The Prince of Wales test

by Wolf Pascoe on February 4, 2013

But you must be sure that your imagination and love are behind it, that you are not working just from grim resolution, i.e., to make money or impress people.
— Brenda Ueland

In my dreams of flying, I need to flap.

I wave my arms in imitation of a bird, and after a minute or so of exhaustive effort, find myself rising slowly from the ground. In a few minutes I’m above the treetops, moving slowly, in the cumbersome way of a giant dirigible with a tiny propeller.

Once, at a party I think it was, I shared this dream with a woman I knew. She laughed.

“What’s so funny?”

“All that effort.”

“How do you fly?” I said.

“I just fly.”

“You don’t have to flap?”

“No. I just go.”

“How fast?”

“As fast as I want.”

Well, I flap.




I was reminded of my flapping when Bruce Dolan responded in his luminous way to my post about losing things a couple of weeks ago. He said:

Sometimes we lose things, and sometimes mysterious forces kindly take the cup of reeling from our hands, having drunk to the ashes and the dregs, our palates so appreciative of honey.

Just as not everyone needs to flap in order to fly, not everyone needs spells for loss. I wish I were one of those people. But apparently I’m someone with spells for everything.

Which brings me, almost, to the Prince of Wales.




A short time ago I ran across an essay by Paul Graham, “How to do What You Love.” The web is filled with advice about doing what you love, most of it rot. But this essay spoke to me.

I flap a lot over doing what I love. I wish I could just do it, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards. I have to flap first.

I recommend Graham’s essay to you because it’s specific. It proposes a sort of technology for doing what you love, a way to flap. If you can fly without flapping, I’m sure you don’t need to read this essay. You’re probably already doing what you love. But I found it helpful.

The first thing I liked about what Graham said was this: doing what you love doesn’t mean doing what you would most like to do this very second. You don’t have to be obsessed with it, or even feel the dreaded P(assion) word. You just have to like it enough to want to occupy your spare time doing it (assuming you are not already doing it for money.)

Einstein, when he worked in the patent office, did physics in his spare time. Later, when he was paid to do physics, he played the violin in his spare time.

Once, when he had to give a lecture on relativity, he said something like, “Why don’t we all just enjoy ourselves?” and instead of giving the lecture took out his violin and played for the audience.

If the idea of doing what you love can be so fluid for someone like Einstein, surely it can be so for mere mortals.




Graham identifies two siren forces that lead people away from doing what they love: money and prestige. He says this:

A comparatively safe and prosperous career with some automatic baseline prestige is dangerously tempting to someone young, who hasn’t thought much about what they really like.

As examples of such dangerous careers, he lists corporate law and medicine.

How many corporate lawyers would do their current work if they had to do it for free, in their spare time, and take day jobs as waiters to support themselves?

Point taken.

I still remember my first day as an intern, my first day as a working doctor. I didn’t know much and was completely overwhelmed with the responsibility I now had, but I remember thinking, At last, I’m something. I have a place to stand in the world.

It took me a long time to respond by asking myself the question, Yes. But is this what I want to do?




I promised you a spell, and something about the Prince of Wales. It’s this:

If you’re not sure of what you love to do, that is, if you’re not quite sure that money and prestige haven’t biased your choice, then imagine you’re the Prince of Wales, and ask yourself what you’d do in your spare time.

There’s not much you could do that would give you more prestige than the heir apparent to the British crown, which pretty much takes the flap out of prestige’s arms. And there’s also not much you could do that would give you more money than the prince already has, so the question of getting money from what you choose also becomes moot.

So what would you do in your spare time, when you’re not cutting highway ribbons and smashing champagne bottles against new boats?

Happy flapping.



Last night I dreamt about Camilla Parker Bowles



How to Do What You Love by Paul Graham




Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)


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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Chad Nikazy February 4, 2013 at 12:33 pm

good timing. Needed this one. Thanks.


Wolf Pascoe February 4, 2013 at 6:42 pm

My pleasure!


Robin February 4, 2013 at 1:03 pm

I would help my kids with their homework without having to worry about cooking dinner, or even figuring out WHAT to cook for dinner. And I would hang out with my friends. And I would sit shiva with everyone in my congregation who loses a loved one — we had trouble getting a minyan when my dad passed away. And I would give piano lessons and conduct choirs without charging money.

I’m noticing that I imagine I would have LOTS of free time!

Regarding the dreaded “p” word, I have always loved the books by Barbara Sher. I’ve never managed to work my way through one of her books doing all the suggested exercises, but I still love her books.


Wolf Pascoe February 4, 2013 at 6:47 pm

I have just ordered The Great Work of Your Life by Stephen Cope. Haven’t read it yet. Have high hopes.


Sirena February 4, 2013 at 2:20 pm

O.K., I’m hopelessly shallow and superficial, but I would be eternally shopping if I were the Prince of Wales. I certainly wouldn’t have married Camilla Bowles though. Thanks for the “spell”. I love Einstein and I know we would all be a lot happier if we did more of what we really enjoy doing. Here’s my favorite Einstein quote “Once you can accept the universe as being something expanding into an infinite nothing which is something, wearing stripes with plaid is easy”.


Wolf Pascoe February 4, 2013 at 6:42 pm

Are you sure it was Einstein who said that and not Woody Allen?


Barbara February 6, 2013 at 11:24 pm

In my dreams, I only needed to jump and then kick a little to fly, sort of like swimming. But in real life, I’m definitely a flapper. I haven’t read the article by Graham yet, but I will. I loved the bit about Einstein. It reminded me of how I would play my grandmother’s piano all the time, teaching myself different songs in my sister’s lesson book, but the two times I begged for, and received lessons, I stopped playing. It became a chore. So today, I don’t really know how to play the piano, but I have wonderful memories about it!


Wolf Pascoe February 6, 2013 at 11:56 pm

I’m going to try jumping and kicking a little. I thought you could only fly with your arms.


BigLittleWolf February 8, 2013 at 4:45 pm

This is delectable.

Sometimes, I flap. Sometimes, I glide. I’m fine with both of those, in fact happy that I have the experience of both.

But now I need to know: Is the Prince of Wales looking to adopt?


Wolf Pascoe February 8, 2013 at 5:22 pm

Perhaps another puppy?


The Exception February 10, 2013 at 5:47 pm

I just – rise – and sometimes it reminds me of Mary Poppins during the Love to Laugh part. It is odd to think that I ahve yet to have a job that I wouldn’t ahve done just for fun – it isn’t the work that is the issue but the politics and red tape that require the salary to deal with. It isn’t just what we enjoy doing or the mental challenge or whatever; I would think it is also the sense of giving something or doing something of use? Or maybe that is just me?


Wolf Pascoe February 11, 2013 at 7:49 pm

The Rise and Rise of the Exception. I like it. And to be of use, yes.


Privilege of Parenting February 12, 2013 at 12:18 am

Flap or float, as long as we’re rising we surely must converge, hopefully with the likes of Flannery O’Connor, Mary Poppins, kites, champagne bubbles, spells of all good magic and perhaps the Princess of whales Herself.


Wolf Pascoe February 12, 2013 at 7:58 pm

It’s too close to call whether I’d like to be Flannery O’Conner or Mary Poppins in my spare time.


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