Have you ever noticed how some people are practically born knowing what they’d like to do for the rest of their lives?
Well, maybe they’re not born knowing, but they know from a very early age. It’s as if they were genetically and instinctively predisposed towards a certain path in life. It just makes sense to them.
They naturally progress from one step to the next, always with that goal, that vision, fixed in their mind until they finally snuggle into it like a hand in a glove. It’s beautiful.
I’m not saying they have an easy life, mind you. Some of these people take on huge challenges and hardships to reach their goal. But all throughout their journey (or at least most of it) they have clarity.
Well, I’m definitely not one of those people. And since you’ve read the title of this article and decided to keep reading, I suspect you aren’t either.
I don’t resent these people, obviously. I swear, I couldn’t be happier for them. And that’s because I know how damnably frustrating, how maddening it is, to never have a proper calling; to go through life knowing you have skills, knowing that you could contribute something, but having no fucking clue what that something is going to be.
The best thing though, is the myriad bullshit advice you and I get regularly lumped with.
B.S. ADVICE #1 – “FOLLOW YOUR HEART!”
Well wow that’s smart, Einstein. I happen to also want to make a living. Additionally, it’s a very selfish thing to do.
For example, I’m a copywriter. When I get hired by a client, my copy is the result of my expertise combined with the client’s goals, needs and desires. I enjoy writing horror stories, but that’s NOT what my client hired me to do. If I “follow my dream” and give my client a horroy story, I’m gonna get fired.
And that takes me to the diametrically opposed piece of advice.
B.S. ADVICE #2 – “FIND A WAY TO BE OF SERVICE.”
Honorable, but mostly conducive to a miserable life. Yes, there’s satisfaction in being of service to others. But ultimately, I (and I think you do too) need something that I can connect with — something that is meaningful. We need a sense of purpose and fulfillment.
B.S. ADVICE #3 – START A BUSINESS… WITH MY COURSE
Then there are the internet marketers.
“You’ve got a lot of skills. No employer will ever appreciate what you have or compensate you adequately for it. You have become unemployable. But that’s a good thing, because now you can start your own business. All you need to do is buy this course, and you’ll be making passive income in less than a month!”
I’m not saying all people who sell online courses are like that. There are some genuine people out there —such as Ramit Sethi and Derek Halpern— who offer real value both in their free and in their paid material.
But for the most part, you and I are being fed the promise of a holy land that, while real, is far harder to reach than it is painted out to be, especially for people like us.
You see, the problem that you and I have, is that we have fallen in love with many ideas, but haven’t managed to find that mystical area where they all overlap, not just with each other, but also with what potential clients or employers might want, or need.
Our problem isn’t lack of skill. It’s not lack of focus. It’s a lack of self-awareness, a lack of self-discovery.
More importantly, we expect too much of ourselves. We demand that from day #1, whatever we do should be stellar work that overshadows any other effort in its likeness out there. And while it’s an admirable goal to have, the truth is that we’re not yet prepared for something like that.
WE NEED TO SUCK BEFORE WE BECOME WORLD-CLASS
For those of us who still haven’t discovered our true calling, the road is both bumpy and exciting. There’s a lot of exploration we need to do. But exploration involves playing with mud and getting our hands dirty. We need to play with each of our interests without fear of criticism or ridicule. That’s how we’ll be able to learn more about them, and finally find a place where they overlap and things make sense.
I won’t lie to you. I’m not going to tell you that I know how to do this, because the truth is I’m still struggling with it myself.
But I can tell you how I’m going about it.
Personally, I’m not trying to force anything. I’m not trying to push everything I do into some greater vision.
I do have a greater vision of course, but it’s as loose as “find something I love doing, that is also in service of others, and makes me a good deal of money.”
Yes, I know it’s sounds vague and ridiculous. But a generic goal can be narrowed down. It’s like going on Google Maps and clicking on Europe, then zooming in to the Mediterranean sea, then zooming in to Malta, then zooming in to Valletta, and then zooming in to the Auberge de Castille.
Yes, eventually you want to niche things down. But unlike what most “Start your own online business” courses will tell you, it’s not something you can do right away, or even in as little as two months. You have to dig it up, just like a fossil, using a toothbrush and lots of patience.
HOW I’M DIGGING UP MY FOSSIL
“Digging up the fossil” is an analogy I’ve borrowed from Stephen King. He uses in his book “On Writing” to describe his process for “drawing out” a story when he’s writing it. Even if you’re not interested in writing fiction, it’s a great book and I absolutely recommend it.
So here’s how I’m digging up my fossil.
First of all, I’m trying to absorb as much content as possible. I look everywhere — in books, online articles, videos, research papers, and even topics that are completely unrelated, because you never know where you might find an idea that inspires you.
Then, when I find an idea that strikes a chord, I write an article about what I’ve learned, and publish it somewhere. It might be here on my blog, or on Medium, or on Reddit. The platform is not really important. What’s important is that the goal of the exercise is self-discovery. And once again, I don’t censor myself if the article is “off-topic” from what I usually blog about. If I’ve enjoyed it, and I’ve learned something something from it, or it has inspired me in some way, then I’ll write about it and publish.
This exercise helps define who I am and what I love. It also keeps me writing, creating content, and getting a feel for my writing style. More importantly, it helps me hone my craft, improving it for when I get to a point where I actually know what I want to write about. Remember, nobody is born great. We have to mess up many times before we actually get good enough to produce quality work. That’s a lesson I learned the hard way in my prog metal band.
The other thing I’m doing, is having conversations with all sorts of people, including random people in the street, entrepreneurs, business owners, colleagues at work, etc. I engage these people in conversation, and I listen very carefully. At every step of the way, I try to get them to elaborate on what they’ve just said. And all the while, I’m looking for pains, problems, needs, wants, hopes or dreams where I can apply any one of my skills to help.
These two things I’m doing, are helping me discover more of what I love to do, and more of what other people need. The more I dig, and the more layers I peel away, the closer I hope I’ll be to finally finding that mystical area where my skills and passions overlap and create something that is of value to others.
Now, I’m not telling you that you should follow what I’m saying. As I’ve said before, it’s still a long journey for me and there’s no end in sight. But maybe you could give it a shot. It just might work for you.
Either way, do reach out and tell me about it. Tell me where you’re at, what you’ve tried, what has worked and what hasn’t. I could really do with a good group of companions on this journey.