I know a workaholic who is a traveling salesman, a real road warrior. He thrives on chasing the deal and meeting new people and I always envied his unrelenting passion for his career. But he recently confided to me that it was not all a joyous endeavor, that he hated flying with the constant plane delays and crammed seats, the lonely nights in sterile hotel rooms, and the long client dinners with insufferable clients. Similarly, another friend I admire goes to the gym at 4 a.m. every morning without failure, meticulously crafting his sculpted physique. He always seems to be enjoying his workouts with amazing energy and a positive attitude that is contagious, so when I complimented him on his dedication to his fitness regimen, he surprised me by saying he dreams about eating a box of chocolates and sleeping in until noon.
Both these friends shed some light on the cliche to follow your passion, which is such a romantic notion, as if you’ll wake up one day with total clarity on what to do with minimal effort and be a massive success. This belief can set up false expectations with very disappointing results. The media reinforces this fantasy with sensational stories on easy and quick success when the reality is nothing worth striving for comes easy.
What if we turned this message on its head, working backwards to discover the optimal path moving forward? Rather than follow your passion, how about pick your pain pill, then swallow it joyfully, with purpose. Choose your poison and then master it while unconditionally accepting this choice, knowing full well there will be obstacles every step of the way. The paradox is that as you hone your craft and begin to excel at it, you come to enjoy it, even thrive at it. We have all done this, perhaps unconsciously, allowing and accepting the pain to improve expertise. You just picked your poison, whether it’s to be a doctor, play piano, write a book or run a marathon and powered through it with will and sheer determination. The process of pain simply becomes the means to an end as you persevered through some combination of risk, sacrifice, uncertainty, compromise, repeated failures and insane hours to accomplish your craft. What you choose to tolerate may be completely indigestible to another which makes each of us unique with our own talents and skill set. I laughed when a friend said she’d prefer to go to the dentist versus writing blogs (she may just secretly hates my blogs).
Of course, ideally, the pain you choose to embark on should align with your interests as it makes it all the more tolerable and transmutes your hard work and effort into passion. It becomes your identity and part of your persona: she’s a yoga instructor, he’s a mechanic, she’s a writer, he’s a master chef. There’s typically a foundation for the direction you choose, and as you become more competent in your chosen craft or hobby, it folds into the fabric of your life. The pain of acquiring your skill subtly shifts to passion and you flow more naturally with it as you no longer question the effort and now begin to enjoy the fruits of your labor. It looks effortless to others because, well, you make it look effortless.
We all have a talent, a passion we excel at, but did it really come effortlessly to you? Of course not. You went through the painful process of mastering your craft, willing to sacrifice and compromise to achieve your end goal(s). Be mindful of this and proud of your accomplishments as they are now woven into the fabric of your identity. You may now take your expertise for granted and conveniently forgotten the pain to achieve this but take great pride in your dedication and discipline. If a young millennial overlooks the massive effort you endured to make it now look effortless, be sure to point it out before they conclude they should always search for the path of least resistance. Ane when they ask and/or next time you embark on a new hobby or career, perhaps you should say pick your pain pill, then swallow it joyfully, with purpose. It may just be the best advice we can offer to the new generation and ourselves.