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.
How anyone could do anything for 10 years is beyond me. That sounds horribly boring all by itself. Seriously, what is left to do as a painter after 10 year, or as a musician, or as a poet. 10 years is endless, grinding repetition. Is that the point? Becoming an empty, mindless robot automaton? Becoming someone executes process because they don’t mind boredom, because they’ve become empty people?
What is wrong with you people?
A lot of people who do what they like for 10 years aren’t bored nor is it “boring” for them. For example, even as a painter for 10 years there is still more to learn. It is a never ending process. So many subjects that can be covered, learning a new skill or refinement of technique. There is never a ceiling to reach unless you believe there is one.
Malan Darras says
my grandfather painted every day for 60+ years. When he became sick they set his up his hospice bed in his art studio. There, he painted in between naps until he passed away.
Jon Tam says
This is so crucial, I’m a newbie losing money at the moment, but I’m enjoying every moment of it…usually haha
Edgar Ochoa says
Some hobbies aren’t expensive. Writing music, practicing your favorite sports and sing mostly involves only your time and a couple of bucks, but I’ve found my passion. And my passion can make me tremendous amount of money and that passion is called “online marketing”. However, to do online marketing day after day involves investments, and those losses can add up really quick. I’m nog giving up. I’m not that type, but I understand the people that ditch the game after a few months.. It’s an expensive hobby to have.
Malan Darras says
Music gear costs thousands of dollars and gigs pay almost nothing (or nothing). It’s one of the most expensive hobbies on earth with almost zero chance of every making it. Sports takes 15 years of dedication and physical abuse and only a few ever make it pro.
I’d say you have 1000x better chance making your investment back in online marketing than you do in almost any other hobby there is.
Some people are looking for something they love and then eventually do it. For example my biggest passion is nutrition and dieting (especially in regards to health). But I decided not to go that road because it won’t give me the kind of lifestyle I’m after. Plus to be really good I would have to study for at least 5 years biochemistry. Instead I went internet marketing road because it will give me the lifestyle I want (is giving already). Certainly I love nutrition more than IM. MJ Demarco wrote in his book that probably is better to separate our hobbies and passions from the money/business. When money is involved there is always some kind of stress and pressure, so maybe we should leave our “loves” for the time when we can relax?
Also, why not to start loving what we currently do?
Joe Ades said “it’s not doing what you like, but liking what you do”. I think it depends on personality a lot.
Benny O says
plenty of people make money with IM with health/fitness/diet. I wouldnt totally write that off but think to yourself how can I deliver value to my readers/customers.
hey Benny O,
Yep 100% agree with you. After all, it’s one of the best niches to be in (speaking about money). My problem is the one of that ethical nature, you know. Probably I would go farther than most people are willing to go, in terms of ethics. But when it comes to health and life, I’m not going to make a buck on someones else situation. I might be old fashioned prick or whatever, but this kind of business is just not for me.
Benny O says
It really depends on how you frame it. Many people may not know what you know to have success with fitness. So you can provide value to them by getting that information to them somehow. All of lasting business is “making a buck on someone else’s situation”, its providing value or a solution to something that they don’t currently have.
Tom Mullaly says
Very nice, a fitting anthem Malan. Deserves to be reaffirmed within us over and over again too, because threats to this attitude keep coming, in the form of cheap wins and distractions.
Paul Gray says
Nice thought provoking post Malan. I think it’s easy to forget all the hard work that goes on before someone makes it to the top, we only see their success and wish we could have it with such apparent ease.
Malan Darras says
hey paul – agreed. and then, when someone becomes a “whatever” because it looks so easy, they’re disappointed when they find out how much work goes into it – so they move on to the next thing that looks easy – and start the cycle again.
Petre Veluda says
My advice is to do something you like in order to make a living then never stop dreaming and never settle for what you have, be thankful but never settle. This way you’ll have enough money to sleep, eat and learn and you won’t get frustrated when things go wrong.
So don’t follow your dreams to make money but secure your daily needs and love the sacrifices you are going to make in order to achieve what is best suited for you.
If it feels like work, you’re doing it wrong … right? 🙂