How To Do What You Love

By Shuying KeJan 01, 2016

colourful desk working

If you Google the phrase, “do what you love”, you would get a million hits. The views are split down the middle, into two camps – (1) the staunch believers who say, YES ABSOLUTELY DO WHAT YOU LOVE AND NEVER SETTLE (this includes technopreneur Steve Jobs and philosopher Alan Watts), and (2) the pragmatists who say ‘do what you love’ is fluffy advice – bite the bullet and go work hard at something until you’re good enough to be passionate about it.

But there is a question deeper still, a question that goes to the core of the issue, that remains largely ignored. And that is – why should we do work we love? Why go through all that hassle to push the boundaries of our comfort zones to seek something greater, only to endure the sting of constant failure to get better our craft?

A gallup poll has found that 68% of US employees are disengaged at work. SHRI has similarly found that Singaporeans are “underhappy” at work. People feel disengaged at work because they’re doing work that is not meaningful to them. These people may not even be sure what they truly want. So they find themselves in jobs they that don’t fulfill them, jobs they only put up with. That’s when they start living for the weekend, feeling as though they have two lives – a work life which they grudgingly endure, and a ‘real’ life which begins only in the evenings and on weekends.

The work you love is already inside you. The work you were meant to do is calling for you.

Researchers have found time and again that those who had a sense of mission live more engaged, more fulfilling, and longer lives. In Okinawa, a Japanese archipelago 800 miles south of Tokyo, everyone knows their ‘ikigai’, or reason for being. They have the longest disability-free life expectancy in the world. Viktor Frankl, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, found that prisoners who survived the concentration camps almost always had a ‘why’ to live for – whether it was a family member or an unfinished work – and could therefore endure any ‘how’.

Finding work you love is like finding yourself in the world. It is like finding your ‘why’. It imbues your life with purpose, meaning, and gives you a worthy goal to strive for. It allows you to express yourself, bring forth the treasures already inside, and make a valuable contribution to the world. It ends the conflict between who you are and what you do.

Abe-Maslow-quote

Simply in doing work you love, you expand intellectually and emotionally. You unleash a productive and creative energy you never knew existed within you. You bring all of yourself to your work, making full use of your innate gifts and abilities. You start to dream again. You come fully alive. And that is why it’s important to do work that matters to you. Doing work you love is one of the keys to having a fulfilling life.

The common wisdom is that if you find the intersection of what you love, what you’re good at, what you can be paid for, and what the world needs, you would have your “do what you love” sweetspot. Here are some examples of how people have gone about answering that question:

1. Elon Musk

Elon Musk has been described as the world’s most remarkable living entrepreneur. His companies PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla Motors, and SolarCity are re-imagining and creating the future. As Richard Branson himself said, “Whatever skeptics have said can’t be done, Elon has gone out and made real.” Musk found his life’s work simply by asking himself, “What will most affect the future of humanity?” He came up with a list of five things: the internet, sustainable energy, space exploration, artificial intelligence, and reprogramming the genetic code. He chose to focus on the internet (PayPal), sustainable energy (Tesla Motors, SolarCity), and space exploration (SpaceX).

2. Kuik Shiao Yin

Kuik Shiao Yin describes herself as an ‘empathy worker’, building the socio-emotional capital of our nation through the Thought Collective, a group of social enterprises. In response to the commonly asked question, “Should I follow my passions or pursue practical opportunities before me?” She said, yes, following our passions would bring about a very special kind of suffering. But if we are not prepared to go the full length and breadth and depth of suffering that our passion wants to bring us through, then the world would also never see the full length and breadth and depth of possibilities for goodness, for greatness, for beauty, for change that are locked inside us. She said each of us live and work within two meta stories – the story of how things are, and the story of how things should be. The most passionate people live in the gap. The endeavour to make our vision meet reality is where our passions blossom.

3. Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of best-seller Eat Pray Love, said that she never expected to make money from her craft. She promised the universe that she would write forever, regardless of the result. She did not expect writing to take care of her financially; instead, she would support both herself and her writing, whatever it took. She would wait tables in the day and write at night: no matter what, she would be a writer.

Theodore-Roosevelt-quote

Life’s best prize is waiting to be won. Finding work you love may take a journey inwards to discover what truly matters to you. It may be committing yourself to solving one of the world’s problems. It could also be committing yourself to honing a craft.

The first step towards finding work you love is to understand and know yourself. What do you love? What truly fulfills you? And what hidden talents lie within you, that you may not even have discovered yet? At certain points in our lives, these questions become very real. So ask yourself:

  • What truly fulfills me? When was my last peak experience?
  • What am I good at? What comes easily for me, but seems hard for others?
  • What problem in the world needs solving? Where are people’s pain points?

You can find out more about accelerating your progress and going deeper into the journey of self-discovery in our online course “Doing What You Love”.

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