Doing What You Love Won’t Make You Happy

June 29, 2013

I got this wrong for years.

I used to think that quitting my job, starting my own business of work that I enjoy, having the freedom to travel when I want, not going to an office 9 to 5 and wearing whatever clothes I wanted whenever I wanted would make me happy. You might too.

I remember thinking that the last thing I would do was go back and get a day job, because it would make me miserable. I remember thinking:

I can’t work for someone else.
I can’t be happy unless I’m doing what I love.
I need to be free to choose how I spend my time every day.
I need to be free to follow my passion.
I have to start my own business.
I have to be financially free.

Behind all the “I have to” and “I can’t” statements was the thought that I needed that to be happy. Behind it was the thought that without it I would be miserable.

What would make you miserable? Would working 9 to 5 at Goldman Sachs make you miserable? What about working at McDonalds? Pick your least favorite city, what about living there? Would any of that make you unhappy? I certainly thought so, and I’m sitting here now with an epiphany, because I realized one thing.

I thought all that.

I thought all that. It’s not real. You can walk into Goldman Sachs right now and meet people that are happy, same with McDonalds, same with the local janitor at the high school. Are they all happy? Probably not, but it’s not the job that determines if they are happy, it’s their thinking.

I heard a saying once that really kicked me in the ass. Ram Dass said, if you think you’re enlightened, go spend a weekend with your parents”. Why did this kick me in the ass? I was committed to personal growth, doing things that were uncomfortable and looking at the parts of my life that were the most challenging but where was it the hardest to be myself? At home with my parents. I didn’t want to do the thing that would give me the most personal growth. I thought that being with my parents for an extended period of time was the cause of me not feeling totally alive and self-expressed. Wrong!

Just before I wrote this, I had a similar realization. I always talk about how we can be happy in any situation, yet I didn’t believe I could be happy in a day job.  Maybe if Ram Dass were to meet me he would also say “if you think you’re enlightened go work at a cubicle 5 days a week”. I did not want to do that! Why? I didn’t actually believe what I was saying when I would say “you can be happy anywhere”. I thought that day jobs caused people to be miserable. Wrong again.

Just before this article I stopped fearing day jobs. I had a brief moment where I actually got present to how awesome it would be to go to a 9 to 5 job and just enjoy the hell out of it. Put me in a suit and tie? I love dressing up. Wake up early and sit in traffic? More chance to listen to audiobooks. Dealing with a company that’s disorganized? More chance to help and be of service. Terrible boss? Excellent opportunity to practice staying centered and not taking things personally. I actually have an experience of this recently since I started a part time job as a sailing instructor.

I got the chance to teach sailing and I decided it would be fun to try working a normal job, plus I grew up sailing and I love teaching. Turns out this job is fun, but it’s not paradise. We have to show up early, do boring trainings and often deal with tasks we don’t like. I’m totally loving it, and it’s a little odd seeing how I am around the other people that work there. I’ve even had the thought “Dave you shouldn’t love this so much, you have to follow other people’s schedules and you’re only getting paid $9.30/hour”. I saw my thinking try and bring me down.

The funny thing about this job (like most other jobs) is everyone has something to complain about, and even with something as fun as sailing, when we put it in the context of a “job”, it opens up whole new possibilities for gripes and complaints. I got to see that the reason I’m having fun isn’t because we go sailing or teach kids sailing, it’s because of my thinking. There are plenty of other instructors doing the same thing that I’m doing, and while they might see a task like teaching sailing as monotonous and painful, I see it as fun and creative. They see moving heavy pieces of equipment as drudgery, I see it as a free gym membership.

It’s not the job. I can’t repeat that enough. I have just as much potential to be happy pushing papers at a bank as I do running a yoga studio in Bali. I have the same opportunity to be miserable as a life coach helping people achieve the impossible as I do wiping up floors at the local elementary school.

It’s not the job. It’s you.

Isn’t that great news?


This is part 2 of a 4-part collection entitled The Beauty of Under Achievement

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