Opting Out of the Deferred Life Plan
— Which moves you: Drive or passion? —
Once upon a time, a young Apple Computer attorney named Randy Komisar negotiated a deal that might have turned the personal computing industry upside down—and changed the world.
Komisar struck an agreement with Apollo Computer to license the Macintosh operating system. The move was the very embodiment of “Computing for the Rest of Us,” Apple’s Big Idea, the grand and good mission that inspired Apple employees and fans alike. Later Komisar would write:
Along with many others inside Apple, I was a strong proponent of licensing the Macintosh operating system in order to preempt Microsoft in setting the standard for user-friendly computing. After all, it was Apple’s birthright, its overriding mission. It would mean cannibalizing our own model, sacrificing margins for volume and market share, but it seemed better than circling the wagons and defending an ever-declining piece of the PC business.
But at the last minute, John Sculley, the brilliant Pepsi-Cola executive who at Steve Job’s behest famously gave up “selling sugar water” to lead Apple, scuttled the deal. Sculley undercut the company’s greater mission in order to preserve Apple’s high-margin end-to-end hardware/software business model.
Apple’s share of the worldwide personal computer market subsequently plummeted, and today it stands at just under three percent (3%). Would Sculley have made the same decision if he could have known that, years later, the reality of Apple’s vision would be Computing for Three Percent of Us?
No one knows, of course, what might have happened had Apple stuck to its ideals and licensed its operating system. But in The Monk and the Riddle, the best-seller detailing the episode, Komisar illuminates the point by distinguishing between passion and drive. Passion and drive are not the same at all, he writes:
Passion pulls you toward something you cannot resist. Drive pushes you toward something you feel compelled or obligated to do.
Passion pulled Apple Computer toward its mission of making computing available to everyman, but drive forced management to choose predictable profitability and lower risk. Here’s my takeaway: Drive arises from will, passion from the soul.
The distinction is useful. Komisar goes on to make the key point of his book, a rejection of what he calls the “Deferred Life Plan.”
The Deferred Life Plan consists of two steps:
1. Do what you have to do, then
2. Do what you want to do
To achieve the “promise of full coverage under the plan,” writes Komisar, you should divide life into two distinct parts. In Part One you do whatever it takes to become financially secure. In Part Two, you retire and do exactly what you want (it may hardly be necessary to note that the Deferred Life Plan is fueled by drive rather than passion).
The problem, of course, is that those who achieve financial security through drive rather than passion often discover the hollowness of victory. To use a self-help cliché, the success ladder they struggled so hard to climb was leaning against the wrong building.
I experienced this for myself when I sold my company in 2000. I’d started my firm in 1994 based on a passion: exploiting the Internet’s ability to convert high variable communications costs into low fixed costs on behalf of Japanese consumers, who’d long suffered from expensive metered-rate telecommunications services. The Internet also promised a curiously powerful mix of intimacy and anonymity, something perfectly matching the Japanese communication style.
That passion sustained me through the tough early years. Later, as our services were sought by higher and higher profile customers, the exigencies of business—and my drive to succeed—steadily overtook passion. Soon my business became one of helping online retailers sell more, more, more into Japan, Taiwan, and Korea. By the time we sold out, I, too, had “sold out” my Big Idea—my original vision—while fatigue and world-weary “success” blurred my recognition of that very truth. Maybe that’s why Komisar’s story struck me with such force.
Received Western wisdom continues to enthusiastically endorse the Deferred Life Plan, as it has for more than 200 years (see Mark’s post about Charles Lamb’s surprisingly mixed feelings upon his “deliverance” from a life of office drudgery in the early nineteenth century).
Opting out of the Deferred Life Plan is no easy task. It’s a struggle demanding discipline, not just of the will, but of the soul.
(This post appears from the Soul Shelter archives)
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