At the time I wrote this, I was in the process of eliminating as many of the petty distractions in my life that I could, in an attempt to focus on those things I’ve wanted to do (or, more accurately, be) since I was old enough to want to do or be anything.
These passions revolve around my art; more specifically, writing and music. And, after years of reading up, studying the work/lives of others, a little dabbling myself, and, more recently, a complete break-down and reconstruction of myself and my core beliefs and values—along with a lot of soul-searching since—I’ve come to the realization that the key to success (or at least fulfilling progress) in any vocation is relatively simple: dedication and hard work. There is no “secret,” no shortcut, no easy or quick way. It takes work, man. Lots of work. And that requires dedication of vast amounts of one’s limited time, energy, and resources.
Along those lines, I often consider one of my favorite quotes from Thomas Jefferson:
“I am a great believer in luck, and I find that the harder I work, the luckier I get.”
Steven Pressfield speaks to the reality of hard work in his books The War of Art, Do The Work, and my personal favorite, Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s work.
In his book Turning Pro, Pressfield examines the artist’s transition from an amateur, “shadow career” to a professional practice. Turning pro means you must give up the mediocre life that you have become comfortable with, familiar with, and start taking your art seriously. Turn it from a pastime or hobby into a career, a way of life. The process is difficult—but the ultimate reward comes in finding your power, your will, your voice, and your self-respect. It’s a long, arduous journey, and takes work—lots and lots of work—but if you want become what you believe you were born to be, it’s absolutely essential that you turn pro.
He summarizes thusly:
“I wrote in The War of Art that I could divide my life neatly into two parts: before turning pro and after. After is better.”
The 10,000 Hour Rule
Or take Malcolm Gladwell‘s 10,000-hour rule, as detailed in his book Outliers: The Story of Success, wherein he says he learned, from studying the lives and routines of highly accomplished people in many different vocations, that it takes, on average, 10,000 hours of practice—and not just practice, but , meaning purposely working on the hardest stuff, the stuff they have problems with, the stuff that doesn’t come naturally or easily—in order to master a skill or vocation. For those of you who may be wondering: that’s 8 to 10 years of focus, dedication, and hard work.
So, it stands to reason that if years of focus, dedication, and hard work is the key to mastering a vocation, and thus creating a life that you love (as well as achieving some level of success), then it’s quite advisable to find something that you love to do—something that fascinates you, something you are passionate about, something that summons your natural talents and abilities—and do that.
In that vein, consider the salient words of Steve Jobs:
“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
So, similarly, I looked in the mirror, and, once the usual cringe subsided, asked myself: If today I was diagnosed with a terminal disease, and given a suddenly shortened amount of time to live, what would I do with that time? What mark would I want to leave in the world, that would remain long after I’m gone—and would the world be a better place for it?
For me, the answer to this question is easy (aside from obvious things like moving to a small coastal town in a tropical climate, and living on or near the beach for the remainder of my days): I would want to focus on my art—and, I hope, create something that would, in fact, make the world a slightly better place after I leave than it was when I arrived.
Real Pain vs. Imagined Pain
Coincidentally, during this conscious transition in my life, I came across an awesome article by concert pianist James Rhodes, entitled Find What You Love and Let it Kill You, published over at The Guardian, and thought I’d share it here. Perhaps someone, somewhere out there will read it, and be inspired and motivated to change their life to do/be what they were born to do/be, instead of what they think they’re supposed to do/be, or what everyone else expects them to do/be—which, I believe, is the key to a life of happiness, purpose, and fulfillment.
From his article:
“We seem to have evolved into a society of mourned and misplaced creativity. A world where people have simply surrendered to (or been beaten into submission by) the sleepwalk of work, domesticity, mortgage repayments, junk food, junk TV, junk everything, angry ex-wives, ADHD kids and the lure of eating chicken from a bucket while emailing clients at 8pm on a weekend.”
“We are left with six hours. 360 minutes to do whatever we want. Is what we want simply to numb out and give Simon Cowell even more money? To scroll through Twitter and Facebook looking for romance, bromance, cats, weather reports, obituaries and gossip? To get nostalgically, painfully drunk in a pub where you can’t even smoke?”
“And only when the pain of not doing it got greater than the imagined pain of doing it did I somehow find the balls to pursue what I really wanted and had been obsessed by since the age of seven – to be a concert pianist.”
“So write your damn book. Learn a Chopin prelude, get all Jackson Pollock with the kids, spend a few hours writing a Haiku. Do it because it counts even without the fanfare, the money, the fame…”
I strongly believe that we are all here for a reason, a unique purpose, and—using our intrinsic passions and natural talents as clues—we should be relentlessly seeking, discovering, and fulfilling that purpose, and that the resultant journey of today (as opposed to some proposed time or destination in the future) will end up being the source of the happiness, purpose, and fulfillment that we all seek in our lives.
And so, if years of relentless focus, dedication, and hard work is what it takes—in other words, killing yourself working toward a happy, meaningful, fulfilling life—then by all means: find what you love, and let it kill you.