Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Jonathan Mead from Illuminated Mind.
Most people resign to the fact that work and life should be separate. Distinct boundaries allocated so one doesn’t seep into and contaminate the other.
The main reason for this compartmentalization is because most people don’t like their work very much.
Actually, that’s an understatement. Most people dread their work. It’s a chore. Something to be avoided. This is a common social consensus. In order to make sure “work” stays out of their “life” big, neon-orange biohazard tape is slapped on it.
Well, a while back, I started getting sick of always worrying about keeping my work and life separate. I started to question this taxonomy. What if work could be joyful? What if you could actually look forward to the work you do?
I asked those and many other questions. What I ultimately realized is that yes, you can do work that you’re passionate about. You can choose something different. You don’t have to live in the way you’ve been told.
But in order to break that old paradigm… you have to be obsessed.
The prospect of waking up excited every day (instead of in dread of going to a boring job) has been something that has consumed me for the past year and a half. And in June of 2009, after a year of sweat and a bit of fun, I made that dream a reality.
Each day now, I actually wake up excited to start work. No, I’m not kidding. I eat and breathe what I do. For me, there are no boundaries. And the only way I’ve done that is by being obsessed with what I do. I don’t think I could have done it any other way.
Obsession tends to be a good indicator of passion.
Let me be clear here: I don’t mean raging, maniacal, psychotic obsession. Not stalking the girl down the street, hanging from a tree to look into her window obsession.
The type of obsession I’m talking about is simply put: hunger. A burning, unexplainable desire to explore every single facet of your chosen pursuit. No stone unturned. No border unexamined. Every piece pulled apart, studied, and carefully put back together.
Why should you look for an obsession? Why is this such a good indicator?
Number one: If you’re obsessed, you have the potential for long-term interest. It’s not something that is just going to fizzle in a few months.
Number two: When you’re completely obsessed with something, you tend to spend a lot of time with it; you progress and excel very quickly. And when you’re extremely good at something, you become an expert. You can leverage that expertise to gain credibility and authority, and provide others with a lot of value.
It’s difficult enough to be successful working for yourself. The only way you’re going to make it happen is by being thoroughly and beautifully obsessed.
So if you’re having a hard time figuring out what you’re passionate about, try taking a look at what you’re obsessed with instead. Maybe you’re in a situation now where you’re so bogged down with responsibilities and commitments that you can’t find any. Maybe you think there’s no room for obsession. If that’s the case, try looking at what you’ve been obsessed with in the past. Or try dreaming about what you’d be obsessed with ”” totally consumed by ”” if you had the time. There’s a good chance that’s where your passion lies. And once you find that special spot, you can find a way to turn that into an income.
Your hunger will fuel you. Because that’s what it really takes to make getting paid to do what you love as work. If you’re not hungry, you might as well opt-out now, because I can assure you there is someone out there who is.
If you want to make a living doing what you love…get hungry. Find your obsession. Find the thing that you can’t not do. That’s where you have the potential to fuel your hunger, to create excitement in your life, and to provide other people with a lot of value at the same time.
You’re right on target. It took me DECADES to figure this out. I was in sales for over 20 years and though I enjoyed meeting people, trying to sell to them was a chore.
Once I realized that my passion was for writing, I quickly started to make progress. But it was WHAT I was writing about that was my passion, not “just writing”. I wanted to help people make their own way in life. Why? Because it made me feel GREAT when I thought I’d helped somebody.
We have a running joke in my family about everyone’s current “obsessions,” or if we’re feeling more euphemistic, “enthusiasms.” Many of these enthusiasms- intense though they may be- don’t last more than a few months, perhaps a year or two.
If you make your life plans around an obsession with an expiration date, you’re asking for trouble.
However, I would still say it’s worth pursuing your obsessions. Better to change your mind a few years down the road than constantly wonder what might have been.
Just make sure you’ve settled upon THE obsession before you start making sacrifices left and right.
Archan Mehta says
Thanks for your post.
However, let’s choose our words carefully.
Using the word “obsession” too often in polite company or any public setting can have deleterious consequences.
Suddenly, you may find perfect strangers scratching their whiskers and telling you, “well, maybe it’s time you joined the funny farm.” (translation: see a therapist soon before it’s too late to save you from eternal damnation or worse).
Seriously, though, I prefer Joseph Campbell’s saying, “Follow your bliss.”
Now, who would argue with that?
Nice post Johnathan. I totally agree with you that in order to wake up excited for work every single day, one needs to be hungry and obsessed with it. It’s good to know what your ideas on working were and to also know your experiences from working in a field which you didn’t like and working in a field which you do like. Thanks for sharing this.
Jonathan Mead says
@ Archan: I agree with choosing our words carefully. I personally don’t always refer to my “bliss pursuits” as obsessions. However, when trying to figure out what you really have a long-term passion for, it can be useful to think about what you’re obsessed with or what it’s easy for you to lose yourself in.
And once you start following your obsession / bliss / [whatever word suits you best] remember to take time to refuel yourself by breathing / meditating / being in nature / having downtime etc to prevent burn-out!
Hi Jonathan, I watched your video on today’s post (about being hungry for your goals) and then read this … very reaffirming for me as I can be a bit obsessive when I enjoy something! I try and keep that balanced in a healthy way, but on the other hand, I can feel that my zest and drive for what I am doing is carrying me through and 6 months into blogging (for example) I don’t feel like anything has changed.
Willie Hewes says
Like Travis describes, I find my obsessions tend to have a limited lifespan. About two years max, come to think of it, before I feel restless and working on my once-true-love becomes tedious and a chore.
To build my life around pursuing my obsessions, I’d have to make sure to stay *very* light on my feet.
Ali Hale says
Like Willie and Travis, I go through short periods of wild enthusiasm for something, followed by relative indifference for it… (this is probably why I didn’t last long in the corporate world, I lost all interest in my job after about a month!)
And like Archan, I’m uncomfortable with the word “obsession” here. Yeah, it’s eye-catching, and I can see why you use it, but for me, “obsession” is on worryingly similar ground to “addiction”.
I actually think some of us (especially artsy/creative types) could do with being LESS “obsessed”. I’m prone to throwing myself into fiction writing, but it’s not necessarily healthy to spend my entire weekend writing (to the detriment of relationships, spaced-out time, etc). Plus, being too passionate about your work isn’t necessarily a good thing, artistically (you won’t get that essential critical distance) and emotionally (you’re going to really struggle to pick yourself up if your career/biz/lifestyle doesn’t work out after all).
Sorry this has come across as a bit negative; as you can see, you gave me lots of food for thought, and I do totally agree that work-as-pain is a horrible paradigm.
Dan @ Anxiety Support Network says
As with anything, anything can be used for good or bad. When you are finding a problem so bothersome that you have to obsess about it from many different angles until you solve it, then that is a good thing. Then, if you do so to the detriment of spending time with family or friends, it might be a bad thing. And yes, I too have found an area of life where work is something I like forward to, and I don’t regret it at all. My next challenge is to learn how to become a successful entrepreneur, which would be a new way of enjoying life and work together. Thanks for the post!
Vlad Dolezal says
I always chuckle inwardly at people who keep going on about work/life balance.
My work IS my life. I love it.
As you say, Jonathan – a zero-hour workweek.