We all know that we ought to “do what we love to do.” Yet, a common misunderstanding prevents us from actually implementing. This essay takes away the fluff and uncovers the essence, the real truth about what it is that gives us life.
In a hurry? Read the digest version.
Many of us live a dissatisfying life, because we don’t know how to live satisfyingly. We have a wrong idea about what makes life worthwhile.
We all know that the choice we make regarding our vocation or career has a great impact on this. Because we spend a lot of time doing it. Yet, a common misunderstanding keeps us from recognizing the right choice, an effective option that actually works in making our life satisfying.
Simply put, we have our eyes on the wrong elements: benefits and destinations.
Why Benefits and Destinations Are Not Essential
Many of us choose our vocations based on what benefits the activity offers. Well, it’s not limited to big things like vocations. We choose many other things with eyes exclusively on the benefits, from what social events to attend and which hobby we engage in.
Let’s look at some of the most common benefits people go after:
- Money. Need we say more?
- People. This one seems more justifiable. Some jobs and social events provide you opportunities to meet cool people.
- “Benefits.” Like health insurance, paid holidays, etc.
- Easiness. Choosing a job because you know it’s easy and you can do a good job without a lot of effort.
- Status. Some choices offer prestige, from the brand name value of your employer to the literal prestige of your country club.
- Perks. If you work at an airline, you may be able to travel for free, for example.
- Opportunities. Some companies offer continuing education or training opportunities.
Similarly, destinations are the outcomes of your endeavor. They are the fruit of your labor, the accomplishment awaiting you at the end of the path. Is your objective in life to become a six-figure-earning blogger, or a world-renowned author? Do you go out with some friends because they are well-connected, possibly giving you job leads?
They all seem like very legitimate reasons to base your decisions on, don’t they? We make decisions with lasting consequences daily, based on benefits and destinations. We are looking at the pie and its sweet taste — but not necessarily the act of pie-making.
Why Benefits and Destinations Fail to Satisfy
Therein lies the pitfall. Benefits and destinations are fine if whatever you do is a short-term involvement. But if it’s a more long-term commitment, such as a job or a vocation, then deciding with basis primarily on those will confine you to an energy-draining life.
Why is that? Let’s look at the list above one more time. All the items, perhaps except easiness, actually are not directly related to the activity you’re choosing to engage in. They are like an accessory, an add-on designed to increase the value of the product you’re purchasing. If you buy this purse, then you’ll get a free matching handkerchief!
The objectives, too, are not necessarily tied to the act. If you’re buying a purse to look good and to have something to carry your stuff in, you can accomplish that with many devices. The outcome is not directly tied to the particular path.
The True Life-Giving Essence: The Path
That example should give away where I’m going here. To choose your activity based on the attachment or the outcome misses the whole point. The most important and effectively satisfying option is an activity where the activity itself is the reward. It’s because you spend far more time doing it, instead of enjoying the side benefit or the accomplishments.
Think about a hobby, for example. That’s a great example of something you do because you just love doing it. You don’t have your eyes on the benefits — they don’t have to make you money or win cool new friends or come with a free giftcard. You do it because you love doing it.
Most full-time job requires 40+ hours commitment. That is by far the biggest chunk of time out of your week — more than the hours you spend sleeping and anything else. You have far less time to enjoy shopping or the goods you bought using your pay or the time away from your job. It’s much more effective to have a job that’s enjoyable than to have benefits that are enjoyable. And don’t even think about the accomplishments you achieve as the result of your job. Jobs are always an unending series of milestones — you finish one project, and there’s always more waiting for you. How much time do you actually spend, enjoying the proud feeling of accomplishment? Probably much less than the hours you spent getting there.
My Personal Story
Here’s my personal example. From 2000 to 2006, my wife and I worked on building a cob cottage. We bought a piece of land outside of Austin, Texas, and set out to build a natural home that suited our values and lifestyle. We were very excited about our vision: Our home would be built relatively cheaply. We would be healthier, being free from all the artificial toxins that are typically present in modern-day housings. We would set a great example of how naturally we could live. We weren’t driven by the prospect of fame — we were genuinely interested in making an effective statement that would have impact on other people’s lives. There are many people who dream of building their own natural home, though few attempt it and fewer accomplishes it. Our success would be an inspiration to others and we would be able to help others pursue their dreams. We were very committed to our vision and we gave our all to the project.
However, we overlooked one crucial factor. I didn’t enjoy building. I bought into our cause and the vision but that still didn’t make me an appreciator of the act of building. Sure, I did learn to enjoy some portions of it. We became very fit, as building was physically demanding. But building, even when somewhat enjoyable, never was nor became a life-giving activity to me. It was an activity that I had to recover from by resting and engaging in other life-giving activities, so that I would be recharged enough to go back to it again.
My wife was much more into building, but because she had to spearhead every aspect of the project — as I was strictly a follower in this endeavor — she became quite burned out. Our vision became a burden. We went to great length to motivate and force us to continue the project, but we constantly fell behind our work schedule and we became increasingly overwhelmed. Finally, after 6 years, we made the decision to abandon the project, as my wife was pregnant with our second child and we were having emotional and physical problems. We started two cottages (the second one was straw-bale) and we finished neither of them. It was excruciatingly hard to let go of a house we built with our own hands, but quitting was the right decision at that point.
The Lesson Learned
What I learned from our costly mistake was that no matter how great and noble the intended outcome and the benefits it brings, if you don’t enjoy the path to get there, you’re throwing your life away without letting it fill you with satisfaction and joy. My memory of our building process is mostly of long hours of feeling exceedingly overwhelmed, punctured with occasional elation of accomplishments and major milestones. We met some very cool people and learned a lot. But yet, the act of building — which was what we spent all our time doing — wasn’t feeding us. We could have sustained ourselves if we had sufficient time doing other life-giving activities to offset the drain the building made on us. But we were young and our project was too big to allow for more balanced approach. We simply worked on it until we were so burned down that we fell apart.
This effect is even more profound on an activity like a full-time job. The majority of you reading this are working a job you don’t enjoy. You know how much you look forward to going home, to the weekend, to your hobby or your social life or whatever you do during your time off to feed your soul. Because your job sucks life out of you. It may offer you great pay and good company and abundant benefits, but still, the truth is that it is a life-sucking activity.
One time, my mentor (my college pastor) gave me this wisdom: all jobs demand your life. You need to choose a job that gives life back to you.
Having gone through the ordeal above, this truth rings out even clearer to me now. The element that can give you your life back is the love of the act. Not output, not objective, not benefits. Life is what happens when you’re engaged in that act. You owe it to yourself to choose an act where the act itself is your reward. This is the most essential and effective way to live a satisfying life.
Of course, all of you have heard of “doing what you love to do.” There isn’t any secret or hidden truth there — except, many of us still fail to actually do this. And you justify it by pointing fingers at the great benefits and the rosy destinations your career offers. Separate the path from the destination and the road-side attractions. And ask yourself, if there were no benefits and the destination was nothing to write home about, will you still enjoy the path?
And have the courage to choose the path only when the answer is yes.
I’m not saying milestones and accomplishments are irrelevant or unnecessary. The vision of the goal can give us focus and motivation to move forward in our path. But don’t confuse the worthiness of the vision with the reward of the process, the joy of being on the way. For example, if you’re considering getting into blogging business, don’t fix your eye on how you have the potential to make a 6-figure income, doing something that helps other people. Get in the blogging business if and only if you love writing and promoting, and you do them even if you’re making no income from it and nobody else reads your blog.
Conclusion: Fulfillment Lies on the Way
To sum up, we have discussed the essence of how to choose to do what you love to do. It’s a choice to engage in an act where the act itself is the reward, even if no other benefits came with it and it didn’t add up to a spectacular outcome. When you plan to go hiking, choose an enjoyable route over amazing destinations, and ignore the other route which gives you a better workout.
Incidentally, life seems to add an icing to the cake when you do pursue an act that you actually love. Good results and nice benefits tend to compound on a path that you enjoy. Instead of a job that sucks life and you having to refuel by using the benefits it offers (such as the high pay or generous paid leave), a job that gives you life will leave you energized and ready to tackle greater things, and all the benefits will remain with you, since they don’t need to be spent as much for recharging. Choosing an act that feeds back life truly creates a positive cycle, where good energy feeds off and create even greater outcomes.
Life is what happens when you’re on the way. Choose the way that give you life, and you’ll need nothing else. The path itself will sustain you and fill you with joy.
This article won the Top Post Award in The Twentieth Edition of the Carnival of Improving Life.