Good Work—Edition Nº 3

A hand-curated newsletter devoted to exploring how we choose to spend the 90,000 hours that will make up our careers.
Andy Sparks
▪︎ 8 minutes read time

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart, who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience, who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward, who do what has to be done, again and again.Marge Piercy*

My favorite people are irrationally passionate. They’re the ones who get to work getting things done and forego the temptation to stick to talk. These people don’t spectate, they participate. Whether they’re writers on fire about writing, dancers stoked about dancing, chefs who can’t stop cooking, teachers teaching even when they aren’t teaching, whatevers whatevering so strong you stop talking about the weather—these are my people.

Getting good at something—strike that—getting great at something looks a lot more fun in the theaters than it is in practice. Naval Ravikant, CEO of AngelList, said, “It takes ten years to build a career in anything.”*. Thankfully, universities and public education systems and parents teach this, and there is rich discussion and so many helpful examples of how a ten-year career develops.

Except they don’t, and no there aren’t. But what if?

Having only one ten-year career under my belt, I’m no expert, but that shouldn’t keep someone from trying. As far as I can see, here’s how it works.

In years one through three of a career in a given field, plus or minus a few months on either side, everyone is navigating what Chris Dixon calls “The Idea Maze.” Dixon’s framing is specific to entrepreneurs, but I think the metaphor works generally. Before you can be successful in a space, be it acting, dancing, entrepreneuring, or whatevering, you have to know what’s been done before—what’s worked, what hasn’t, what’s been tried, what hasn’t?

In years three through seven, you’ve gotten to know the territory. You know the people’s names who are people whose names need to be known, and you’re trying things that have never been done. The thing about this phase is that things that haven’t been done have a habit of being things that don’t work. We love calling these things failures or, if you’re a millennial like me, “learning experiences.”

In his book Mastery, Robert Greene writes of the greatest dangers to achieving mastery in our careers: “feelings of boredom, impatience, fear, and confusion.” A lot of people quit a career here.

The last third of a ten year career is where things get fun. You don’t just have context, you have experience. Your subconscious is trained and you get more comfortable with your intuition. You’ve fostered relationships for years, and they starting to pay off in ways you could never have expected. Progress plainly demands patience.

But ten years is the minimum investment required for a career. After ten years, you can keep going, or even switch tracks. Take Bob Metcalfe, for example, the man who invented Ethernet—he’s on his fifth ten-year career.

We’d love to hear from you. What do you think of the idea of the ten-year career?

This Week


  • [5m] In “A Constant Struggle For Recognition,” venture capitalist Semil Shah shares the story of how legendary sportsball player Tom Brady’s breakout career almost didn’t happen. As someone who isn’t particularly interested in sports, this still struck me as a relatable story of how important it can be to not quit when you have conviction that you’re working on the right thing.
  • [14m]How To Be Successful,” a new piece by Sam Altman, and a few alternative Tweetstorms on success like this one by Naval Ravikant, and this one by Basecamp co-founder and staunch opponent of the school of “work yourself to the bone” David Heinemeier Hansson.
  • [2m] As I sat with one of my friends over a beer this week to talk about their career, they asked me if it seemed like everyone around me was having an existential career crisis. And a lot of them are. They then pointed me to this piece, by Christopher Ingram of The Washington Post, “Under 50? You still haven’t hit rock bottom, happiness-wise.” I, for one, reject this tyrannical curve, but it does seem to have legs.


Wait a second, I thought this was a newsletter about work? Why are we talking politics? Let’s get one thing straight. Climate change ain’t politics. In 2018, thirteen federal agencies warned that climate change, if not reined in, will reduce American GDP by 10 percent*. The red team and the blue team are divided on what to do about this, but I hope all of us can unite around being on team “ten percent drops in GDP are bad.”

So what do we do about it? A couple weeks back, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of team blue in the U.S. has proposed a Green New Deal. Many on the blue team rushed to support it, but Ramez Naam, one of my all-time favorite sci-fi authors and frequent blogger on energy policy, responded to The Green New Deal exactly the way we should encourage more people to engage with policy: through critical inquiry.

Ramez first wrote his response via Tweetstorm last week, but has now followed up with a much longer piece on TechCrunch, “How to decarbonize America—and the world[31m]. If you care about climate change, this is the most important thing you can read this week. My favorite clip:

Many of those policies are ones I support, or at least where I support the motivations behind them. Yet I am not at all certain those policies should be coupled with climate action. Coupling a long list of liberal priorities with climate action would seem to make it harder to get the bipartisan support we’ll probably need to enact these climate policies. That said, the Green New Deal resolution is a high level map, not a specific bill. The original New Deal wasn’t one piece of legislation—it was made up of more than 30 separate bills.

For further reading on climate change, we recommend the following:


Last year, I went to a wedding where half the groom’s side of the wedding were friends he had met on Twitter. It was beautiful. It was strange. I get looks when I tell people this. But Twitter can be an incredible resource for meeting delightful humans and learning from them. My favorite Twitter tactic? Asking questions. Here are some great examples:

That’s Good Work for this week. Looking forward to what’s next.

Andy and the Holloway Team

Good Work is written and curated by Andy Sparks, Courtney Nash, Dmitriy Kharchenko, Hope Hackett, Joshua Levy, and Rachel Jepsen.


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