I recently wrote about Ithaca, a poem by Constantine Cavafy that used the story of Odysseus as a metaphor for enjoying the journey of life.
One of the best comments I received (from multiple people) was that the poem boils to “Falling in love with the process.”
I want to continue that thought because I think it could be the most important thing.
What Would You Do If Money Didn’t Matter?
There is a popular video that features the words of Alan Watts a British-born philosopher known for popularizing Eastern philosophy for a Western audience.
In the video he shares his recommendation for college students, approaching graduation who don’t know what they want to do.
- He asks them: “What would you like to do if money were no object? How would you really enjoy spending your life?”
- They respond with things like: “We’d like to be painters, we’d like to be poets, we’d like to be writers. But as everybody knows you can’t earn any money that way.”
He then works with them to figure out precisely what the individual would like to do, if money was no object and he gives them the following advice:
“You do that… and forget the money. Because if you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you will spend your life completely wasting your time.
You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living, that is, to go on doing things you don’t like doing. Which is stupid.
Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way.
And after all, if you do really like what you’re doing, it doesn’t matter what it is. You can eventually become a master of it.
The only way to become a master of something is to be really with it. And then you’ll be able to get a good fee for it, whatever it is. Somebody is interested in everything. Anything you can be interested in you’ll find others who are too.
But it’s absolutely stupid to spend your time doing things you don’t like in order to go on spending your time doing things you don’t like and to teach your children to follow in the same track.”
How Long Would You Work For Free?
John Hayes, a cognitive psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University did a study to investigate the time it took for top performers to find success.
He looked at the most talented creative people in history, like Mozart and Picasso to find out how long it took them to become a master at their craft. Here is what he found:
- Not a single person produced great work without putting in a decade of practice first
- Even a genius like Mozart wrote music, largely unnoticed for 10 years
So what would have happened if Mozart had abandoned music after a few years without success? He would have found something else to do, missed his chance to become one of the most famous composers in history and we would not know his name.
Luckily, Mozart did precisely what Alan Watts recommended above.
- He composed music for a decade, without being paid or acknowledged, because he loved the process of writing and composing.
- Then he became a master.
- Then people became interested.
- Artists. Most artists don’t pick up a brush and find instant fame and fortune. It takes years, decades, even lifetimes for an artist’s work to be recognized. Many famous artists were never discovered during their lifetime. Fame came to them after their death. But if you love painting and enjoy the process of mixing colors, holding brushes and painting pictures, even a meager living will provide a great life.
- Online Marketers. Most people that try online marketing will not make money. That is because so many people try it for a week, or a few months or even a few years without success and quit if they don’t make money. The people that do the best are the ones that enjoy the process of launching, tracking and optimizing so much that they would be doing it, whether they were getting paid or not. I played around online off and on for several years before I had my first big win.
- Musicians. When a new band comes on the music scene people call them an overnight success. Little do they know that these guys have 5, 10, or even 20 years of history behind them. They’ve failed financially over and over again, but loved the process of writing music and performing live so much that they persisted, even when no one cared. So when their time came, they were there and ready – instead of being at an office job somewhere, talking about what could have been.
- Athletes. Most professional athletes have been practicing their sport since they were little kids. They played (for free) through summer heat, winter storms with broken ribs and twisted ankles. They played for 15 years for free because they love the process of working out, practicing and competition.
So How About You?
So what would you be doing if money didn’t matter? Would you be doing what you’re doing now or would you do something else? That something else is probably the thing you should do. The Impossible Thing.
Because if you spend your life doing something you love, your life will be a success…
Even if the money never comes.