different books and other resources and decide which are the best — which have exactly the information they need, which present it in the most easily understood way, which are more entertaining and fun to read — they don’t develop the ability to do that. They don’t practice critical thinking; they don’t learn to set their own goals and make good assessments. They become passive recipients of other people’s suggestions.

They may even look at the “best” book and think (silently), Oh well, this isn’t what I wanted, so I guess what I wanted doesn’t exist, since this is the *best* book.

They learn that the way to find what you need is to ask other people or find a blog post listing the “10 best” xyz. They are trained away from active, hands-on research. They don’t develop the skills to wade through all the options and determine which best meet their needs and desires.

When we become a filter for our child, we take away their need to learn how to filter. When we depend on someone else to filter for us, we’re choosing from a subset created by a random person who doesn’t know us or our child. Our child is now two or more degrees away from doing their own research and making their own discoveries.

PBH is slow learning, and we should be in no hurry to find great resources. All of the work that goes into researching, discussing, comparing, rejecting, branching out, talking to experts, and so on — *that’s why we’re here*.

“The ways we control can be subtle and can be laden with good intentions.

Think of a small boy holding a bunch of tulips. To keep the flowers together, he grasps them tightly. By the time he arrives at his grandmother’s, the stems are crushed. But he meant well. That same sort of thing can happen to parents who hold on too tightly to their children.”

…and to their children’s learning experiences.

“When children go through the motions, complying with adult directives and contingencies, even the positive outcomes they accrue — good grades, trophies, and so on — do not facilitate a positive feeling.

Only when the person feels a sense of ownership of his or her actions can positive experiences translate into healthy self-esteem and well-being.

The goal of parenting for positive self-esteem is not necessarily to ensure that things go right. Ultimately it doesn’t matter if the child has one more trophy on the shelf.

What parents must do is to create conditions under which children can take pleasure in their own choices and accomplishments because they are theirs.” — The Psychology of Parental Control: How Well-Meant Parenting Backfires

• • •

I haven’t done an open thread in a long while, but I’m hoping to make it a regular Monday thing.

For those who haven’t participated before, you can ask any question or share/discuss whatever you wish in the comments — it doesn’t have to be related to the above discussion. The thread will stay live so don’t hesitate to jump in after it’s already been up awhile!

Small Wins Wednesday: Clay class

Published by Lori Pickert on April 30, 2015 at 08:42 AM

Teaching clay class with little brother as his assistant

Teaching with his little brother as his assistant.

• • •

This week’s small win is from Sarah:

My six-year-old son Luca had the idea in early March to teach a pottery class at our home. The motivation behind doing the class was to make money, and the motivation for making money is (naturally) to buy more LEGOs. Luca has a strong interest in money and an entrepreneurial spirit.

He took a lot of steps to get to make this happen. He created and hung up flyers around town, worked on perfecting the process of making the teapots he was going to teach his friends how to make, met with the local art teacher on his own about how to structure an art class, and created (with my help) an invitation on Facebook.

Going out to hang the sign

He'd been putting a lot of energy into this project and we'd been writing down progress and things we needed to remember in our project journal. He was halfway though making a large sign to hang off the front porch the day of the class when we left on a long trip.

I didn’t hear a single word from him about the clay class or pottery for three weeks. I was wondering if he would pick it back up again, especially since there were about 40 (!!!) people coming to my house on the scheduled day to participate. I wondered if by leaving for three weeks we’d broken the momentum for the project.

Exactly one hour after walking through the door of our home he came to me and said, “Mom, can we get out the journal and see where I’m at with the pottery class project?” We read through our notes. He went and pulled out the sign on his own and picked up EXACTLY in the place he left off three weeks before.

The clay class went great. We set up the classroom space just the way Luca envisioned it. As the class started Luca took his seat, then got super shy and didn’t want to say a word. So, my husband stepped in with his kindergarten teacher magic to get the class rolling. Kreg taught for about the first 15 minutes of the class. At some point Luca started to jump in on his own with instructions and by the 30-minute mark Kreg stepped back almost completely and Luca had gotten comfortable enough to do the talking for the remainder of the 60-minute class.

Kreg and I are both working hard on backing waaaay off of Luca and his work. Having a project that culminated in a public event like a class was an interesting mix of figuring out when to step back and when to step forward. I think we did well.

The 15 kids in the class made some terrific pieces and it looked like everyone had a great time (I did!). Luca made enough money to buy the LEGO set he’d been saving for and he even gave his little brother (who was his assistant) a cut of the profits. ;-) I also think Luca might have inspired his dad to start teaching again, which is way cool.

If we'd never found Lori’s book it probably never would have happened!


Luca editing a photo he took of his pottery for use in the Facebook invite for his class.

All ready and waiting for friends!

Finished work. Class participants’ ages ranged from 4 to 37.

I’m here to disrupt your school

Published by Lori Pickert on February 7, 2015 at 08:47 AM

Dear Principal Jones, teachers, school board members, and parents,

My name is Carrie Smith. I'm here to disrupt your school.

People have been telling me for years that I shouldn’t be homeschooling — I should be improving the lives of all kids, not just my own! This year, it finally sank in.

We’ve been homeschooling for 10 years and hoo boy, I think we’ve tried it all! Montessori, classical, unschooling — you name it, we tried it. That’s what you do when you love your kids, I guess — you just keep fiddling with the recipe till you find what works. And now you’ll all benefit!

Our oldest, Margaret, was six when we pulled her out of school, and she still struggles with needing a bit of structure. Even after all these years of homeschooling she has a hard time taking advantage of the freedom she has to do it her own way. Her self-motivation still isn’t back 100%. But that’s okay — fewer changes for you to make! Ha ha!

Unfortunately, Margaret is a real crank bear if she has to get up before 9. But it turns out there’s abundant research showing that teenagers need more sleep and would benefit from a later start time. Circadian rhythms or something. I’m not sure how you’ll work it out with working parents and your bus schedule and so forth, but I’ll leave you to figure that out.

Carl is our oldest boy; he’s 12. Now, self-motivation is not a problem there. He’s never seen the inside of a classroom and he won’t stand for anyone telling him what to do or how to do it! Self-directed learner all the way. He really thrives in maker situations. You’ve probably read about maker spaces online — they’re all the rage. So much good stuff there, you’re sure to love it. You’ll have to mark out some really big blocks of time because the only way kids can think up their own ideas and then make them happen is if you clear the decks and throw your schedule out the window. I’ll let you work out what you want to drop from your current schedule to accommodate that.

Now Carl is like a lot of 12-year-olds — I don’t think the seat of his pants sees a chair all day. But no worries — talk about abundant research! Kids need to be up and moving around, not sitting down all day. And now they will be!

My younger daughter Luna is 9. She was born in France while we were living there for a year for my husband’s job and even though she was only 3 months old when we left, she must have picked up something from the air. The girl doesn’t walk when she can dance; she doesn’t talk when she can sing. She paints all day long.

Of course an artistic soul like our Luna would be miserable in school with all of the cutbacks in art education over the last several years — but not anymore! Ha ha! We’ll be reinstituting those art and music classes tout suite.

Our youngest, Joe, is 5. He’s a special case, but all our kids are, am I right? Strangely, what’s worked best for Joe is Waldorf, which didn’t work at all with the other kids. Waldorf is a little bit picky about … well … everything! You’ll see! I’ve prepared some handouts to send home about diet, special toys, no TV, and so forth. We’ll be switching to a Waldorf curriculum in all of the Kindergarten classes immediately.

Finally, in closing, I would like to sincerely apologize for taking so long to wake up and see that I should be taking my educational improvements to the school and putting them in action there. I honestly didn’t realize I had that power.

I mean, that’s why we homeschooled in the first place — because we didn’t think school could (or should have to, honestly!) accommodate the various needs of our four kids … not to mention the fact that we were figuring it all out as we went along! It certainly was a learning process.

Who knew that I could have stayed and improved things not just for Margaret, Carl, Luna, and Joe but for ALL kids. My husband and I had quite a laugh about it, I can tell you. I mean, we haven’t been able to afford a family vacation in ten years! We would give each other a rueful look every year writing out our property tax bill, looking at all that education money we couldn’t use — and now we can!



P.S. See you on Monday!


No one’s going to DIY that for you, sweetheart

Published by Lori Pickert on February 6, 2015 at 01:15 PM

It’s called DIY for a reason.

Wired published a story Homeschooling Only Deepens Silicon Valley’s Rift with the Rest of Us and I responded with the following rant on Twitter:


I love kids and I love great educators and I want great schools for ALL kids. But anyone who thinks it’s easy — or even doable — for one family or even a group of families to waltz in and disrupt their local school is … incorrect.

If I had the power to walk into my local school and change how they are doing things to how *I* think things should be done … gosh, just think of it. I bet they’d welcome me with open arms. They’d get out the red pen and start changing their schedule right then and there to accommodate my ideas.

But of course it doesn’t work that way.

To say that homeschooling parents are terribly selfish for just leaving and doing what they think is best for their own kids (a song homeschooling parents have been hearing from the very beginning) is to overlook the fact that schooling parents are just as selfish every time they

- sign their kids up for an extracurricular activity,

- move to a better neighborhood,

- hire a tutor,

- buy an educational app or book or film,

- help their kids with their homework,

and on and on and on. Not EVERY child has those benefits. Should you do for your child what you aren’t willing to do for society?

Please do not assume that just because people homeschool, they don’t contribute to the public schools or to all kids. You have no idea whether they volunteer, tutor, help out a teacher friend, buy school supplies, or offer to do free trainings and workshops. You know nothing about what they’re doing for all kids.

What you do know is what YOU are doing. Are you advocating for change? Are you in there demanding whatever it is you want? Are you rallying other parents to the cause?

Or, how about this: Are you asking your local school what they need? Do you know the average teacher spends at least $500.00 every school year buying materials out of his or her own pocket? Do you know they don’t just buy art supplies but soap and paper towels?

Whatever it is you’re doing, start there. DIY it. Be a self-directed learner. Educate yourself. Then decide what you want to do with what you learned.

If you believe with all your heart that I have the power to change your child’s education, that means you have the power, too. Use it.

Does what I do make a difference to anybody?

Published by Lori Pickert on January 27, 2015 at 10:19 AM
I was going to share this on Facebook but decided I wanted a permanent place on the blog for it, so I can reference it again and again.
Think of this applied to school — and then to family.
Max De Pree’s Twelve Questions to Leaders
Does what I do count?
Does what I do make a difference to anybody?
Why should I come here?
Can I be somebody here?
Is there for me any rhyme or reason here?
Can I “own” this place?
Do I have any rights?
Does coming here add any richness to my life?
Is this a place where I can learn something?
Would I show this place to my family — or am I embarrassed to show it to them — or does it just not matter?
Is there anybody here I can trust?
Is this place open to my influence?

Maker win: Blythe’s 3D-printed light-up dog collar

Published by Lori Pickert on October 2, 2014 at 09:54 AM

Blythe uses the 3D printer


Please enjoy this fantastic win today shared by Nicky Serrano and her daughter Blythe!

• • •

I wanted to share a huge win my 11-year-old daughter Blythe has had at her local Maker’s Guild. I am hoping we avoided most of the pitfalls Lori mentioned in her post What’s Wrong with DIY/Maker Faire/Hacking/Tinkering for Kids — and How We Can Make It Better.

Blythe decided in May that she wanted to make a 3D printed dog collar that lights up automatically at night, and that she wanted to exhibit it at the World Maker Faire (both things completely her idea).

She found her mentors at the Guild, registered herself for the Faire, came up against very many obstacles, made her own web page, printed her own business cards, got accepted to the Faire and finally got a working collar the night before!

She did need help and there were plenty of tears along the way — she had never 3D printed and the soldering was more fiddly than she had predicted, but she learned a ton of things at so many different levels.

At the Faire, she was not in a ‘kid’ section, but right in there with the adults. To top it all, she was interviewed by Make Magazine and she received an Editor’s Choice award and Best in Class.

One of the most popular things about her exhibit was the fact that she displayed all the failed versions of the collar. She is now working on improving the collar to get it to a point where she can sell it, and in the process she is learning all about what it takes to run your own business.

I personally would have preferred her not to have the stress of a deadline, but for her, exhibiting was a crucial part of the project, and I have to say that people were extremely supportive and full of constructive criticism. I’m guessing that exhibiting validates her work and makes the project real.

One of the things I love about our local Maker Space is that they have weekly open nights for people to go in and share their ideas, brainstorm, give advice — so far, my daughter is the only regular kid there, but she’s totally comfortable being dropped off for a few hours.

Here is her promotional video — including video of the dogs wearing her collar at night! — Nicky Serrano

• • •

This is so fantastic and shows what kids can do when they get the opportunities and support they deserve.

To clarify my own thoughts about deadlines, I think it’s not optimal when adults are pushing kids to meet a deadline, but of course when kids set their own goals, it’s self-directed and that’s a whole different matter. Sharing work with an audience is so motivating, as it obviously was for Blythe. Everything about her story is inspiring, but I especially love that she shared the failed versions of her design — really sharing her process and teaching others what she learned.

I know a lot of kids are going to be inspired by Blythe’s work — thank you so much for sharing, Nicky! I can’t wait to hear about her business as it gets going. Let us know if there’s a Kickstarter. :)

See also this great Maker’s Guild article about Blythe!

And a great interview with Blythe: “I like to be able to come up with ideas. I have lots of ideas.”


Why “do what you love” is not terrible advice

Published by Lori Pickert on August 29, 2014 at 01:57 PM

I saw a post on Austin Kleon’s blog about this piece by Rachel Nabors:

We rarely hear the advice of the person who did what they loved and stayed poor or was horribly injured for it. Professional gamblers, stuntmen, washed up cartoonists like myself: we don’t give speeches at corporate events. We aren’t paid to go to the World Domination Summit and make people feel bad. We don’t land book deals or speak on Good Morning America. — Don’t Do What You Love

If you don’t have time to read the whole thing, I’ll break it down for you:

— She pursued what she loved and was successful at it.

— For health and financial reasons, she stopped doing that and took skills she learned pursuing what she loved to build a very successful business that she loves.

Here are a list of quotes from her piece:

I used to make comics for a living … and I gave out similar advice and professed similar goals: If I just tried hard enough, I’d make it doing what I love, making comics for a living. If anyone was less successful then I was, well, they must not have been trying hard enough.

To an extent it worked! I won awards, had hordes of fan girls, a weekly syndicated web comic I got paid for (very well by comic industry standards, too). I thought I was doing great doing what I love.”

I needed surgery.

And I didn’t have health insurance.

Almost overnight the series shut down. My fans and friends ran a Herculean donation effort for me, but it wasn’t enough. I quit comics and went into web development, something I’d enjoyed doing to support my web comics presence…”

After five years in web development I’m at the top of my game. People from around the world ask me to speak their conferences. I live in a great city where I’m starting my second company. Even if I fail or have a medical emergency, I can easily pick up good, paying work, and make more in one weekend than I did on my 60 hour comics work weeks.

I love what I do. And it loves me back.”

[M]y first love, comics, gives me an edge in this industry. If I’d just gone straight into web development because it seemed like a money-maker, I wouldn’t be half as excited about what I can do or as interesting to others in my field. I and my community are better for the years I spent making comics, even if it wasn’t a successful career choice.” — Don’t Do What You Love

I shared this blog post with a young teen and asked him what he thought. His reply:

“She did a great job of making the opposite of her point.”

I’m with him. This seems to be a straightforward story of someone following the path of their interests and talents to one success followed by another even bigger success. I’m … confused.

But once again, I think we’ve stumbled onto a disagreement in defining terms. At one point, Nabors writes:

“I quit comics and went into web development, something I’d enjoyed doing to support my web comics presence, but I wouldn’t say I loved it.”

Ah. So there’s a difference between “doing what you enjoy” and “doing what you love.” Hmm. Somewhere in there I am sure lurks “doing what you’re good at” as well. Maybe the problem is defining “love” in this context as something like a romantic massage rather than something that feels enjoyable, hard, meaningful, achievable, and worth the effort.

Nabors describes herself as a “washed-up” cartoonist. That’s a pretty negative way of describing her situation. She says her cartooning skills contributed a great deal to her business’s success. She was also successful at being a cartoonist. I’m … still confused.

She also says:

“[I]f I’d kept ‘doing what I love’ in the industry that didn’t love me back, I would have never realized that there are other, more profitable, things I love.”

But … it sounds like her industry *did* love her back. She was successful! She made a living! Her friends made a Herculean effort to raise money for her when she became ill! And she’s saying that doing what she love introduced her to other, more profitable things she loves…

Oh, wait — “love me back” here is, I think, code for “pay me enough money.” Fair point. But I think it would be clearer if she said “paid me enough money to cover health insurance and a savings account.” You shouldn’t call it “love” on your end meaning passion and “love” on the other end meaning profit — that just gets confusing.

And — why does it matter that you love what you do NOW if the point of this piece is that you shouldn’t do what you love? Still confused.

And — it seems to me that she stopped loving what she was doing when she realized she wanted to make more money. So to continue wouldn’t have been “doing what [she] loved.” She may have still loved comics but she no longer loved comics as a career. Her aspirations changed.

I think Ms. Nabors imagines that her twisty, turny path could never be replicated and she made it out by the skin of her teeth. Instead (and I speak from the perspective of having walked a twisty, turny career path of my own), I think hers is a pretty ordinary story of success. Start out doing something you think you want to do based on what you enjoy and what you do well … figure out it’s not quite for you for one reason or another … examine new opportunities … make adjustments to the plan … repeat until satisfied or retirement age.

In the end, “don’t do what you love” just doesn’t seem like very useful advice to me. Everyone needs a starting point: somewhere to launch their search for meaningful work and a satisfying life. “Don’t do what you love” doesn’t really narrow things down much, does it?

What’s the alternative? What’s the better route to ending up like Ms. Nabors, “doing something you love that loves you back”? Do you start with Time Magazine’s “hot careers for 2020” list? Throw a dart at a list of possible careers? Ask your parents and their friends for advice?

Could Ms. Nabors have gone to college for a four-year degree and still ended up where she is now, traveling the world doing speaking engagements, opening her second office?

Via her retrospective coherence, apparently yes. Via mine, probably not.

“Do what you love” has different meanings to different people. Delivered to someone with very little idea of what it means to do real work, it means one thing.

Delivered to someone who has plenty of experience doing real work, it means something else. I’ve written about this before:

Career advice tomes like this are not written for project-based homeschoolers — or for other homeschoolers/unschoolers who have already had years to deeply explore their interests.

Newport’s book has some good advice for 18-25-year-olds who have been pushed toward achievement their whole lives and who have a non-reality-based, pipe-dreamy idea of what they’d really like to do, which they call their “passion.”

It’s advice for people whose interests have never been connected with their work in any meaningful way.

This advice doesn’t work for kids who are experienced at coupling their interests with real-world experience, knowledge, and skills. These kids have already deeply explored their interests. They already know what it means to get beyond the honeymoon period to the place where real, challenging work is required. They have experienced the deep pleasure of having real skills and doing meaningful work.

These kids have shared what they know with others. They’ve connected with their community. Their experiences have firmly planted them in reality. Their interests aren’t pipe dreams and fantasies — they are gateways to the nexus of “what I like to do,” “what I have to give,” and “what people will pay for.”

Most career advice is for kids who came up through the regular system. It won’t help kids who were educated via an alternate path. These books are aimed at kids who haven’t initiated their own projects, haven’t explored their interests deeply, and haven’t learned how to find their place in the world. A project-based homeschooler is already way ahead of the game. They don’t need to be told to dump their passions and buckle down to sharpen their skills at whatever job they find themselves in after graduation. They already know how to combine interests, knowledge, skills, and hard work to build something the world needs. They’ve already moved on to asking deeper questions about their purpose. They have experience finding their place in the world and figuring out what they can contribute. — Why Skills Don’t Trump Passion

For me, “do what you love” means starting with what you know about your own signature strengths and what you think you would like to do with them. That’s a path to meaningful work. You will almost certainly not end up doing what you imagined at age 17. You will make new discoveries, meet new people, and gather new information. You will almost certainly end up doing a lot of different things.

“Do what you love” isn’t a career plan — but it is a plan for a good life.

Goleman: When you talk about Good Work, you propose three tests that anyone can apply to their own work to ask the question, ‘Is the work I’m doing in this category?’ One is, it fits your values. The second is that it’s excellent work — you’re highly competent at what you do; you’re effective. The third is, it brings joy.

Gardner: …[W]e found, particularly in people who were working in very challenging professions or in very challenging milieus, that it was simply too difficult to be technically excellent and constantly reflecting about whether you are responsible and ethical. It was too difficult to do unless what you were doing was terribly important to yourself and you really felt it was your mission in life. You felt that you weren’t whole unless you were doing this kind of thing. — What I’ve been reading: The path to Good Work is paved with passion and hope

Doing what you love doesn’t necessarily mean doing it as your career — but it can still infuse your work with more meaning and your life with more satisfaction:

Creative hobbies boost your work performance. They can be the key to creative breakthroughs and better mental health.

Side projects can diversify and protect your income and boost your career.

The benefit of having lots of different interests is that you train your brain to learn many new patterns. The patterns you learn in one field can then be applied to totally different fields to solve problems creatively. — Steve Pavlina

Job crafting — upgrading your day job by pulling in your strengths, passions, and values — makes your work more meaningful and more enjoyable.

But let’s say a young person does want to pursue what they love for their career and they ask for your advice. Consider the following before you answer:

Job satisfaction is at its lowest rate since anyone started measuring it and nearly two-thirds of people would choose another career if they could.

[W]hen you ask older folks for the most important lesson they’ve learned, what do they say? “Don’t stay in a job you dislike.”

Plenty of research says money doesn’t make us all that happy once you can pay the bills. … Having meaning in your life increases life satisfaction twice as much as wealth.

Can you guess what Harvard Business Review says is the #1 career regret? “I wish I hadn’t taken the job for the money.”

Despite low pay and high unemployment artists have higher job satisfaction than most people.

Aristotle once said, “Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation.” He was way ahead of his time.

One of the most proven elements in work research is that using your strengths makes you feel great:

Americans also gain a boost in positive emotions the more they use their strengths. The more hours per day adults believe they use their strengths, the more likely they are to report having ample energy, feeling well-rested, being happy, smiling or laughing a lot, learning something interesting, and being treated with respect.

Doing what you’re passionate about has wide-ranging positive benefits.

Via Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined:

Elderly individuals who were harmoniously passionate scored higher on various indicators of psychological adjustment, such as life satisfaction, meaning in life, and vitality, while they reported lower levels of negative indicators of psychological adjustment such as anxiety and depression.

Cal Newport points out a weakness in the “follow your passion” argument: most people’s passions are quite difficult to make a living at.

What’s interesting is that most often it is passion that leads us to “10,000 hours” of deliberate practice and subsequent expertise.

Via Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined:

The researchers also looked at the role of passion among 130 undergraduate students enrolled in a selective psychology course. They found a direct path from harmonious passion to deliberate practice: the students who were more harmoniously passionate about their work were more likely to engage in deliberate practice.

So following your passion and working hard may eventually make you great at what you love… — How You Can Have a Fulfilling Career: 10 Scientific Steps

Is doing what you love a guarantee for success? Absolutely not. But neither is pursuing something you don’t love.

My father could have been a great comedian but he didn’t believe that that was possible for him and so he made a conservative choice. Instead, he got a safe job as an accountant, and when I was 12 years old, he was let go from that safe job. And our family had to do whatever we could to survive. I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which was that you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love. — Jim Carrey

In the end, it’s not the advice that matters — it’s the young people who are receiving it. We need to make sure they know the deep pleasure of doing meaningful work. We need to make sure they know what their interests, talents, and signature strengths are. We need to make sure they know how to seek out opportunities and build community. We need to make sure they have experience working hard at something that matters. We need to make sure they’ve already experienced failure and disappointment and they’ve already learned how to move past it and adapt.

If they start experiencing meaningful work at a young age, they’ll do it for the rest of their lives — whether it comes with a paycheck or not. And that’s the key to a meaningful and satisfying life.

The irony is that the teen years could be so rich for exploring interests and talents (and doing real, meaningful work) but we stuff them with so many hours of school, homework, and extracurricular activities (all the better for your college application!) that kids don’t know who they are or what they want to do. — The ROI of Meaningful Work

When I talk to my sons about the work they love to do, we’re not discussing some pink cloud fantasy that will happen later on, when they’re adults — we’re talking about the work they’re doing right now.

By the time well-meaning people starting telling them “don’t do what you love,” it will already be too late.


See also: The path to Good Work is paved with passion and hope