The other night I stumbled upon this TED talk by Larry Smith, titled “Why you will fail to have a great career.” Smith’s message hit home with me, and judging by the space given to it on other blogs, others felt the same way. Smith strikes at the heart of many of the excuses that we frequently use to keep ourselves from pursuing our real passions.
One of his strongest points touches on one of the great myths in American work sub-culture, namely, the myth that if you work hard now (and for the unforeseeable future), and climb as high as possible on the corporate ladder, that you will somehow, eventually, (before keeling over into an all-too-brief and disappointing retirement), find happiness. It is here that we encounter the theme of delayed gratification. I should point out, that I realize that delayed gratification can play an important purpose in our lives. In fact, studies show that children with the ability to embrace delayed gratification are more likely to be successful later on in life.
This being said, there’s a real difference between delayed gratification for the sake of reaping future rewards (a rational choice) and using delayed gratification as a flimsy excuse for self-doubt/insecurity and other stumbling blocks that may keep us from embracing our real passions in the present. In his talk, Larry Smith speaks about how the individual thinks to themself: “I’ll work in this job now to earn some money, but some day I’ll actually do what I love.” And yet that “some day” gradually gets pushed further and further back as life intervenes. Years later, the individual finds herself wondering where it all went wrong.
This is where it gets personal. In the past year, I’ve made commitments to myself to stop making excuses and to pursue what has long been a passion for me: writing. I’ve been so busy building a respectable career and putting in the long hours required for it, that my dreams of writing have been constantly pushed to the side. The only way to address this is to make a real commitment to myself to make the most of the “now,” and to start making writing a real part of my life in this moment, as opposed to pushing it back to that “some day” when I think I’ll have more energy, focus, attention for it.
Having made that commitment, I know need to seriously think about all the inputs that I need to make this a reality. Things at the top of the list include: 1) dedicated time; 2) quiet space to work in, free from distractions (including the Internet); 3) self-discipline to make it all happen. Looking at this list it’s clear to me that in order to embrace my creativity, I need to first embrace tendency toward discipline and focus. Thankfully I have a lot of amazing thinkers on this subject to help me along the way, including Tony Schwartz and his brain-child, The Energy Project.