“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” Friedrich Nietzsche
There’s a book I once read about entrepreneurship called “Millionaire Fastlane”. Mind the corny title, it’s actually a good book packed with a lot of insights about what’s required to become successful and some pretty sobering realizations about how society is set up, and how most people aren’t thinking clearly when it comes to wealth creation. He also makes a point about “passion” that I’ve been thinking about for a long time. He said that the market doesn’t really care about your passion. The idea is, if you’re going to start a business, think about fulfilling a market need first. If you’re passionate about something that isn’t satisfying a need, you’re going to fail.
And that sounds like legitimate advice, except there’s another side to the story. Whatever you’re going to do in life, whether it’s starting a business or becoming a doctor or a lawyer or a swimmer, you’re going to spend most of your time doing the job. If you’re not loving what you’re doing, and I stress loving here, then you’re going to turn your back whenever things start to get tough. And invariably, things will get tough.
There is no career choice that is absent of challenges, and the question then becomes, why go on? What’s motivating you? Is it possible to be completely motivated by the prize?
For some people, sure. Obviously. The author of the book I just mentioned is a case in point. But he started from humble beginnings and had an obsession with expensive luxury cars. Expensive toys like red shiny Ferarris were things he dreamed about every night ever since he was a little boy.
The materialistic dream was meaningful to him. But is it meaningful to everyone?
Everyone has a story to tell, and everyone will assume that others are living the same kind of story, it’s easy to overlook something like passion when you’re a certain kind of person in a certain kind of situation. But there is a lot to be said about the value of doing something you love.
To take that idea a little further, it’s not just doing something you love, it’s doing something meaningful to you. It needs to be intrinsically motivating, and for some people, it needs to have some kind of external reward and social validations as well. It needs to tap into your strengths and tendencies at a fundamental level.
If you’re engaged in an activity that grabs you for a living, the idea of becoming successful at what you do becomes a lot more attainable.
So what stops people from doing what they really want to do? Other people.
In”Man’s Search for Meaning” by Victor Frankl, a wonderful idea is put forth. Conformism is doing what others do, and totalitarianism is doing what others tell you to do. And either of the two paths would inevitably result in “existential vacuum” since the necessary process of self-actualization is never attained.
But we’re still conflicted. Most people want to be successful, they want to be happy, they want to achieve these goals first and foremost, and oftentimes, it seems that achieving those things are incompatible with doing what they love. So they sacrifice the latter for the former, hoping by doing so, they would finally achieve “success” or “happiness”.
Frankl’s message – one really worth considering is that we’re thinking about success and happiness in the wrong way. They aren’t goals that we can reach, they’re by-products that we might be lucky enough to find, and are more likely to find when we pursue something that’s meaningful. The same way you can’t force someone to laugh or to be inspired or to fall in love, you can’t force yourself to become successful or happy. In fact, the more you try to force yourself towards these goals, the less attainable they become.