Many people think they know what they want… until they get it. Perhaps one of the most common examples is retirement. Almost everyone dreams of retiring some day, with all the free time in the world to do whatever they want.
And then, they retire, and they realize they’re utterly bored and there’s nothing to do. They’ve spent the past 40 years putting in 40 hours every week, not including commutes and overtime and all the rest of it, and now that they’ve got that time, they don’t know what to do with it.
That’s a big part of the reason why depression is surprisingly common among retirees, especially recent retirees. So much of our identity (and sense of self-worth) is tied into what we do. If you’ve spent the past 40 years as an accountant, but you’re no longer an accountant, then who are you?
That’s why early retirement isn’t really the goal. Realistically, I’m not sure if I’ll ever fully retire and that’s by choice.
Bulldozing Through Obstacles?
Even before you reach a ripe old age and decide to retire, you’ll see a very similar kind of phenomenon happening when you talk to people about what they want to do. Or when you talk to them about the adversities or difficulties in their lives.
More often than not, you’ll hear people complain about how work “sucks” or how work is “hard.” That, if they had the choice, “of course” they’d want to have an easier job, so long as they could still pay the bills and maintain their current lifestyle.
What if, hypothetically speaking, I could offer you a remarkably easy job that paid the same as what you make today in your day job? Many people would certainly entertain the possibility. Let’s say this hypothetical job is that you need to sort a never-ending pile of paper into lined paper and plain paper. It’s super easy. Anyone can do it. Just pick up a sheet, decide if it’s lined or plain, and place it on top of the corresponding pile.
Over and over again. For eight hours a day.
It wouldn’t take long before you hated this job. It’s so boring, so repetitive, and with no meaningful purpose, because you have no real idea why you’re sorting these sheets of paper in the first place. Easy isn’t what you want. Because easy is boring.
Progress and Purpose
If you spend the entirety of your adult life working at some entry-level position, just because it was the easiest thing to do, you will have wasted a tremendous opportunity. I recognize that many people have to work these kinds of jobs because they’re the only jobs they can get or it’s what they have to do to make ends meet. I get that. But, if you have the option, the possibility of doing something else, you absolutely must.
In the Netflix series “Atypical,” one of the characters works in a pizza restaurant as a server. He took on that job because it was easy. He got hired with virtually no qualifications and he never aspired to do anything else with his life. It’s not just a matter of comfort; it was because he was scared that if he took on anything else, he’d fail.
But he soon recognizes how that’s a missed opportunity. He later enrolls in a program to become an emergency medical technician (EMT).
At first, he wants to quit. It’s that protectionist mentality again, because you can’t fail if you don’t try, right? Except you’ve already failed when you quit. Eventually, he decides to stick with it, and what he learns is that even though the work is hard, he loves it.
The sense of perceived progress and purpose is what drives him to keep going. This new career prospect gives his life meaning.
Do What You Love?
It’s true. Sometimes, actually most of the time, you’ll need to do what you hate so that you have the opportunity to do what you love. In this way, you really have to think about what you want to do even if it made no money. That might sound like the “easy” road, but striking that balance between exploring your passions and figuring out how to earn a living doing so can be hard. Very hard.
But that’s exactly what makes it worthwhile. It’s how you grow and it’s what makes your day-to-day life more interesting.
Running your own online business, working as a professional blogger, creating online content and managing various income sources… these are all great challenges, but they sure beat wasting eight hours a day simply stacking sheets of paper.