Why You Can’t Do What You Love

Here’s an examination of a situation when one can’t even do what he/she loves. And talking about solutions and rewarding activities leave you overwhelmed and unmotivated. It turns out that you have to first make room in your life, before you can invite goodness to come in.

In a hurry? Read the digest version.

Do what you love to do, they say.

And your response to this cliché?

Yeah, right.

It seems so easy and simple to say “do what you love to do” doesn’t it? Almost too easy. If you haven’t experienced what it’s like to spend significant amount of time doing what you love — you may not even know what it is that you love to do — then a statement like this can get you down, instead of giving you hope. You’re so used to living a life filled with activities you tolerate grudgingly. Life is supposed to be hard. It’s hard to see it any other way.

I’m here to tell you that I’ve been in your shoes. And what you’re feeling is very valid.

What Kept Me from Doing What I Love

Earlier in my life, there was an era when I had more time, and even a dedicated room for what I love to do: playing my guitar and making music. And I did pursue music making — I played in bands and such. But I never truly relished what I was doing. And in my spare time, I filled it with a lot of inconsequential filler — like playing computer games.

Looking back, I always wished if I had spent that time really enjoying myself, doing what I loved to do. I had identified correctly where my passion laid, but yet I wasn’t doing it. Why?

It was because I was too tired.

Not physically but I was emotionally and mentally exhausted. I was working jobs that sucked life out of me.  And all I saw in my music career was the big, wide gap between where I was and where I wanted to be. I was overtaxed and burdened — didn’t have enough life left in me to really tackle even something I love to do. So I went for quick fixes and shallow distractions. Something to numb my mind and take me out of the reality I lived in.

What Makes It So Hard to Do What You Love

Life is full of life-suckers. Everything in life demands a piece of you, some more than others. Jobs drain you, relationships take time and effort, even planning a vacation requires some decision-making and problem-solving.

In short, all activities require your investment.

And if so, the key in life is to engage in activities that pay back more than you invested.

Going further on the financial analogy, if you keep spending on things that return neither money nor value, then your resources will soon be depleted. In order to maintain your assets and make it grow, then you need to invest in things that make you more money by either enabling you to earn more or your investment pays back more than what you put in.

But if your resources are already so depleted, then you don’t even have enough to invest into asset-enhancing/replenishing activities.

And therein lies the problem.

Elsewhere, I established that what makes life worthwhile is a good challenge. But a challenge is still that, a challenge. Although a good challenge will give you plenty back, it still takes you to invest into it first.

If your life force is depleted, then you don’t have what it takes to make that initial investment. You simply are out of energy to tackle a challenge, good or bad.

When You Are Depleted

Life is full of problems and challenges, and the more you are engaged in the kinds that don’t pay you back, the more depleted you are. You feel tired and spent, totally unmotivated. Here are some symptoms I experience when I’m in that state:

  • I start looking for excuses not to hold up my usual standards. I would give myself permission to eat junkier, sweeter, greasier food, for example.
  • I don’t feel like being productive, even when that productive activity is something I do for fun.
  • I feel lazy and am looking for indulgence.
  • I don’t feel generous with my time or efforts, and get easily annoyed when people ask for help.
  • I would do things that I know would make me feel bad later, but I somehow talk myself into it. Example: procrastinating.

You can tell me that doing what you love to do is the most rewarding thing in my life, but when I’m in this state, the message would have no relevance to me. I’m simply not receptive to anyone telling me to do anything.

It’s like telling someone who’s struggling to put food on the table each day, to start investing in retirement funds. When you don’t have enough to get through the day, then you certainly don’t have enough to prepare for the future.

How to Replenish Yourself

If you can’t even invest in productive, life-giving activities, then there’s only one thing you can do to improve your life.

Do less of life-sucking activities.

The less your days demand of you, the more you will have to deploy to activities that feed you back. Before you can start building up, you need to tear down.

Imagine that you are a cup. Right now it’s filled with muck and sludge. You want to pour in clear, beautiful water or juice of fresh-squeezed fruit, but you simply don’t have space for them. Make room for the new and better things by pouring out first.

Now, there are some activities that require little to no investment. Sleeping, for example, requires little and is a good activity, as long as you don’t over- or under-do it. On the other hand, some highly indulgent tasks, such as watching TV, seek to minimize investment and are thus easy lure for tired minds. If you crave these things, I would say give in. It takes too much effort to fight impulses that are already in your system. What you need to work on is not fighting the symptoms of your depleted mental resources. Work on the cause. Do so and you’ll see that you won’t desire these indulgences.

Stop blaming yourself for being lazy, unmotivated and un-ambitious. It simply means you are depleted. It doesn’t mean you are a bad person. By simply reducing time and efforts doing things you hate, your natural motivations and hopefulness will return to you.

Many self-improvement literature try to employ tricks and techniques to restore your energy and motivation, but really, all that will be secondary and possibly unnecessary when you simply reduce the amount of soul-sucking that goes on in your life.

The other day I was hanging out at Steve Pavlina’s forum, and came across a woman who was asking about how to raise quick cash so she could get rid of her debt. I went on a tirade about how money is not the problem and that how doing what you love will bring you joy. She gave me a “heard it before” response. Then someone else came along and said “look, your debt is obviously distracting and burdening you so much that you can’t even walk straight. Let’s get rid of that, and then see where that gets to you.”

I felt like a complete moron for not seeing that.


Many people are clueless about what they love to do in life. But most can point fingers to what they hate. This is perfectly OK and normal. It simply means that you need to get rid of your garbage firs. All of us have a good idea where to start.

“Do what you love” is a fine advise, but it can seem burdensome when you are really depleted, because even what you love requires some investments. It takes even more if you first have to go on the journey to discover it. If it feels overwhelming to you, don’t force it. It’s the step after you clear some room for better things to come in.

For example, people love to talk about getting rid of jobs all together. And I agree that that is the ideal. But switching to a better job is still a step in the right direction. The less your energy is sucked out, the more you have to work on projects that will get you closer to eventually getting rid of a job.

My growth itself seems to be filled with more unlearning and throwing away than acquiring. As I reduced my stress by quitting things that were not working, switching from “very bad” jobs to “less bad” to “not bad at all,” I felt increasingly more energetic. Many say that growth is about expanding, but I am not sure if that analogy works for me completely. As I grow, I see myself becoming leaner, less excessive, almost stoic — as I do much less of indulgent activities.

It feels more like sharpening a knife. Before, I was bloated and uneven, and needed a lot of blunt and inefficient force to cut. Now I cut with ease — lean, sharp and effective.

Which Doors Did You Close?

What are activities you discarded? Which are the ones you want to get rid of — and why are you still hanging on to it? Do you have any examples of how closing one door led to opening up another, a better one? Please share your “shedding” experience below.

This article was featured in The Twenty Fourth Edition of the Carnival of Improving Life.


  1. Hi Ari,

    What an eloquently written article.

    I do agree, we often hear the “do what you love” line, but it’s difficult to figure out what that is. I struggled for years with that question, so in the meantime, I did jobs I actually didn’t mind, but they weren’t ideal.

    Getting rid of time wasters is important. I noticed when I stopped aimlessly watching TV and worrying that I needed everything in our home perfect, I felt a lightness. I also find when I’m surrounded by simplicity (not clutter), I feel more motivated. Mental, as well as physical clutter can get us down. Getting rid, or minimizing both, makes a huge difference in our lives.

    Barbara Swafford’s last blog post..NBOTW – Everyday Is Father’s Day

    1. Hi Barbara,

      Thanks for your kind words — it means a lot to me, especially coming from someone who reads a lot of blogs.

      Clutter is definitely an energy drain. A clean canvas inspires. I used to be a terribly messy person, and I’m still in the process of unlearning that. I am finding that right tools are crucial for me — since this is an area I’m deficient in, I need to be generous with myself to use tools that are fun to use and well-made in order to organize. For example, I’m pretty organized with my computer files. Less so on my work desk. 🙁

      Still has much room for improvement, for sure.


    1. Hi Writer Dad,

      Thanks, and glad you like the longer versions. It’d be sad if nobody read them. 😉 That said, I started doing the digest versions to solve a reader problem — or the ones I’d be having with my content if I were a reader. It can be so overwhelming. Plus, for me, it takes more courage to put up short posts. To be confident enough in my distilled essence to just let it be.

      I’ve gotten lots of positive feedback on it, so it’s staying. Though it’s very hard work!


  2. Hey Ari,

    First, really admire your audacious honest about the ‘ah hah’ moment at Steve Pavlina’s forum. Gutsy, real and solid. Thanks.

    And boy oh boy, did you call this one right!

    It’s not too often we make the connection between creating the space in their life for what they need FIRST (in this case, anxiety relief and demonstration she had more power than she might first have thought) so that what we want can start making its way more easily to us.

    Fairy dust would be nice, but it’s never ceases to amaze me how when I jump in where I can when I can and move things around (or take them right out of the equation) it always makes room for more love, passion and energy.

    BTW – you idea to offer long and short version?

    1. Hello Lissa,

      Welcome to OBV! Glad you enjoyed my post — including my little boo boo. 😉

      You are right, moving stuff around where I can really restore the sense of your power over your own life, doesn’t it? Many of us feel trapped, powerless– and clueless as to what our calling is. And looking for one seems like a daunting task.

      I’ve always learned the hard way, by simply trying harder, cramming more in. It’s only recently that I realized that I needed to take stuff out, in order to let something back in. I’m still learning it, though — the ideal place is where we have a bit of wiggle room, but I tend to fill it always to the brim.

      My idea to offer a long and short version? I know I can be verbose and people don’t have time to read the whole thing, so I wanted to offer a quick, scanner nugget for those people. Plus, it’s a good practice for me to become more succinct. As long as my proses are, I think concise writing is more powerful. I’m working my way down. 😉


  3. Hi Ari,

    I clicked over Problogger because your title intrigued me, but I also really enjoyed your article (can’t say that about all of the titles I clicked on!). For a long time I have been feeling exactly as you describe in the “when you are depleted” section, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to get myself out of that state. You have definitely given me some things to think about!


    Liz@Inventing My Life’s last blog post..Pink Elegance

    1. Hi Liz,

      Welcome to OBV! Thanks so much for coming, and your kind words. I’m glad to hear that my little example was relevant to you.

      I myself am a pack rat of life, so it’s really easy for me to fill my life up to the brim. But it’s been a good exercise for me to look at what’s taking up my life and go “you know what? that’s not as important as this one.” Letting go is such a relief.

      I hope something positive will come out of your thinking session!


  4. Ari, this is really unique material. I enjoyed it. I enjoy your honesty. I like how you bring yourself into the material in an intimate way.

    I feel what you say has a lot of merit. But I would also add, that we can work on making things not deplete us as much – even the things we rather not be doing.

    For example, if you have a really negative attitude with a job you truly dislike you could still improve your attitude. It may still suck some out of you, but with an improved attitude it may such a lot less.

    So, in essence, one can always work on their mind even in the midst of bad circumstances. Ideally, however, best to work on both mind and circumstances! And hopefully the circumstances will change.

    But the mind… The mind can always change, even when the circumstances do not.

    Bamboo Forest’s last blog post..Why Having to Say Hello Twice can Be So Awkward

    1. Hi Bamboo,

      Thanks for your affirmation. I write what I would like to read — so it’s nice to know that it works for someone else, too.

      And you are absolutely right! I must admit that I didn’t think of that. Whenever I think of something that’s not working for me, I always think of simply throwing it out. But sometimes it’s not a good idea, sometimes it’s not possible. I do apply what you are saying to my life already, but I just didn’t think about it within the context of this post.

      Either way, the way to combat the state of depletion is to change stuff around — externally and internally. And it’s really feels empowering to realize that.


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  6. What great insights you brought to this post – thanks. In my work as a Christian success coach and author, I use the empty well analogy, but really like the way you put it into financial terms. That’s the thing – a distinction that works for one person might not work for another. Thanks for giving me another tool! lol

    Like you, I’ve found that moving toward the things that matter to me and away from everything else has made my life better, more complete and deliciously more success.


    Ava Semerau, author of And God Was Pleased

    A Problogger entry

    1. Ava,

      Welcome to OBV! Thanks so much for picking me out of the many!

      Empty well is a good analogy, too. I’m a big fan of metaphors. Being a Japanese, I can sometimes bring some exotic-sounding ones to the discussion. 😉 I think analogy and stories used as metaphors/symbols are such powerful ways to communicate. I try to do that in some of my songs — tell a story without judging or drawing out conclusions — leaving that part up to the listeners. Someday I may try that in my blog, though unlike song lyrics, I have to be a bit more cohesive when it’s just in writing. 😉

      I’m off to read some of your blog — unfortunately, it looks like your RSS or commenting are working, but I’m curious to see what you have to share from your coaching and writing experience.

      Thanks again, and keep in touch!


  7. I agree, that those of us who are doing what we love forget what it was like to be mired in some horrible job/situation. I have a family member who wanted change but just was unable to get the energy to do it — but when he started exercising regularly and eating right, he felt completely different & is in the process of making a dramatic change.

    ~ ElizabethPW

    Elizabeth Potts Weinstein’s last blog post..4 Ways to Build Your Ezine List Without Spending a Dime

    1. Hi Elizabeth,

      Welcome to OBV! You are absolutely right, it’s easy to forget and it’s hard to relate when you get to a better place. This reminds me of a little story — Friend A was talking about another friend B, about how B hates money. And I told her, “well, if you’re working a day job you hate to make money, then you’d hate money, too.” When you’re depleted, your whole world feels bad and threatening. Replenish your tank, and things look better. 😉


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