How To Decide
In work and love
It seems like we all struggle with one of the two — either work or love.
I wrestle with work. The love, it comes easy. We often get one or the other.
It’s not that I have trouble finding work or keeping work or even enjoying and excelling at work. It’s more that I treat each job as a job, and even as I’m doing well, I kind of chuckle to myself when I think about it, like “yeah, but it’s all a game.” Like, this isn’t for real real. Lol.
I simultaneously go hard and hold back from going hard at my work in the way so many of us simultaneously go hard and hold back from truly going hard in our love lives — like, we go through the motions, we “try” without really compromising, we “put in effort” only towards the things we want, and not for the sake of the other person as a person. And we have bullshit questions (is he tall enough?, does he make enough?, is she pretty enough?) and we run at the first sign of trouble.
We tell ourselves we want something, and we even think we’re fully committed. But the only thing we’re committed to is playing house, showing face, and lining things up.
We’re in without being in.
Here’s how we make “deciding” hard on ourselves
We brainstorm. We read. We research. We go to bed with the question in mind and hope to wake up with insight. We talk to friends. We talk to ourselves. We pay coaches to talk to us. We ask our moms. We do a lot of thinking. But what we don’t do is decide.
The problem is how misleading we are when we tell people how to choose their work. “Pursue your passion,” “do what you know,” “sell something you use,” “solve your own problem”… these all have very different and conflicting outcomes.
Just for example, when it comes to choosing work:
The pursuit of the “perfect” combination
“Ikigai” is the Japanese concept meaning “a reason for being.”
This concept is almost wholly unrealistic and sets anyone who pursues it up for anxiety, disappointment, feelings of inadequacy or restlessness or heartache. It wouldn’t surprise me if this shit was put out by the makers of branded anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medicine, because I’m sure it stimulates them.
When I say “unrealistic,” I don’t mean “that sad realization” like when some of us learn it’s not “realistic” to be 2 inches taller.
No, I’m more suggesting that it’s “unrealistic” in the way that we can’t be 2 inches taller and 2 inches shorter. Because: Many of us are passionate about intangible things. And we would never want to have to do it someone else’s way — it would destroy or bastardize the underlying passion.
And while some of us are “fortunate” to be passionate about tangible things that are directly applicable to the other bubbles, many of us are not.
Here’s how I’d map things in my life in Ikigai:
If I pursued what I LIKE doing (but am not good at, and is neither needed nor paid for)
- Shameless “white-girl dancing.”
I say “shameless” because IT FUKKIN IS. Like, I have so much fun “white-girl dancing” that I don’t even care when friends are standing back watching like “whoa…girrrl….” and whatever dude I’m dating at the time watches with that look on his face like all future sexual attraction to me depends on immediately unseeing what he’s already seen and yet he just cannot look away.
I AM NOT GOOD AT ALL and I don’t care — CAN’T STOP WON’T STOP IDGAF — and the only hope any white girl has for getting paid for this shit is for people to bribe to her to please, for the love of god, please stop.
If I pursued what I’m GOOD at (but don’t love, and is neither needed nor paid for)
- “Art” or some shit.
(Especially if I answer that in the “as a child” context, as it’s often asked.) But I don’t LOVE “making art.” I do not get innate joy from literal “art’ing.” Every time I go to one of those “adult” art classes or am gifted an “adult” coloring book and people are oooh’ing and ah’ing at me like they’ve never seen someone use a crayon before, it makes me want to slide under the table and disappear forever. It brings me about as much “joy” as arranging throw pillows or successfully matching a top to a bottom on the rare occasion I wear any color other than black. (Which is to say, re: the joy: very little.)
If I pursued what I like AND am good at (but is neither needed nor paid for)
- Some shit like improv?
- Writing, probably.
I understand that people do sometimes get paid for these, but the problem, as with many passions, is:
a.) The words are too broad. Writing that is “chicken-scratch insights” (which is my jam) is very different than what freelance writers put out, which is also different than what novelists produce, and you could almost make a whole “Ikigai” Venn for “passion” words/phrases such as “writing.”
Like, my dad loves “working on cars,” but “rebuilding a 1956 Chevy” is very different than “doing oil changes on a minivan.”
b.) Creative “passions” require downtime and people don’t pay for downtime. People are sometimes willing to pay for “creative work,” but they are less interested in paying for “the creative process,” the latter of which is well-articulated in this recent tweet from Heidi Priebe:
People don’t pay you — and certainly don’t need — for you to sit and “breathe and take care of yourself and grow.”
This is why it often makes sense not to try to shove your “passion” into “a day-job.”
But because these are innate to the creative process, there’s a lot to be said about making room for these to exist separately, rather than forcing them to occupy the exact same room in your life.
c.) Many passions are abstract and cannot be “paid for” or “needed” in the way they’re experienced, but rather have to be applied to something.
- “Insights,” see above
- “Logic” or “critique” can be a passion, but nobody pays for (or needs) “logic” in and of itself — they pay for its tangible, specific application.
- “Travel” might be a passion (not for me, but maybe for you?) But nobody pays for you to “travel” — they pay for shit like “travel guides.” Is “writing travel guides” your real passion?
- Same goes for “Ideas.” You might love coming up with them — you might even be good at it; great — but ideas are a dime a dozen, and worthless without application (/ execution.)
- Ditto for “organization,” “perfection,” and “productivity.”
- Or “get it done” levels of energy— awesome! But you have to apply it and get results to get paid.
- And “people” is a passion. But “people” is also not standalone. It has to be applied to something. It’s usually something like “therapy” or “hospitality” or “marketing” or something. Though not always.
My definition of “people” is not the literal, tangible, right in front of me right now people, but rather abstract “people;” “people” as “human beings,” the human experience, and the way we make everyday decisions that shape our lives — is by far the most fascinating thing in the world to me.
On the upside, most everything relates back to people. Especially if the human experience is your passion. Which is why I can pour drinks as a bartender. It’s not about the booze — it’s about people.
So, fuck Ikigai for a second.
How about other ways people try to make decisions?
If I had picked what I like consuming:
Beer. Bikes. Books. Good whisky. Cheap coffee. Cheap clothing, mostly menswear-inspired. The occasional girlish indulgence, with resentment (read on.)
But the problem is that I only want to consume these things — I don’t want to make them. Because I don’t care enough to understand the inner-workings of them, and that’s kind of important.
Case in point: I’ve owned my current motorcycle for over a year and, despite being asked more times than I can count, I only just recently have cared enough to remember exactly how many cc’s and cylinders it has. And that’s only because I’ve had to look up parts enough times. My bike is my car, and I ride more as “commuter” — or, at best, “philosopher” — than “mechanic.” I care less about the bike as a piece of machinery and more what it is for me.
And this makes sense, because people are either “people-interested,” or “thing-interested,” and what I’m saying here is that because I am “people-interested,” I am not interested in “things.”
The objects in my life are far more background than that; sort of a “yeah, yeah I like this” or “nah, maybe I don’t” sort of situation; a “whatever” framework in which I can do what I want, which is study people.
A lot of people assume I got into women’s clothing because I like women’s clothing. I don’t. In fact, I hate women’s clothing. But I care deeply about women and the stupid struggles we get saddled with in order to just dress ourselves each day. Which is why I got into clothing as a business…
If I had picked based on problems or frustrations:
A lot about women’s clothing, because it is the worst. Finding the exact item you’re looking for, or even finding one that fits. How it’s made, how we get it, how we dispose of it afterwards. It’s bizarre that we stockpile our closets like we do and in the future we won’t, but that’s another thing.
Second to clothing, many other things… like:
Food. Better ways of choosing and finding what you want; more efficient meat product; better “protein” options (like, we’ve only just now started seeing “protein” items that actually have more protein than sugar — Clif Bars are total garbage but hats off to Siggi’s yogurt, the latter of whom was apparently the first yogurt company to finally figure out what so many of us were scanning the back labels for — whether or not that shit had more protein than sugar — and slapped the answer right there on the front.)
Sex. Better porn. Better strip clubs. Better sex toys — tho I don’t even use them. (Perhaps partly because they’re so bad.)
Homes. More efficient apartment-hunting, outsourced maintenance for homeowners, homes that better suit our actual needs.
And a myriad of other, everyday things. Like:
Why is phone call quality still so fucking bad — I mean seriously, what year is it?? Not to mention the utter racket that is the entire service provider business.
Toothbrushes. Socks. Hypoallergenic cats!
And why haven’t we figured out less painful bikini waxes? Seriously, people.
We overthink it all and it’s exhausting.
And just sets us up for sadness.
When we chase things like this, we parse ourselves out across too many parameters. We make things like “happiness” unreachable places, with too many measures. We want to be “fast but also slow,” “tall but also short,” and I know I’m exaggerating here, but damn — sometimes work is work and passion is passion and the solution to everything in life is just carving out space for both to coexist.
How picking is easy
The good news is: deciding doesn’t have to be hard. It doesn’t have to have all of these parameters and measures of having done it “right.”
Here’s how love goes for me, and how I picked my partner:
I just did.
I know people always say this, and when you hear it you’re sort of like “wow, thanks for the most unhelpful advice ever, Nancy.” But that really is how it goes.
There were only 3 things I wanted in a partner: emotional stability, critical thought, and friendship.
That was it.
And when it came to my partner, all of those things are true. But the bigger truth is: I also just knew. I always knew. He and I have known each other for a long time, and I was attracted to him eons before I ever defined the list and he was there through all the time that I was fucking up on getting it satisfied.
I picked him before I knew why I picked him, and it was only retrospectively that I rationalized why.
Because we do that. People are inherently messy and irrational — we make decisions for outright silly reasons sometimes, and then when asked to explain them, are so fantastically creative we can literally come up with any number of plausible articulations to support any case.
The reality is: we just decide.
And it’s mostly about getting our head straight.
We don’t get hung up on shit, we don’t make it bigger than it needs to be, we don’t bind our self worth up in what happens. We approach it lightly, and when we do that makes room to also approach it with more confidence than anxiety.
We don’t have to measure our lives on how many boxes it checks across how many Venn diagram bubbles.
There’s enough out there for us, if we only learn how to decide. And commit. And be okay with thing being okay.
Which is mostly just about getting our head straight, relaxing a little, and letting the right things bubble to the surface, and everything else fade away.