“No matter how strong a will a person has, no matter how much he may hate to lose, if it’s an activity he doesn’t really care for, he won’t keep it up for long. Even if he did, it wouldn’t be good for him.”
When he was in his teens, the renowned jazz musician Miles Davis had an experience that deeply affected how he thought about working.
His partner, Irene, who would later be his wife, had a little brother who suffered from pneumonia. Miles was there when the doctor came over to see her brother.
The doctor took one brief look at him and said, emotionlessly, that there was nothing he could do to save him. He told her brother that he would die by morning.
Her brother did die in their mother’s arms early the next day, without the doctor having taken him to the hospital.
Miles was furious at the thought that the doctor could give absolutely no hope, or that he couldn’t at least try to alleviate the pain. He later found out that the doctor lived rich in a big house, and that he had his own airplane.
Miles vented out his anger to his father, who was a dentist.
His father told him, “If you go to some doctors with a broken arm, they will just cut it off instead of setting it because it might be easier for them to cut it off. He’s one of them kind of doctors, Miles. There are plenty of them in the world.
“Those kinds of people, Miles, are only in medicine for the prestige and money that it brings them. They don’t love it like I do, or like some of my friends do. You don’t go see him if you’re really sick. The only people that go to see him are poor black people. Those doctors and he don’t care nothing about them.”
Doing the work that you really love might seem like clichéd advice. But it’s far more important that you might think.
The journey to getting great at a skill is a long, hard, exhausting, and even painful one. While it may sound like an overly simplistic idea, if you don’t love what you do, you just won’t have what it takes to go through all the tedium.
In terms of creativity, it would be much more commonplace for you to get stuck, because ideas don’t come as naturally.
You’d find it hard to give a damn, too — to walk the extra mile in doing superior work or delivering an unforgettable service for the people you serve. You find yourself doing an average job, instead of creating a change.
You might even get a lot of money, but in the long term, it’s not going to fulfill you as how growing, challenging yourself, and doing meaningful work could do for you.
Personally, I could relate to this scenario with my own experience. Before I took up my Bachelor’s degree in Marketing, I was studying Electronics Engineering for about a year.
In a way, I felt like I was lying to myself when I was studying Engineering. While I did have an interest in it on some level, it wasn’t enough for me to picture myself doing it every day. Deep inside, I believe I took it up because I felt that it was a “prestigious” and well-paying career path — and I thought I could force myself into loving it.
But over time, I dragged my feet to attend the long hours of classes. Going through the course material, studying for exams and doing assignments felt like walking on dead grass. It got to a point where I simply couldn’t push myself forward.
A close friend of mine persuaded me to stay, saying that it would get easier every semester — it turned out that it didn’t, but that doesn’t matter. I didn’t mind if it got harder, as long as it was something I could envision myself doing beyond my studies.
I knew I’ve always been compelled towards understanding human nature, so ideally, I wanted to take up a Psychology degree. That didn’t happen because my parents weren’t keen about it.
Owing to the many Marketing books I had read though, I also loved Marketing. So this was what I decided to take up — it was the closest thing to Psychology — and, it was easier for me to convince my parents since it was a business course.
Did everything magically become easier after that? No, not really. But things did get a lot better.
While doing my Marketing degree had its own set of challenges that were overwhelming at times, I was in a better position to take them on.
I no longer had to force myself — instead, I wanted to learn. Classes, assignments and exams felt like rooms in which I could personally equip myself with necessary skills or knowledge. Whatever work I had on my plate felt like an opportunity for me to make it my own — to impart my own ideas and understanding out of my own ways of thinking.
As difficult as it got, I was able to have fun in the process and see myself grow through it.
I ended up getting in the Dean’s List every semester. I don’t mean to boast, but it was a hell of a long way from painfully struggling just to get decent grades. Me being me though, it didn’t change my dislike for formal occasions, so I attended only one of those semesterly award ceremonies.
Anyhow, after this long banter, I hope you’re able to think back about the things that you really want to do, that truly give you a sense of excitement and fulfillment.
Every one of us is blessed with certain talents and interests. And it’s on us to hone and follow them as best we can. Because the world around us needs that unique contribution that only we can make out of our own experiences and traits.
To borrow a piece of advice from Emily McDowell, it’s not so much about “finding yourself” as it is about “returning to yourself”. As she has written, “Your true self is right there, buried under cultural conditioning, other people’s opinions, and inaccurate conclusions you drew as a kid that became your beliefs about who you are.”
This process of returning yourself is “an unlearning, an excavation, a remembering who you were before the world got its hands on you.”