Our Work, Ourselves
Young professionals, particularly in creative fields, frequently receive conflicting advice regarding the ways we allocate our lives. Everyone starts out hearing classic cliches like “pursue your passion at all costs” or “just go into fields where people are hiring,” but things often become more nuanced. Lines blur, and you find that every silver lining’s got a touch of grey. Some people tell you that it’s a horrible idea to turn your favorite pastime into a career, because you’ll stop enjoying it once it becomes work, and you’ll find yourself robbed of a hobby. Others, like Mark Cuban, say that the secret to happiness is to pursue what you’re best at, because there’s nothing more fun than being good at something, even if it isn’t your favorite thing. I don’t think anybody knows the definitive answer, but it’s certainly enough to keep you up at night.
For me, trying to become a writer is a hybrid of the above. Despite the pile of hate mail I receive from Fuel readers every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, I truly believe it’s what I’m best at. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hurt by what a lonely vocation it can be. There are lots of days when I spend hours writing by myself, and wonder why I didn’t devote my life to something more social. I’m certainly not looking for sympathy, as I’m lucky enough to be pursuing a creative career, but it isn’t as simple as “do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
I’ve been reflecting on this recently, as March of 2019 has been a very rough month for me. There have been some very bad nights in my personal and professional lives, and many days when I don’t wake up excited about making art. Lately I’ve been trying to structure my life around the elusive notion of “self-care.” I make time into every day to stop thinking about creative pursuits, and just let myself read a book or watch college basketball. And I’ve been surprised by the results.
Most of the time, I spend my day looking forward to whatever treat I’ve planned for myself, and then grow bored five minutes after commencing it. All I can think about is my scripts, and how I can make them better. Not working on them feels paralyzing in the worst way. Even though I don’t think of writing as a hobby I adore, I get insanely restless when I spend time doing anything else. I never think “man, I can’t wait to get home from class and write,” but I’m frequently drawn to it by an almost cosmic force. Whether it’s destiny or just a learned habit, writing scripts is the only activity that makes me feel like myself. Many of my friends and colleagues aren’t sure what their “thing” is, but all I can tell them is “when you find it, you’ll know.”
I suppose this is the Holy Grail of the ever-present “what should I do with my life?” debate. While you don’t have to make a career out of your single favorite pastime, we should all find the thing we can’t go a day without doing. The activity that’s there for us no matter what life throws in our way. It reminds me of Steve Jobs’ iconic USC commencement address. While the speech is remembered for its flashier moments, the line that has always stuck with me is “the only way to be happy is to do what you feel is great work.” In a society that increasingly encourages us to prioritize our immediate happiness above all else, it feels counterintuitive that the only thing that satisfies me feels like work and not play. But, per usual, Steve Jobs was absolutely right. The feeling of doing something useful, of sharing whatever little talent I have with the world, has an inescapable pull. It’s certainly possible to extract happiness out of more surface-level activities, but I’m convinced that this is the only way to find fulfillment. And really, what more can you ask for?