We’re trained to please our parents from the time we’re born. But that doesn’t mean it ends there.
It’s amazing how, even as adults, we spend enormous amounts of time working towards goals we may not even care about. We work hard to impress our friends, coworkers, or the people in our industry. Who can blame us, really? We’re surrounded by them, so of course we think their opinion matters. It happens so naturally that we may not even know that our end goal is to please someone else.
If you’re in something so immersive as social media, it doesn’t help. Channels are so filled with hype, telling us what we need to care about and where to direct our attention that we can’t help but believe them. The people in this space are charismatic and smart, and everything they say makes sense. But they aren’t you or me.
It takes a tremendous, constant effort of will to ignore what others think. But we have to. Not only because we won’t be at our best doing work we don’t really care about, or because we have to live up to our own potential, but because at the end, it’s only going to be us there, alone, deciding about our own lives.
A few months back, I read Alain de Botton’s Status Anxiety, a great recommendation from Tara Hunt. The book talks about The Death of Ivan Ilyich, a satire by Leo Tolstoy published in 1886. As the story goes, this upwardly-mobile 19th-century judge is on his deathbed after a strange sickness comes over him. He’s examining his life and how he spent his time.
Imagine it. Many of his friends have abandoned him, since he’s of no use to them anymore. His colleagues pay their last respects, but only because they’re forced to, and he can tell they don’t want to be there. He’s lived his life to be famous and rich, and now he is. But as the saying goes, he who dies with the most toys– well, he’s still dead.
We don’t think about this when we’re working hard on our next big thing. “This is going to be huge,” we imagine, and with it the glory that comes with success. But if you worked all this time to achieve what someone else thought was great, and you get there, you won’t even care.
How would that feel? Kind of unfulfilled, and sort of lost, I imagine, but with all the money and fame you might want. Except there are no excuses, because now you have it all.
Jeremy Wright recently showed me one of his presentations, which pointed out the difference between being excited by opportunity and fueled by passion. Opportunity is excited because the time is right, or because of the enormous upside, he claims, but passion excites you because of act itself.
There’s a huge difference. I think we should figure out which one we’re after, before we’ve spent any more of our time.