Ask a child what they want to do when they grow up, and prepare for raw, unbridled honesty.
The kind of child-like truthfulness that slices straight through your guarded adult exterior. The very same kind that makes you want to drop to one knee, look deeply into those genuine puppy-dog eyes, and assure the little guy that Santa is most definitely real.
Classic answers to your question include: professional athlete, police officer, firefighter, scientist…
After all, most would say that almost none of these innocent ambitions get fulfilled. You’ve probably met your fair share of wannabe astronauts-turned-accountants, or pilots-turned-packagers.
Not to say that your child self knows what’s best for good. Aspirations needn’t stay the same forever. They morph throughout your life, naturally.
Yet looking back at your former self, you might be mistaking naivety for raw, uncorrupted truth.
Want to know why children hold the key to a life of joy?
Children admit what excites them.
They purely and freely own up to their deepest ambitions and dreams. Their most burning desires, the restless thoughts that keep them tossing and turning awake at night.
When did you lose this insight? The ability to seek out a path that excites you?
What on earth could have made you lose your appetite for feeling alive?
Why you abandoned excitement
As we grow, we develop certain understandings of our purpose and position in the world. What it is to be an acceptable, successful person.
Much of this is based on one apparent truth:
To excel is to succeed.
That is, to be better than most is desirable. To rise above the rest is to succeed. Good job sonny Jim, you made it.
It doesn’t matter too much what we excel at, as long as we are really, really good at it.
With this reality we go forth spending years, decades, or even our entire lives in the pursuit of excellence.
Our paths are forged by what we excel at, or in many cases, what we are made to excel at; the expectations of our parents, teachers, or friends weighing down on us.
Perhaps Michael Jackson truly did love to dance and sing. But it is just as likely he was bullied and coerced into being the very best at it from a young, vulnerable age.
So why is this lesson the reason we give up on a life of excitement and fulfillment?
It is not the pursuit of excellence itself that is the problem, it is the assumption that we make along with it:
We assume that the pursuit of excellence is the pursuit of happiness. One and the same.
Excellence does not equal happiness
Just because you excel at something, it doesn’t guarantee you enjoy doing it.
As we learn to excel, the obvious choice is to pursue what we are good at doing.
After all, everyone around us confirms and affirms our success and excellence; convincing us that to excel is to be happy.
Money is another factor that affirms this cycle. Generally speaking, the better you are at something, the more you will be paid for doing it. Why else would people remain in unfulfilling jobs with handsome salaries?
We confuse what we are good at, with that which we enjoy.
This is why being naturally skilled at something may be as much of a curse as it is a gift. You will be rewarded for your success, and you may never have the opportunity to discover pursuits that fulfill you; that excite you.
And the better you get at something, the more reason you will have to stick with it- after all, you already have the recipe for success.
What if there were a different route?
An alternative equation for excellence
Excellence is to pursue what you love doing.
No matter how incredible, mediocre, or outright awful you were at your chosen pursuit. Success would be found simply in doing what you love. Whatever floats your boat; whether it’s teaching children to ski, plugging data into a spreadsheet, or sharpening pencils.
Some will shudder at the thought of any of these, some will rejoice (believe it or not).
Imagine a world inhabited by people with lifestyles they genuinely enjoyed; their time invested into activities that brought them a sense of meaning, purpose and excitement.
If you’re doing something and it feels like you’re going through the motions, chances are there’s someone out there who legitimately enjoys doing it.
So why not let them do it?
It’s never too late to go after what excites you.
Bring back your inner child
It is time to look at life once again as that innocent child.
That child that owned up to their greatest joys in life, and wasn’t afraid to tell anyone that asked.
The first step is to admit your desires to yourself, and as start you tell others, they will quickly become your reality.
What excites you? What makes you feel the most alive? What makes you feel you wouldn’t trade your life for anyone’s?
Your adult self will kick back with a vengeance to these questions. It will most likely repel them with the cynical, jaded views of the world it has acquired over the years. Tell you every reason it just can’t happen; that it’s too late; that you’ll never make it.
At first the adult will probably be stronger, but don’t give up. The fight for your dreams is a fight worth fighting. Your child is in there somewhere, and that little child is dying to tell you what you’re looking for.