In Pursuit of Happiness. The Prequel.

by irms

Warning:  There are a lot of parenthesis in this blog post.


Over and over again you hear this thing: “Do what you love,” or, “Do what makes you happy,” or some variation on that theme.  Which, I have to say, sounds like great advice except that it’s useless to me.

And if you’re like me (you are, I can tell) you have a pretty severe problem with that advice.  The problem is that you don’t know what you would love to do. Or put another way:

We don’t know what makes us happy.

Does that sound ridiculous?  Ok, kind of.  But not when you think it through.  Consider this scenario:

You are given enough money to make your ends meet for 6 months; no strings attached.  That’s enough to quit your job and start fresh.  What do you do?

(Or the similar, and all-to-common-these-days scenario:  You just got laid off.  You made decent money before and now you can choose to either use the clean slate to your advantage, or find another job just like the one you had before.)

Again, if you’re like me, that scenario is unnerving.  Because, see, if I had 6 months to change my life, I’m pretty sure I’d end up doing something very close to what I’m doing now.  Why?  Because I’m skilled in it.  Somewhere along the way (it all started with trying to make ends meet…) I got plunked into this profession (I’m a web developer, you can hire me), and I got pretty good at it over a number of years.  And now, I’m so good (my mom says) that starting another trade/job/skill would seriously set me back.  That’s what it feels like, doesn’t it?

But let’s put that aside for now.  Say you knew what you wanted to do.  There’s a lot of prep involved in making it happen.  Seriously, dropping your day job to “do what you love” means you have to have enough money (prep: save for months) and enough skill (prep: training? schooling?) and in many cases, enough material (prep: buy a shop or some land, or a warehouse) to go out and have people PAY you to do it.  That’s tough, right?  Even moreso when the bulk of your day is spent earning the scratch to live on while you’re making all these fabulous plans.

I’m writing about this because it keeps coming up.  In fact, I just watched this talk by Gary Vaynerchuk which was both inspiring and bullshit — both at the same time.  In the talk, he says, “Look yourself in the mirror, and ask yourself, ‘What do I want to do everyday for the rest of my life?'”.  Then later, “Whatever it is you need to do, do it.”

(dryly) Thanks for the advice.

Is it just me? Or is there a big fat hole there where the thing you’re passionate about is supposed to be?

“Figuring Out What You’d Love To Do With Your Days Until Forever 101” really, really ought to be a class that we all have to take before we reach high school.

Figuring out what you want to do is a skill.  I’m convinced.

But no one teaches us how to do that.  “Do what makes you happy” only works when you know what makes you happy. If I could figure that part out, I assure you, I could find the will and the talent and the time to make it all happen.

And while I could name some things that make me happy, none of them are jobs, or even actions. So how do we unravel it?  What if there’s nothing?  What if there’s nothing I’d rather spend my days doing than what I’m doing now? That’d be a bummer.

There’s a prequel to the “Do What You Love” inspirational speeches we love to listen to, and that’s the “How To Identify The Thing You’d Love To Do” speech. I’d watch it, and then I’d make everyone I know watch it.  Wouldn’t you?

I’ve written some things before about what we should be teaching students.  This is it.  This is the missing piece. Sadly, I don’t know how.

(Don’t worry, though, ’cause I’m on the job. I’ll have this prequel written, filmed, and posted in no time.)