To do or not to do
I used to want to do everything. (Except skydiving. I’ve never really want to do that.) (Oh, or be a doctor.) (Or a lawyer.) (Uh-oh, my list of exceptions is getting too long. I need a new first sentence. ;))
So, I have lots of interests, and for the longest time I’ve been trying to figure out what I should focus on — what my life’s work would be. I’ve been crawling closer, but it wasn’t until recently that I narrowed it down to something doable.
In reading Jim Collins’ article Best New Year’s Resolution? A ‘Stop Doing’ List, this paragraph dinged my mind and set it abuzz:
Suppose you woke up tomorrow and received two phone calls. The first phone call tells you that you have inherited $20 million, no strings attached. The second tells you that you have an incurable and terminal disease, and you have no more than 10 years to live. What would you do differently, and, in particular, what would you stop doing?
Right after that, he lists three questions with some follow-up kick:
- What are you deeply passionate about?
- What are you are genetically encoded for? What activities do you feel just “made to do”?
- What makes economic sense? What can you make a living at?
And that was the beginning of the epiphany. I started going through the things I do, examining each in turn.
Writing? I’m passionate about it, I seem to be made for it, and if I work hard enough at it, yes, I could make a living at it. Plus, I’ve been doing it all my life. I’m a man of books. I love reading. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a little boy. I love sculpting words into sentences. Writing just fits me.
Design? I’m also passionate about it, I seem to be made for it, and I’m already making a living at it, both full-time (web design) and occasionally on the side (book design and graphic design). I love iterating through drafts until I get to a design that clicks and shines with beauty. Design is what I’ve spent most of my free time doing for the past five years, actually.
Art? I’m passionate about it, yes, but I don’t think I’m made for it. If I were, I’d have been drawing my heart out all these years, burning to make art. I get flickers of interest every once in a while, but it’s not consistent enough to make a career at it. (And I almost typed that as “flickrs”. Dang, Web 2.0, you’re getting to me.)
Music? I’m also passionate about it, but again, I’m not made for it. I play the piano from time to time for fun, and I’ve composed a number of pieces, but the even then, the last time I composed anything was around ten years ago. I’m not drawn to it enough to do it seriously.
Coding? I’m not as passionate about it, and I’m only partly made for it. I realized a while ago that most of the coding I’ll be doing in my life will be to make tools to assist the other parts of my life’s work. I don’t love it enough to make it the alpha dog.
There were other things I’d contemplated doing, but these were the main ones that had repeatedly risen to the surface.
And there it was: writing and design. It makes sense. It’s what I love. It’s what I spend my free time doing. It’s me. (And I realized that I’ve been calling myself “a writer and a designer” for the past few years. Apparently I’m nearsighted in more than one way. ;))
So, I’m going to stop worrying about getting great at art or music or coding. I’ll still do them, sure, but just for fun and relaxation. That’s the difference. Dabbling is now enough. This way I can focus on becoming a great writer and a great designer, without other things distracting me and pulling me away from my goal.
I’ve already felt like a burden has lifted, like I’m finally free to do what I was born to do, unfettered and focused. And it’s awesome.