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, music, and design, but also more generally personal development and healthy lifestyle. In the process, I thought I’d share my thoughts, in that others may find them helpful:
After years of voracious reading, 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 a primary 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 considerable 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.”
Bestselling author 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 deliberate practice, 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: 10,000 hours equates to 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 potentially achieving some level of success), then it’s quite advisable for us to find something that we love to do—something that fascinates us, something we are passionate about, something that summons our 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 the obvious immediate changes, 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, leave the world a slightly better place than it was when I arrived.
Real Pain vs. Imagined Pain
Coincidentally, during the aforementioned reconstruction of my mindset (and hopefully 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, that really resonated with me and I wanted to share it, in the hope that others might 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 others expect them to do/be—which, I believe, is an important element 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, bromanceBromance: A close but non-sexual relationship between two men. , 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 HaikuHaiku: a Japanese poem of seventeen syllables, written in three lines of five, seven, and five.. Do it because it counts even without the fanfare, the money, the fame…”
I strongly believe that we are all put here for a reason, a unique purpose, and that we should be relentlessly seeking, discovering, and fulfilling that purpose–using our intrinsic passions and natural talents as clues–and that the resultant journey indulged now (as opposed to putting it off to some proposed time or destination in the future) will unexpectedly manifest as the true source of the happiness, purpose, and fulfillment that we all seek in our lives.
Once again, I’d like to present the profound words of Jim Carrey, which he stated during his commencement address to the 2014 graduating class of Maharishi University of Management:
“My father could have been a great comedian, but he didn’t believe that that was possible for him; and so he made a conservative choice: instead, he got a safe job as an accountant. And when I was twelve years old, he was let go from that safe job, and our family had to do whatever we could to survive. I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which is that you can fail at what you don’t want—so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.“
And so, if years of relentless focus, dedication, and hard work is what it takes for us to make such a journey—in other words, killing ourselves working toward a happy, meaningful, fulfilling life of purpose, instead of killing ourselves doing the exact opposite: simply struggling to survive in the world and only dreaming of the things we’d rather be doing—then it only stands to reason what to do:
Find what you love, and let it kill you.