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Love What You Do, Do What You Love

Me in the tulip fields at the Tulip Festival in La Conner, WA (May, 2010)

Everyone wants to be happy. There is a ton of research out there examining what it takes to become happy. I’m even part of a social experiment right now (being run by Daniel Gilbert) to understand what makes people happy. The ironic thing is that Yogis have taught for thousands of years that happiness is already present, we just need to remove the obstacles that stand in our way of seeing it as so. It’s like picking up a rock and polishing it over and over, until you can finally see that it was a diamond all along. The sad thing is, if you look around any environment (particularly amongst middle and upper-class Americans) you’ll surely find a majority of people that are anxious and not feeling totally happy with their lot in life.

A supposed fix to the problem of unhappiness is to simply stop doing whatever you are doing that is not giving you joy, and to start doing something that is more pleasant. That is to say, stop doing what you MUST DO and start doing what you WANT TO DO. Across the blogosphere, there is an emergent tribe of writers that speak about living an unconventional lifestyle, one that abdicates the need for a normal job and embraces a lifestyle of working from anywhere you care to live, doing something you love. These blogs are gaining incredible traction at the moment. Tim Ferris, Chris Guillebeau, Tynan and many others have discussed this new approach to living a life that is in line with your passion.

The problem is that it isn’t the job, it isn’t the 60 hour work weeks, it isn’t the fact that need to do what you must do and no what you want to do that keeps you from being happy. The problem is that you don’t love what you do, whatever that thing is. No matter how boring or possibly dreadful that thing is.

When people ask me about my job, I am very quick to respond that my job at Microsoft is the best job ever. I work with ridiculously smart people. I work on things that will impact the lives of hundreds of millions of people for the better. I am well-compensated and the work environment is pleasant. When I explain to people how awesome my job is they look at me like I am a little crazy. Most people tend to drone on about how hard they work, how under-appreciated they are and how there must be something better to do out there. This includes other people I talk to from my company. It’s unfortunate. This is the exact type of mindset that keeps people from being happy. It’s like folks are trying to sabotage their own chances for success.

You can never expect to find true happiness doing something else until you can be happy doing what you are already doing.

You can never expect to find true happiness doing something else until you can be happy doing what you are already doing. I don’t care who you are or what you do. You could be a garbage-collector in Manhattan or an attorney in Hollywood. You could be a pro surfer living on the North Shore or a goat-herder in New Zeland. You can be a six-figure blogger or a kindergarten teacher at an inner-city school. If you can’t find some way to be at peace and be happy with your current state, then you can never find happiness in some new job or career. It’s a universal truth and something anyone looking to make a job change must come to grips with.

Without this mindset, when you get to whatever new situation you think will make you happy, you won’t find happiness, it will sink away, like a stone tossed into quicksand. In yoga we teach that everything needed to live a happy and fulfilling life is exactly inside of you at this very moment. If you think you are under-appreciated, over-worked and under-stimulated in your current job…if you think you are a victim and need to do something else. That is totally fine and in many cases an important step to take.

Everything needed to live a happy and fulfilling life is inside of you at this very moment.

However, you must first learn to love what you do at some level, and then you can embark on the path to do what you love. This is the empowering way to transform you career, but it is the way that most people avoid going. It can feel better to get others to empathize with you by droning on and on about how out of luck you are and how you aren’t appreciated. Instead, try finding all the great things about your current situation. Look hard for the things that are joyful and that you love about your current role. From there, you can stop being a victim and can plot a course for your future with power and direction. Not with pity and dread.

I saw Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora.com, at the Seattle Public Library. As a life-long musician he told he story of Pandora and how it was the result of his deep love of music and desire to help "the long tail" of artists connect with their fans. This mindset helped him see the business through near-bankruptcy and endless litigation to become the success it is today.

I’m serious when I say to find happiness in whatever you do, no matter what. I’ve spent plenty of time traveling to other countries, including developing countries. Wandering through small villages in South India or in Peru, I’ve been amazed at how happy and content people are – even with hardly any material possessions of material wealth. They find happiness in their own life, their family, their friends and other intangibles. Part of me also thinks that since people living in small villages are not surrounded by material goods and people “one-upping” each other with bigger cars, houses and fancy clothes – that there can even be less temptation to think you got the short end of the stick and instead just be happy with what you have. Happiness is something you get to define for yourself, not something that others define for you. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

Happiness is something you get to define for yourself, not something that others define for you.

As a kid, I remember being ridiculously happy shoveling horse shit into raised beds and tilling the soil as we prepared for spring planting for our massive garden. I did this all the time. In the hot and humid weather in Northeast Pennsylvania. How can I have been that happy doing hard (and stinky!) manual labor as a young kid? It was just a mindset. Most kids have it, but we lose it as adults if we get caught up in the material world. As most of us are adults with comfortable lives (by comfortable I mean we shelter and clothing and aren’t going hungry) we have no good reason not to be happy with our current lot in life. This doesn’t mean that we can’t aspire for bigger and even better things. Of course we can and in fact, we must (thus the reason I call this blog “Set Higher Standards”). This mindset, however, must come on top of a sense of happiness for your current situation, not disgust. Otherwise you’ll continue to feel let down in your quest to find greener grass on the other side by looking outside of yourself, when what you have been seeking has been literally right under your nose all along.

Learn to love what you do, whatever that is. You will then find it much easier to find other things that you also love, and if a major life change is needed to better align yourself with those things, it will be easier for you to take those steps.

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Also, I’m getting ready for my second 50K ultra-marathon next weekend at The North Face Endurance 50K in San Francisco! One more long run tomorrow and then I get to relax for a week until showtime :).

2 comments

  1. Carrie says:

    Did you ever think that sometimes the point isn’t to be happy, that sometimes happiness is a side effect, an end result of a job well done? That the goal is rather doing a really good, thorough, analyzed job even if it makes you unhappy because it’s better to do something positive than self deceive yourself into mind mush with “yogi” tactics and have a negative impact? Wouldn’t you call that dishonesty? Insincerity, and sure maybe your selfish habits make you happy short term but it makes those around you make up for your work. It’s all well and good to say, not happy? Fix it, when you are in fact in a satisfying cushy appreciative position, but some people are in shit situations and they get it- they have to suck it up in order to get better, do better, survive. It’s your type of motivation speaking bullshit that drove wall street into the ground, that looks the other way at exploiting countries as long as you can travel to them and feel good about using more energy getting there than you should in your entire life. You say set higher standards but that is a paradox between that and convincing yourself to be happy. Increased standards have lead me to a lot more struggle, but in the end, even if I hate my life, I respect myself and take responsibility for my actions and thoughts and in that way, I know it’s more important than being “happy.”

  2. Pingback: RealTime - Questions: "What are the top 5 things in the world that make you the most happy?"

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