Other People’s Ideas

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.





12 responses to “Other People’s Ideas”

  1. John McLachlan Avatar

    Julien, you write very insightful posts. This one in particular is refreshing because you get deeper.

    You’ve identified (very well) a key philosophical approach that people take with not only their business but also their lives. I’ve always been in the “passion” camp. I’ve never really understood people who just look for some business to start without having a passion for it unless of course their passion is just starting businesses. What a waste of your life otherwise.

    Thanks for the clear thinking. John

    1. Julien Avatar

      Thanks John. It was 5am and I was actually pretty jetlagged when I wrote this. I should try replicating that somehow– magic mushrooms or speed maybe?

  2. DYKC?â„¢ Avatar

    This resonates with me quite a bit, brother. I find that I am fueled by passion (but that excitement by the potential of opportunity can have a negative impact on said passion).

    I think until I read how you clarified the two, I was mistaking passion for my excitement about possibly doing a thing. So it is insightful to consider that where I am at is excitement, but where I want to be is completely fueled by the passion instead.

  3. Dave Doolin Avatar

    How curious… I’m reading Alain de Botton’s debut novel “On Love,” a microscopic examination of his narrator’s emotional journey into a new relationship.

    So we have to please other people, at some point, so they will give us money to buy groceries and pay rent.

    Finding that line is the entire struggle for me.

  4. Amber Whitener Avatar

    “. . . because at the end, it’s only going to be us there, alone, deciding about our own lives . . .”

    What a powerful thought, Julien.

  5. Jordan Chénard Avatar

    Nice one again, Julien.

    As a dreamer, for me it’s pretty difficult, if not impossible, to dissociated if I’m doing things I really want to do or if I’m doing it because it looked to be the thing to do in my dreams.

    My only remedy to bypass this mind tricks is to ask me one simple question: if was able to assist to my own funeral, who’s gonna be there and what I wish they say about me.

    It seems very selfish but it’s a question who’s putting on top the real priorities in my life.

    Since then, I know me better and I’m closer to people I love and I’m doing, most of the time, things that I’m passionnate. (isshhh… je ne suis pas certain de la tournure de phrase…)

    I know, it’s an”emo-shit-like” comments but I think you understand my point. 😛

  6. Gab Goldenberg Avatar

    For a long time I’d only consider affiliate opportunities in markets I was passionate about. Over time I’ve become able to put that aside and be motivated by the payoff, which I think is a positive development as it broadens my options.

    One thing that helps is remembering that making money is an intermediary goal, and that you can enjoy work without being passionate about the particular topic, because you know the reward you’re striving for.

  7. Ian M Rountree Avatar

    Having just heard your rant on the latest Media Hacks about how and why you got the ink on your arms (Making it impossible to ever sell out) it’s a bit exciting to read this. So many of the entrepreneurial people I know, not even those who are involved in start-ups, have that “I want to be different, just like everyone else” mentality.

    I always wonder how much better their work could be if they shed that one limiter.

  8. Kevan Avatar

    I have been thinking and talking about this A LOT with friends and colleagues. I am 26 years old, and I am still fighting to shed the preconceived notions instilled in my malleable brain. Most of all, my parents emphasis on the traditional western pursuits: university, good stable job with secure income, marriage, family, responsibility. Although not malicious or even bad advice, I am only now coming to realize how difficult it is for me to step outside these values. They restrict me in ways that I prefer not to overtly admit to myself. I do not want to abandon what I have been taught by parents, friends, colleagues, friends, etc., but I have come to understand the upmost importance of singularity and confidence. I can be different if it fits better. Its not scary. Simple, extraordinarily difficult, revolutionary, all at once.

    I feel good having thought about this. And I feel good having seen this post, it helps encourage what seems to be the “right track”, as my father would say, very intentionally ironically.

  9. Chris Avatar

    life is such a hard balance to hit. my ‘day job’ helps me support my family and passions but it is also the one thing that drags me down or pulls me away from both far too often. i like the idea of work and passion being synonymous – although not always attainable there is usually room in any job to make it your own – something I may have forgotten.

  10. Manal Assaad Avatar

    It really saddens me to see so many people living their lives only trying to impress others and please them; most of the time they are even trying to impress complete strangers -what they call “society”-. What’s even sadder is that they don’t realize how wrong it is until it’s too late. I always say that we only live once, so we should make the most of it by following our passion and seizing each opportunity like it’s the last without caring what others would think of us; because at the end, what they think won’t make a difference at all.
    It’s important to find a balance where you can do what you’re passionate about without the need to please others but with keeping in mind that you don’t hurt them as well.

  11. Mike Mintz Avatar

    “Follow your bliss and you will come to bliss.” An English professor in Freshman Comp at Montclair State University told me that (I don’t remember his name but the quote stuck). At the time I thought it was something educators just say, something from a magnet he got at an inspire your students conference. But as I have seen my life play out over the last 14-years I can say that choices I made to gain honor, approval, or a well deserved upgrade (going to law school anyone?) never turned out as well as the choices I made b/c my heart was behind them. I unwittingly stumbled into social media, not realizing in 2005 blogging about “video game law” would open up a whole lot of doors for me. I just liked my IP course in school and LOVED my XBox. Put them together, what a fine looking … blog (Adam Sandler homage: happy Chanukah everyone!). The point here is that my life is controlled by a Power higher than myself (don’t worry: this won’t get preachy), and the choices a make are a combination of that prior fact, my aptitude, and self-fulfillment. I can honestly say that I am doing today what I love to do (and getting paid for it!). Not to mention spending tons of time with my wife and kids – the most important thing of all.

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