Sometimes You Just Have to Work

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It can be hard to admit how much I’m driven by the pursuit of fun. I’ve been conditioned by American culture to think life, work, marriage, and kids should all be fun. I look for things that are fun, satisfying, existentially meaningful, etc., and the place where I’ve sought this most is in my work.

I’m an entrepreneur and a dreamer at heart. I enjoy exploring new ideas and planning their execution. Actually executing, though, not so much. I avoid execution with a 10-ft pole. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. Some of us are better at strategy than implementation and vice versa. However, it can very quickly turn into a bad thing. Just because you’re better at pushups than squats, doesn’t mean you should only do pushups.

But a lot of the career advice in the web industry is focused on finding your passion and zeroing in on it. Again, not bad advice, but a little misguided, in my opinion.

I’ve been searching for my passion since I was a teenager. I have yet to find it. And I think the reason I haven’t found it is because I have equated passion with fun. I’ve bought the lie that my passion, my purpose, is that thing which I love doing so much that it’s fun every time, all the time.

Recently I had a sobering conversation with a friend. We were talking about various business ideas and I was shooting them all down. Why? Because none of them passed my “fun” test. Meaning, there were elements to all of them that weren’t fun. I don’t literally have a “fun” test. It’s more of a subconscious screening process for the ideas that enter my brain. How could something be my passion if it felt like work?

My friend looked at me a little incredulously and said, “Dude, sometimes you just have to work.”

I felt like Homer Simpson having an epiphany. This seemed like very simple (and true) advice, yet it had never crossed my mind.

It’s strange how hard it is for this idea to connect. As a kid I played a lot of music. Hours and hours of practice every day from the ages of 5 to 15. It wasn’t fun at first. It took a lot of work to get to the point where sitting down at the piano felt like a pleasure and not a workout. Somehow I lost that concept in my later teens and 20s.

A big part of contentment and happiness is recognizing that you will not always be happy. It seems that many of the things that provide the most meaning in life are things that are not fun.

Raising children is not fun. There are times when I feel like I will end up on the floor in a fetal position, babbling to myself, if my kids disobey one more time. But raising children is satisfying. And it’s satisfying in way that is unlike anything else in my life. Watching them achieve success at something. Waking up every morning to hugs and kisses. Those things bring me great joy.

Realizing that things will never be perfect, that I will not always be happy, has a freeing effect. The pressure, guilt and the feeling that I’m doing something wrong, goes away.

The same is true in business. I’m not saying we shouldn’t pursue our passions. But understand that passion and meaning don’t equal a continual state of nirvanic-pleasure. (Yes, I made up that word).

Sometimes (often, I think), you just have to work and that’s not a bad thing. It doesn’t mean you’ve picked the wrong career, the wrong opportunity or the wrong life. Just the opposite, in fact. We have an opportunity to grow when we encounter resistance. At that point though, do we cut and run, or push through? Most of the time, I cut and run. And then I feel guilty. I feel like I’ve wasted my time. I begin to over-analyze all the choices that have led me to this place where life is hard. Lately, though, I think my failure has not been in my choices, but in avoiding that resistance. Avoiding what is not fun.

If happiness lives on the others side of resistance, it’s no wonder so many of us struggle to find it.

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Adam Clark

Adam Clark is the founder and Dreamer-in-Chief at Bottlerocket. He's a want-to-be writer, and host of The Gently Mad. It is rumored that he played drums with a Grammy-nominated band and is still searching for the perfect IPA.

Comments

9 comments on “Sometimes You Just Have to Work

  1. Any passion eventually becomes work, if you want to get beyond a certain level. Pushing through the resistance, when it comes from internal and external sources is paramount.

  2. Dude, this is so freakin’ good! Love the passion discussion. Reminds me of a book I just read on this subject: So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. It talks about passion (which is a misleading concept) vs. having ‘career capital.’

    Career capital is about spending your life working hard to develop serious skillz that people can not ignore. And the pursuit of these ‘rare and valuable skills’ (as Cal calls them) ultimately leads to passion.

    Thanks for this!

  3. When I graduated from university all my teachers and professional peers told me that working is great. It’s brilliant. You learn, you develop yourself, your skills, your personality. Oh boy is it going to be a a swell time. They just never bothered to inform me about some of the less swell work-related things. Work isn’t just one pile of ‘fun’. Hell it’s something you have to do in order to get money to actually DO fun things

  4. Hey Adam, I love this article. I feel quite the same way about the “passion hypothesis” related career advice and now I know why.

    Some of the best times of my life have been when I worked my butt off, not necessarily on anything I’m passionate about, but when I pushed through the resistance and finished, I stood back and said “hey, lookie there. I did that.”

  5. This whole article is interesting, because it’s completely opposite for me. The activities and hobbies that I used to exhibit when I was younger (granted, I just turned 22) have been switched with what I currently do now. I find myself having more fun when I am doing work or coming up with business ideas amongst friends, than participating in the festivities that I used to. Great article Adam.

  6. Thanks for the comments guys. It’s amazing how satisfying it can be to push through resistance. I think it’s all about perspective. If we view difficulty as a negative indicator, then it can be crushing. The big change for me came in realizing that even the best things are often hard.

  7. Man, I’m totally agree with this! I really love multimedia editing, in fact I’m studying multimedial design, and doing some works! And, as your friend said, some times you just have to work. Cause some times you just don’t want to do anything, or just want to be lazy… But you just have to overcome all that and work.

    Even the things we love can become work, and, as you said, that’s not wrong! :)