OZY Fest Recap: Did Mark Cuban Just Contradict Himself?

by Ivan Rahman   •  

“Everybody’s got something that they’re wired to do and that they’re good at. The problem is, people don’t always find it. But once you do find it, run with it.” Mark Cuban offered this advice to hundreds of people standing in front of the black stage from where he spoke during OZY Fest 2017. OZY Fest is an annual, all-day festival that happens in Central Park and is organized by OZY Media, a digital news magazine focused on the future.

The festival featured live music, thought-provoking talks, and a jam-packed bazaar for food, drinks, and clothing. There were misting fans on full blast throughout the outdoor space, as the sun was unforgiving; it was 90 degrees Fahrenheit for most of the day. Yet, despite the heat, the crowd listened as Cuban shared his story of transitioning from a boy who sold garbage bags so he could buy a pair of basketball shoes to the billionaire he is today.

Cuban’s suggestion to find what we are “wired” to do echoes Steve Jobs’s main point in his acclaimed speech at Stanford University in 2005. Jobs asserted, “You’ve got to find what you love […] Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”

Both Cuban and Jobs seem to imply that if we do not discover what we love, then we will not be fully satisfied with our lives. But what if we are not born “wired” to do something? What if the thing we are passionate about is not hiding somewhere waiting for us to find it? Is it possible that our passion for a skill grows alongside our systematic development of that skill, and that, as we hone that skill, we fundamentally rewire ourselves?

Perhaps Cuban was not “wired” to be a businessman, but was, instead, wiring himself to become one as he cultivated entrepreneurial skills from an early age. It is entirely possible that his increasing command over a skillset engendered his passion for leveraging that skillset.

In 2012, Cuban wrote a blog post titled “Don’t Follow Your Passion, Follow Your Effort.” In it, he writes, “1. When you work hard at something you become good at it. 2. When you become good at doing something, you will enjoy it more. 3. When you enjoy doing something, there is a very good chance you will become passionate or more passionate about it.” Here, Cuban recognizes that our individual passion is not necessarily a pre-existing entity that we must uncover. Rather, he sees it for what it is: a positive byproduct of excelling at a specific skill.

So, why does this conversation about skills versus passion matter? It matters because, according to the Opportunity Index, over five million youth, ages 16 to 24, in the U.S. are neither in school nor working. Often due to circumstances beyond their control, most of them face formidable barriers to employment. When so many of them are low-income, homeless, undocumented, or incarcerated, encouraging them to find and pursue their passion would be misguiding them when they cannot afford to be misguided one bit.

After all, what they identify as their passion may correspond with a low likelihood of achieving financial security. And, unlike their wealthier peers, most of them do not have a relatively strong economic safety net to fall back on if the pursuit of their passion does not work out. Alternatively, the adults in their lives should push them to develop skills that they, the youth, find interesting and that society readily rewards.

Meanwhile, government and business leaders should create pathways that expand youth access to various skills. The House passage of the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act is progress towards this end. If enacted, this bill will boost federal support for state and local career and technical education programs. At the same time, Microsoft “announced a grant of more than $25 million to help Skillful, a program to foster skills-oriented hiring, training and education,” according to The New York Times. This trending emphasis on skills over pedigree is also a step in the right direction, as it facilitates upward mobility for youth who never attained a college degree.

As technology transforms the economy at a dizzying pace, the landscape of relevant skills is swiftly shifting. We must, therefore, help our youth who are jobless and out of school discern and master worthwhile skills that, ideally, match their interests. In the process, their passions will organically ensue. Moreover, by supporting our youth in this way, we would productively reintegrate them into society and, thereby, rewire the U.S. for greater economic prosperity.


Ivan Rahman Ivan Rahman is an MPA Candidate and a Gleitsman Leadership Fellow at Harvard University and an MBA Candidate at Stanford University. He's also an Opportunity Nation Opportunity Leader. Before pursuing his MPA and MBA, Ivan consulted for the NYC Department of Education. Prior to that, he served as the Director of Data for Coney Island Prep's elementary, middle, and high schools. He is an alumnus of Education Pioneers, Teach For America, the Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs, and Public Allies. Finally, he holds a B.A. from New York University and a Master of Arts in Teaching from the Relay Graduate...

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