You’re afraid of what others will say.
You’re afraid of what will happen to you if you do what you love and it doesn’t work out.
Most of all, you’re afraid of the vitriol that is spat out by “well-meaning” friends and relatives when you even talk about doing what you love, or what they will say when things don’t work out. (Vitriol may be a strong word but it can sure feel like that when you are down and out.)
When you don’t know what you love, it is painful. You hear artists, entrepreneurs, and other leaders speak about “doing what you love” and you think, that would be great, but it’s not as easy as that. I don’t even know what I love.
Some artists and entrepreneurs even go as far as to say that they couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Some say they would rather “die” than do anything else.
This is not how you were brought up.
There was nothing worth dying for. The objective of life was to get a job, get married, and to stay out of trouble. It didn’t matter whether you were doing something you loved. Love was only important in regards to “falling in love” with a partner, not with a vocation.
You also observed most people around you not spending their time on things that brought them pure, unadulterated joy. The youthful joy we get when we are fully-immersed in an activity that we cannot think of anything else. No, they seem to spend most of their time working to fulfil life’s unpleasant necessities.
Robert Fritz calls it having a “lacklust” for life. They live out their lives much like the salesman in Robert Frost’s poem: Death of Salesman. “And nothing to look backward to with pride, and nothing to look forward to with hope/So now and never any different.”
The salesman, like many of us in our society, have not had the experience of creating something that they love. They have not had the experience of investing themselves in something just because they love it that much. They may have had fleeting moments like this growing up, like building billy carts and drawing pictures, but they were quickly reminded that “real-work” was work that they could get paid for right now.
This is how our society is structured. People get a job and are paid for the number of hours they work. For every hour, they receive remuneration. Money in the hand. Otherwise known as the “carrot and stick” approach.
They don’t learn to create for its own sake. Just to see something they love exist. They learn to create for the immediate “return on investment.” For this reason, they have little experience of doing something for the love of the thing being done.
A creator can spend hours, days, months and years working on their craft without seeing any money. But the money is not the point. The sheer love of the craft is the point, whatever that craft is. Artists illustrate this point beautifully. They know that society doesn’t “need” their art like people need food and water, but they create anyway. They do this because they want to see their creation exist. They have a vision of what it will look like and they keep working on it until it comes to fruition.
Now that’s real love.
The tragedy of our lives is when we don’t give ourselves permission to fall in love with a craft. We are so terribly immersed in life’s demands, that we have convinced ourselves that we have no choice but to fulfil our needs. We grew up believing this, and the adults around us convinced us that this is the way it is.
But the needs that we have convinced ourselves we can’t live without are very often what we think we want. We have convinced ourselves that we need and want the things that other people value. We need the latest car, the latest furniture, the latest something that we simply must have. We even buy certain types of food and drink for this very same reason.*
Plus, we think what we want must be tied to our circumstances.
Let me explain.
In your current circumstances, you must pay your electricity, rent/house loan repayments, grocery and clothing bills. Because all of these things are necessities, anything that you do, you feel, must be tied to them. These basic needs demand action. If you don’t do work that will pay for them, you will very soon be living in the dark, on the street and with no food in your belly. Not good, and preferably avoided at all costs!
This is a reality, and in our current economic system, you would be foolish to think otherwise.
But when you get used to living in this “reactive-responsive mode” (read Robert Fritz’s The Path of Least Resistance for more information), you don’t develop the desire that comes from creating something simply because it gives you joy. You do things to feed your body but not your spirit. Many of us, including you, have convinced ourselves that this is just the way things are.
You have convinced yourself that what brings you real joy is not important or necessary. You may have even forgotten what brings you true joy.
In fact, and most dreadful of all, you may have stopped playing altogether.
You may have even convinced yourself that if you do what you want, you would be selfish. Other honest and good folks are not creating what they want. They don’t have the luxury to create what they want because of this or that reason. They have sacrificed themselves to others.
There is a profound and haunting quote by a British columnist Katharine Whitehorn:
"You can recognise the people who live for others by the haunted look on the faces of others."
It is here when we realise how fatal it is to be not creating what we want. We are telling others to do the same. We may not say it out aloud but our actions are speaking loud and clear.
I saw this as a high school teacher. I saw many teachers, including myself, telling students to do what they love, but it was these very same teachers who were not doing what they love. In fact, they were in a lot of pain. A humanities teacher who really wanted to be dancer. A geography teacher who really wanted to be an archaeologist. An English teacher who really wanted to write novels. Sure, they were doing their job, but they were incredibly unhappy.
A facade is a facade, no matter how much we try to hide it.
When we allow fear to stop us from being who we are and creating things we love, we are telling others that this is what life is all about. It is about playing small. Staying out of trouble. Being safe.
But this means we will live passively. Passivity, after all, is fear cloaked in disguise. Deep down inside we are hoping someone will save us, but somewhere deeper down, we know no one will.
If we are not careful, and we don’t start taking action, we can develop a nasty dis-ease I dub cynicism. And you know exactly what I’m talking about. It is the bitterness that comes when we see others doing something they love or even talking about doing something they love.
I’ve seen this in teachers and I’ve seen it in many other professions and jobs.
We’ve been encouraged to settle with our lot since high school, or even earlier. Only some people are lucky enough to create a life they want. The rest of us are born under an unlucky star.
Either our fortune changes or we will live out our days as best we can. Maybe a holiday here and there to have something to look forward to.
You have learned that the only person that can save you is you. It is only when you save yourself can you save others. It is only when you save yourself through your work can you do good for others.
You know deep down in your belly that when you are suffering, you can’t see other people’s suffering. You can’t see suffering outside of yourself full stop. (I am like this, and so is the rest of humanity. I also see this as the basis for allowing cruelty to exist all around the world.)
And it is this suffering that ultimately stops you from knowing what you love, or doing what you love.
The only way to stop this suffering is to gain self-knowledge. Knowing who you are, what makes you come alive and what you want to create in this world.
With this knowledge, you not only end your suffering but you also end the suffering of others.
*I had a friend whose father would spend $250 a fortnight just on red meat because that is “what everyone does.” This father had a heart attack a year later. I remember what my friend said because of the unexpected heart attack. Her father was doing what everyone else was doing and saw it as normal. My mother, a native of the former Yugoslavia, was critical of high meat consumption. To her, meat was a luxury that was best avoided, if not for the environmental degradation it causes, but for the health consequences. In her time, she had seen many develop heart disease because of too much meat and dairy in their diet. It was this ethos amongst other things that led to my decision to live on a plant-based diet.
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