This is about that thing. You know. That thing that you’ve been meaning to do for the past two or three decades. That startup. That short story. That song. This is about the thing that you know you were born to do and that you’re not doing. The thing you love and fear above all else. Yes, that thing.
It’s an uncomfortable topic, I know. It makes you uneasy. It makes you feel like you have a small child somewhere in the world who is waiting to be fed by you. It makes you feel like all the other mishigas that you fill your days with is not so important after all. Because this other thing, this fragile, pulsing, hungry thing, is really who you are.
So let’s talk about it.
We’ll start at the beginning. It’s likely that you used to do this thing, or some variation of it, quite often. Not for attention or because you cared about the results, but because it felt good. It made you happy. And while you were doing it, you got in touch, briefly, with something quite true within yourself. And you liked it. A lot.
But then at the age of seven, or twelve, or sixteen, or twenty-three, or thirty you stopped doing it. Someone said it wasn’t practical. Or they teased you. Or your dopey friends couldn’t relate. Or your father didn’t get it. Or it wasn’t cool and you were cool. Or someone told you that you weren’t good enough. Or you started to get afraid.
Whatever the reason, you stopped.
And life went on. And, in some ways, life was a little easier without this thing. Sure, you didn’t have the joy of doing it anymore, but you also didn’t have the feeling of pressure that often comes with it, the feeling that this thing needs to be fed each day, fed only by you, and fed with all of the absolute deepest parts of yourself.
So, in some ways, you were glad to let it go. Besides, there were other things to attend to. There were jobs and boyfriends, trips to new places, maybe some exercise class or book club that you joined. There were the babies and the mortgage and your parent’s health. There was that board you were on and all the charity work you did, and surely all of these things were more important than your own little personal, underdeveloped creative thing?
None of that was more important. And here’s why. Without embracing your own fragile, internal thing, all the rest of the stuff will never be fulfilling. And if you’re not personally fulfilled, you simply won’t have very much to offer the others in your life. Not even your own family. You’ll be forever drawing from an account that’s close to empty. Sadly, most people’s desire to pack their schedule is just an elaborate form of avoidance that, if left unchecked, can easily consume their entire lives.
In order to be wholly yourself, this thing needs your attention. It needs to be allowed back into your life like a childhood friend. Because this thing is what makes you you. And though it may sound selfish or self-indulgent to focus on this thing, I promise you it isn’t. In fact, I think that doing your own personal work is actually the most generous thing you can do with your time. Because if you do it, if you really do it, it will invariably yield something quite significant. A new novel. A new way to design a home. A new way to make a kid laugh. And I would argue that this contribution, your contribution, is what you’re actually here for. Your thing is your destiny.
And, not coincidentally, I believe that this is how our species progresses, one person at a time doing their thing with complete passion and commitment. This is what drives us all forward, this act of creation, and the potential for it lies inside every person I have ever met. I know that some of you will say to yourselves, “Well, yes, I know I want to write a book or paint something or start a small business, but what if I’m no good at it? What if I suck? Doesn’t my self-doubt mean I shouldn’t bother? Doesn’t my lack of skill or experience justify me not doing it at all?
No. It doesn’t. It’s actually irrelevant. What’s important is that you do it. Not because it will or won’t be any good. (Who’s to say, anyway?) Just do it because it’s who you are. And because you’ll enjoy it. And I promise you that if you do it honestly and you work hard at it, you will become good at it. And others will like it.
I really think that the best and most honest thing we can do with our lives is to surrender to this thing inside of us. To make our own work, whatever that might be, and then to share it with our friends, our families and our community. And I also know that nothing is harder. The fears that rise up when we try to make our personal work are the most tenacious and difficult fears that we’re likely to encounter. They can tear even the strongest person apart. But, in the end, we really have no choice. We must all find a way to express our own unique and fragile voice. We must all learn to face our own work.