We make “deciding” too hard.
We “brainstorm.” We read. We research. We plan. 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.
And for the most part, the reason is because:
Just for example, when it comes to choosing work…
“Ikigai” is the Japanese concept meaning “a reason for being,” and it’s the theoretical intersection of “what you love,” “what you’re good at,” “what the world needs,” “and what you get paid for,” making up “passion.” “mission,’ “profession” and “vocation” (with incomplete intersections warning against “feeling useless,” “lacking wealth,” “lacking certainty,” and “feeling empty”) and frankly the whole thing is a load of crap that NOBODY should be holding themselves to.
You aspire to this, you’ll be dead before you get there. It goes everything that is integral to actually being happy.
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. Rather, I’m saying it’s “unrealistic” in the way that we can’t be 2 inches taller and 2 inches shorter.
Because we can be passionate. And we can get paid. And we can find work that people need. But expecting ONE thing to fulfill all of these? Come on.
And more importantly: WHY?!?!
Why do we need one thing to fulfill all of this??
Answer: we don’t.
We can pursue these all separately and lead totally HAPPY AND FULFILLED LIVES.
Just for example… if I pursued:
What I LIKE doing — but am not good at, am not paid for, and is not needed:
- Shameless white-girl dancing
- Getting low-key into healthy eating for like 5 days
- Drinking beer and sometimes wine
- Talking about whisk(e)y, but more than I drink it
- Riding a motorcycle
- Reading books
- Going on rants
But the problem is that I most just want to consume these things — I don’t want to make them or earn my keep at them or even be that “good” at them beyond my own pleasure — and certainly not to the point of ruining it.
What I’m GOOD at — but don’t love, am not paid for, and isn’t needed
I’ve been a talented artist since I was old enough to hold a paintbrush, winning all the art competitions my mom put me in and taking more classes than I can even recall. I think most of the adults thought I was on the fast track to “Being An Artist” (whatever that means nowadays) but the whole time, I was just kinda looking around like “what is happening?”
I can make media do what I want, sure, but doing so brings me about as much “joy” as “arranging throw pillows” or “successfully matching a top to a bottom” (which is to say: very little.)
What’s needed — but I don’t love, wouldn’t be paid for, and wouldn’t be good at
- The cure for cancer?
- All kinds of surgery?
- World peace?
- Another cupcake shop?
What I’ve been paid for — but wasn’t good at, didn’t love, and wasn’t needed
I mean, if someone’s paying you for a job, one could argue that it’s “needed” (at least from an economic / market standpoint.)
But I’ve done a lot of jobs that simply weren’t my calling — including:
- Data combing
To name a few.
But then let’s take a look at just a few intersections (not all four.)
What I like doing AND am good at — but is only negligibly needed and not really paid for.
- Writing, probably.
And here’s where I say: every writer should come at writing in a way that they’re at peace.
People who were never writers to begin with, who never loved the craft, who couldn’t “love” an essay out of themselves if they tried, but still want to “write” will write nonsense and make a few bucks. That’s totally fine.
There are also writers who desperately want to freelance and will sell articles for $10 or $100 bucks a pop. If that’s what they want, that’s fine too.
And there are writers who just want to keep their writing bound up in a journal just for them. Also okay.
My relationship is this: I’ve never demanded that writing straddle all four of these intersections. Like Elizabeth Gilbert, I never insisted my writing be “what I love,” “what I’m good at,” “what the world needs,” AND “what I’m paid for.”
At least not all at once.
And pushed to choose, I know where I’ll let writing be.
Creative passions and labors of love require downtime — and people don’t pay for downtime. As Heidi Priebe tweeted:
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 sometimes it doesn’t pay off to shove your “passion” into “a day-job.”
We overthink it all and it’s exhausting.
We ask everything in our lives to be and do too much.
And it 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.
Sometimes work is work and passion is passion and the solution to everything in life is just carving out space for both to coexist.
And then choosing.
How picking is easy
Let things be as they are, defined in simpler terms.
I harp on this all the time from a relationship perspective, and here’s how I picked my partner: I just did.
There are only 3 things I demand in a partner: emotional maturity, intelligence, and friendship.
My partner doesn’t need to be my therapist, my life coach, my girlfriends, my mom, my dad, my personal chef, my handy-man (though that is a nice perk), a mind-reader, a gym rat with a six pack, “Best Dressed,” “drive a nice car,” “have a nice nose” (though he does) or be/do whatever else we hold other people to. He just needed to be a few things for me — not everything.
And all things in life are equally easy.
When we stop forcing things to spread themselves thin and fit all the (ever-fluid) nooks and crannies of Our Entire Lives, it becomes a LOT easier to find things that make us happy — and even easier to just let them.