Your personal happiness is not a career nor is your career the end-all-be-all to your personal happiness.
Yes, I know that happiness is your job and that you’re the CEO of your own fulfillment. I’ve read a copy of Happiness is an Inside Job too, but I’m not playing semantic games here. I mean business. No one is going to pay you for your positive emotions and nothing that you ever get paid for will be responsible for every positive emotion you feel. Your happiness and your job will always be separate things even if you have the happiest job in the world. Why? Because the universe is bigger than your job. It’s bigger than your job plus all the other jobs that will ever exist. Hence, there will always be interesting, exciting, and inspiring possibilities to explore that are not directly connected to the work you receive paychecks for.
I don’t get paid to drink water, but I do it anyway because it keeps me alive. Ditto for eating food, sleeping at night, taking walks, watching stand-up comedy, checking sports scores, reading graphic novels, studying philosophy, taking hikes, visiting botanical gardens and a host of other activities that are essential to keeping my body, mind, spirit, and relationships alive. No one wants to give me money for these things, but I absolutely have to do them. And guess what? I love my job.
I wake up every day and I get to do professional work that I deeply believe in. And the following still remains true: the sum total of all my coworkers, customers, company mission, compensation, and creative activities related to my job will never be big enough to capture and satisfy the full range of my diverse interests. Expecting my job to do that would be as unfair and unrealistic as expecting my spouse to exclusively and exhaustively fulfill my needs for community, conversation, and camaraderie. Life doesn’t work that way. You can’t force a single relationship to be your everything and you can’t force everything you love to fit into a single relationship.
I don’t know where it originated, but there seems to be this popular misconception that you’re wasting your time if you’re mastering skills, tackling challenges, developing expertise, building your network, and playing around with ideas related to a passion or pastime that you don’t get paid for. Similarly, there’s a common fear that if you’re getting paid for something that leaves out other important interests (ie. you’re paid to be a programmer, but you also love to dance), then you’re missing out on an authentic human experience.
We’re hesitant to pursue our passions if we aren’t sure we’ll get paid for it. We’re hesitant to get paid for something if we aren’t sure we’ll feel passionate about it. We feel frustrated when no one wants to give us money for things we love doing. We feel guilty when we accept money for things that are not the things we love.
We’ve bought into the lie that there are only three possible roads in life 1) Find a job that completely eliminates the distinction between work and play 2) Sell your soul for a job that doesn’t satisfy your passions or 3) Refuse to commit to anything that threatens to interfere with play time.
Here’s a fourth possibility: Realize that being human means you’re bigger than all the jobs and all the passions you’ll ever have. And no matter what you commit to or refuse to commit to; no matter where you work or refuse to work; no matter what hobbies you make time for or fail to make time for, there will always be more to who you are, more to what you want, and more to why you’re here than anything you choose or refuse to do at a given moment or stage.
Instead of looking for your job to meet all your needs, give yourself permission to simply enjoy and explore things outside the context of your professional life. And instead of requiring all your hobbies to be profitable, let go of the need to justify everything you do in terms of dollars and cents.
The people who tell you to “do what you love” have always been right. After all, what’s the alternative? Refusing to do what you love?
Where you’ll go wrong, however, is if you make the mistake of equating “do what you love” with “If you don’t find a way to get paid for every single thing you love, you’re wasting your time.”
Keep it simple: Get paid wherever and whenever you can. And even when you can’t, enjoy life wherever and whenever you can.
You don’t need to make a career out of all the things you love, but you do need to make a life out of all the things you love. And if you’re doing it right, your life will always be bigger and better than your career.