The question I try to get my kids to ask themselves is not ‘what do you want to be?’, but ‘what do you want to do?’ because life isn’t about being. Photographer, CEO, games developer are not things that we are, they’re things that we do. The problem with thinking about them as things we are is that they become trophies. ‘If I’m a photographer, people will admire me.’ ‘If I’m a CEO I will have power and money.’ These are just side effects of doing the things that earn you one of these titles. They arise from doing and most of a working life is spent doing. So if you’re focused on the the side effects rather than the actual tasks, you’re at great risk of being disappointed, unhappy and possibly not actually becoming the thing you thought you wanted to be.
Having fame, fortune, power or whatever are fleeting experiences that do not provide lasting happiness. They’re like a good meal, once you’ve finished it, it’s gone and you have to wait until the next one. Happiness arises from doing what you love or loving what you do, because you spend most of your life doing. This is inescapable, unavoidable, life. If you are satisfied with what you are doing, that satisfaction is lasting.
But this way of thinking does not ignore nor preclude the glamorous side effects. The fact is that if you enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll do it more and better. You will, one day, be ‘successful’ at it. That’s when things like recognition and rewards are received. So if you can’t let go of those ideas of ‘success’, you should look even harder for the things that you love to do rather than the things you want to be because that is what will give you the greatest chance to achieve your goals.
And don’t stop looking. This is the addendum I tell my kids. Don’t be afraid to change your mind. If you’ve been doing something for a time and you realise you no longer like it, or perhaps you realise you never really did like it, then stop, look for something else. Don’t allow yourself to be trapped by habit or routine. Never imagine that it’s too late to start something else. Don’t feel like you’ll be throwing away years of work and experience, because you can’t do that. It will always be with you and will inform whatever you decide to do next. Be flexible and don’t fear change, because change is inevitable. Embrace it and learn how to use it. If you ride the river’s currents, you can go a long way. If you try to stand still, you’ll always be fighting the flow.
I am not a human being – I am a human doing.