‘How To Do What You Love’
Although doing great work takes less discipline than people think — because the way to do great work is to find something you like so much that you don’t have to force yourself to do it — finding work you love does usually require discipline. […]
Sometimes jumping from one sort of work to another is a sign of energy, and sometimes it’s a sign of laziness. Are you dropping out, or boldly carving a new path? You often can’t tell yourself. Plenty of people who will later do great things seem to be disappointments early on, when they’re trying to find their niche.
Is there some test you can use to keep yourself honest? One is to try to do a good job at whatever you’re doing, even if you don’t like it. Then at least you’ll know you’re not using dissatisfaction as an excuse for being lazy. Perhaps more importantly, you’ll get into the habit of doing things well.
Another test you can use is: always produce. For example, if you have a day job you don’t take seriously because you plan to be a novelist, are you producing? Are you writing pages of fiction, however bad? As long as you’re producing, you’ll know you’re not merely using the hazy vision of the grand novel you plan to write one day as an opiate. The view of it will be obstructed by the all too palpably flawed one you’re actually writing.
“Always produce” is also a heuristic for finding the work you love. If you subject yourself to that constraint, it will automatically push you away from things you think you’re supposed to work on, toward things you actually like. “Always produce” will discover your life’s work the way water, with the aid of gravity, finds the hole in your roof.
I’ve been in one of my Hemingway periods (long bouts of thinking followed by short bursts of writing) and find work on The Book slow as a consequence. To that end I promised myself three hours of today of proper pen-to-paper writing.
For me, the following rough-cut excerpt is the closest I’ve yet come to saying what I want to say. What do you think? If this was the introduction would you keep reading?
Each story you are about to read hinges on this simple truth: extraordinary people become who they are by fixing their eyes on a goal and moving towards it. That’s it.
Their magnificent, heart-warming, inspiring stories are possible because they are doers. There is no magic formula, no prerequisite, no mystery to their success. They simply set out to do something, to live a certain way, and the act of doing it was the sole precondition for their success.
Along the way each of them developed the skills, knowledge, and beliefs that sustain them and help them progress, but those only followed the first, the essential thing: action.
They have lives like Goldberg Devices – fantastic contraptions that no one else would have dreamed up, with outcomes decided by a single motion transferred through weird and wonderful mechanisms. Unexpected twists, peculiar levers and unnamed bits of machinery that come together to propel their lives forward.
They stopped waiting for the perfect moment, the clear-cut path, the secure position, the external affirmation. They decided: this is what I’m going to do, and did it, without guarantee or assurance.
Once they took that step, things happened. They found ideas, courage, inspiration, experience, friendships and knowledge that became part of their progress. As they moved forward, each step revealed the next. They gained momentum. They achieved their goals. They created news lives and saw the world through new eyes.
They discovered that those who do, can.
What matters isn’t what you have or know; where you live or how much you earn. What matters is what you are willing to do. As you’ll discover, anything is possible. You can conquer illness, climb mountains, unite a nation, change your career or save a child’s life. You can become an artist, an explorer, an athlete, a hero. You can live the life you’ve always dreamed of – if you will.
High on the list of books I cannot live without is Walden, Henry David Thoreau’s masterpiece. My dogeared, pencil-lined copy is one of my prized, and most frequently reread, possessions. The following is from its final chapter.
I did not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains. I do not wish to go below now.
I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endevours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will but some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favaour in a more liberalse sense, and he will live with the licence of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.
~Henry David Thoreau
The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.
…that’s how we measure out our real respect for people—by the degree of feeling they can register, the voltage of life they can carry and tolerate—and enjoy. End of sermon. As Buddha says: live like a mighty river. And as the old Greeks said: live as though all your ancestors were living again through you.
– Ted Hughes
Via Letters of Note
Quitting is an exercise like any other. You don’t have to rush in and try to deadlift the heaviest thing in your life. The big, scary weights aren’t going anywhere so you may as well start with something you can pick up.
For example, when I went to Mexico I quit buying facial cleanser. At first, it was just because I was flying hand-luggage only and it was over the 100ml size limit. So I took off without it. A few days of soap and water on the road and… nothing happened. My skin – long accustomed to expensive cleansers and moisturisers – remained exactly the same. It didn’t flake off or swell up or go greasy.
Now I use Dove bar soap once a day, which costs less than a quid and lasts for months. This represents a considerable savings over £6-£10 on a cream cleanser that lasts a few weeks, so switching has saved me a lot of money.
More importantly, once I realised that ‘cleanse, tone, moisturise’ is pure marketing bullshit I started wondering “what else do I really not need?”
Turns out I can live without a huge handbag collection and a closetful of impractical shoes. Nothing bad has happened as a result of only owning one winter coat and one pair of trainers. Sure, I still have loads of stuff I treasure and would hate to get rid of but it’s good to know I don’t need it.
Wish I could claim these beautiful words as my own, but they belong to EM Forster
The people I admire most are those who are sensitive and want to create something, or discover something, and do not see life in terms of power… They found religions, great or small, they produce literature or art… or they may be what is called ‘ordinary people’, who are creative in their private lives, bring up their children decently, for instance, or help their neighbours.