Where the Hell is My Passion?

It’s going around. Have you caught it? I have. What is it? I call it the “What the hell should I do with the rest of my life syndrome.” It frequently infects those right around middle age. People who are not thrilled with the way they earn a living are most susceptible to catching it.

snowboarder-1-1387071Is there a cure? While the CDC hasn’t published anything official yet, there is a rumor going around that it can be cured by discovering your passion, and then filling your days with that. But passion is a tricky beast.

For a lucky few, passion seems to find them. It’s with them from birth, deep in their DNA, so they never encounter the syndrome. But for most us, passion can be illusive. We want it, we look for it, we dream about it, but we can’t find it.

How do you find it? Where do you find it? I don’t know, but I know one way that definitely doesn’t work, at least not for me: reading books. And I should know.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit I have read every one of the books on this list in an effort to discover my passion (and I’m sure I left a few out):

Excuse Me, Your Life is Waiting
An Awakening from the Trances of Everyday Life
Strengths Finders
What Color is Your Parachute?
The Power of Flow
I Had it All the Time
Feeling is the Secret
Awakened Imagination
From Here to a Greater Happiness
Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life
The Passion Test
Is Your Genius at Work?
This Time I Dance
Do More Great Work
The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working
Man’s Search for Meaning
I Could Do Anything if Only I Knew What It Was
Body of Work
The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion

These are all good books, fine books, by wonderful authors. They just didn’t help me discover my passion. Why not?

Most of these books are filled with questions and self-assessments and exercises, all meant to reveal one’s true passion. Self-reflective questions that ask such things as, what did you like to do as a child, and what are you doing when you don’t notice that time has passed? All good questions, but…

Sometimes in life you don’t know the right answer, you only know the wrong ones. So, for me, no more self-discovery books. As much as I love to read, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that when it comes to self-discovery, “reading aint doing.”

So, 2016 will be My Year of Living Curiously. My approach is very simple. Any idea that pops into my head which seems like something I’d like to do or explore, I’m going to do. In other words, experiment. No more reading about it, unless that is the precondition for the doing. But here’s the trick. The experiment must be small—low cost in terms of time and money. I figure, it doesn’t do any good to spend a ton of time and money to discover you hate doing something.

And then at the end of the experiment I’m going to ask myself one simple question: now that this experiment is done, do I want to do more of it or less of it? If it’s less, I’m done. Move on to the next experiment. If it’s more, then it’s time to take the next step. Try a bigger experiment and ask the same question again. Repeat the process until I move onto a new experiment OR, I’m perpetually engrossed in some activity I will retroactively consider as my passion.

If you haven’t discovered your passion, maybe this approach will work for you. Just remember, reading aint doing. So, stop reading this post right now and start doing something. I mean it.

 

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You Don’t Have to be Self-Employed to be Self-Reliant

The  truth is not everyone should start their own business and not everyone should be self-employed. And besides, the world needs employees every bit as much as it need employers. I do not think you could build a 747 with a bunch of self-employed people.

There are some things though you owe your employer if you plan to remain employed, and therefore self-reliant. The first thing you own your employer is value. You must add value to their organization. The great news is that everyone can add value to their employer. That is why the job exists in the first place. So, figure out how your position adds value and then add as much of it as you can to ensure you remain employed (and self-reliant). Employees who add tons of value are let go last and do not stay unemployed for long.

The second thing you owe your employer is knowledge. Staying up on your education is imperative in almost every endeavor. If the company pays for it, great. If not, do it on your own. Staying up on your education does not mean getting an advanced degree (although that never hurts). Anyone can read a trade journal, follow a blogger, read the industry news. Whatever it takes, the world changes too fast for you to remain at your current level of understanding if you plan to remain self-reliant.

The third thing you own your employer is flexibility. Whatever job you have today is likely to change in the future. The job requirements may change or the job may go away altogether. That is just the nature of the world today. You need to be willing to be doing something other than what you are doing today. Stay aware, stay nimble, embrace change. It is how entrepreneurs find opportunities and employees stay employed.

 

In addition to what you owe your employer, there are things you owe yourself if you plan to remain self-reliant. The first thing you must do is network. Create an interconnected web of people who you know and who know you. And then treat your network the same way you treat your employer: add value, stay educated and embrace change. I smart man recently told me he can outsource knowledge but not relationships. They are every bit as valuable as what you know.

You also need to plan for a rainy day. Due to circumstances beyond your control (e.g., Lehman Brothers going out of business), you may find yourself in a situation you did not foresee. The self-reliant thing to do is to assume the worst and plan accordingly. If you assume you will be unemployed at some point in your life, you may be wrong but you will never get hurt. That means have some savings—a year’s worth if you can manage it. When it comes to spending money, the fun thing to do is to go on a vacation. The self-reliant thing to do is to build up your savings.

The final thing you owe yourself, and perhaps the most important thing, is to discover your life’s purpose and then get busy working it. I think it is much easier to add value, stay educated, remain flexible and network when you are doing what you are meant to do. The surest, and most fulfilling path to a self-reliant life is to spend each day on your journey, no matter who you work for.

 

 

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The Most Important Question You Will Ever Be Asked

The unemployment rate is high; nobody really knows how high. But I bet the employment dissatisfaction rate is even higher. How many people truly love their job? Can’t wait to go to work? Would do it for free? Turns out, not that many. Less than half.

I am sure there are many contributing factors to this statistic, but one of the most influential is the understanding that few people plan out their life, and even less have the courage to correct course midstream. Back when I was in the real estate industry I used to joke that nobody goes into real estate, then end up in real estate. That is probably how it is with most people. By some combination of random events and aptitude tests they ended up where they ended up. They got hooked on the paycheck and have been there ever since.

 

But I think it is worse than that. I think the dream inside most people is dead (or extremely dormant). Knowing what they know now, how many people would know exactly what choice to make if given another chance? Would you know what path to take if you were given another shot? So, here is the question, the most important one most people will ever have to answer, and one most people have never given a second thought.

At the end of each pay period you take home a certain amount of money. Imagine that exact amount of money—no more and no less—showed up in your bank account every pay period BUT, you did not have to go to work. How would you spend your days?

Unlike the “What would you do if you won the lottery?” question, this one does not improve you life financially one bit. You are in the same house with the same car wearing the cloths and taking the same vacations. No around-the-world cruises for you. Just the chance to spend your days differently. How would you do it?

Now for the tough love part. If you can answer that question, really answer it, honestly, and know it is the truth, then that is how you should be spending your days right now! My suspicion is that most people cannot answer that question because they just have not given it that much thought. As you grow older you become aware of this extremely unfair exchange of time for money. You give up this very valuable and very scarce (and getting scarcer) commodity called time in exchange for a very abundant commodity of increasingly questionable value called money. And then you realize that you are here for a purpose and not fulfilling that purpose is the biggest mistake of all. And time is running out.

If you do not know the answer to that question I suggest you get busy. And if you do know the answer then you need to get even busier, migrating from the life you have to the life you choose.

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Do You Suffer from Sunday Night Syndrome?

Imagine it is Sunday evening: not too early, not too late, mid-evening. You start to feel it. It is familiar to you because you feel it around this time every Sunday evening. It starts  small: a vague feeling of unhappiness. You try to ignore it—it is barely noticeable at first. But over the course of the evening, it continues to grow until you cannot ignore it (or deny it) any longer. You are depressed. It may not be one of the medically recognized depression types, but its symptoms are just as real: pervasive sadness, loss of appetite and difficulty falling or staying asleep

There are two sources of unhappiness you can experience from a job: systemic and inherent. Systemic unhappiness is caused by attributes of your job that have nothing to do with how you spend your day. Maybe you hate your commute, or you hate your boss, or your co-workers, or you do not make enough money. You can actually have systemic unhappiness and still enjoy your job. Systemic unhappiness does not cause Sunday Night Syndrome. What you need to if you experience systemic unhappiness in your job is to find the same job—if the one you have makes you happy—only with different circumstances. You need to change the source of the systemic unhappiness.

The Sunday Night Syndrome, on the other hand, is inherent to your job. It is unhappiness you experience as a result of how you spend your day. The feeling, deep inside, that you are wasting your time, your are unfulfilled, and this is not why you are here. You are selling out for a paycheck and it is taking its toll.

I experienced Sunday Night Syndrome back in the late 80s. That is when I coined the term. I had been working at Hughes Aircraft Company (now Raytheon) as an engineer for nine years by then. My first five years there were great because I was a design engineer. It was a time before PCs, so I spent my days in a lab with an oscilloscope and a soldering iron making things, and it was fun. Then they promoted me to project engineer. I suppose they called it project engineer because manager of minutia was already taken. To make matters worse, we were over-staffed. I used to joke that we had twenty thousand people doing the work of ten thousand. That was back in the days of Cost-Plus military contracts when a bigger payroll meant bigger profits. So, even if I did not have viable work to do for forty hours a week, I still contributed to the bottom line. To say I was bored would be an understatement.

There is only so much unfulfilling boredom you can take before your body lets you know something is wrong. You can lie to everyone else, but not to yourself. The overwhelming feeling of depression you face every Sunday night at the thought of going to work the next day can morph into self-loathing. You hate yourself for the situation you are in because you know two things beyond doubt: your choices are the reason it is happening and you are the only one who can get you out of it.

I knew I had to get out, but I was not the kind of person to just quit a job without something to fall back on. I found a compromise. I requested a six month leave of absence (without pay) and it was granted. I suppose my managers at that time also knew we had too many workers, so granting me the leave of absence was probably a relief to them. I was single, with no bills, modest rent and a few bucks in the bank, so I could afford to go six month without a paycheck. In my mind, I had just quit my job, with the option to return.

The first thing I did during my leave of absence was to get part time job tutoring math. It got me out of the house and the money helped. That part time job morphed into a full time job tutoring. I was not making nearly as much as I had been in engineering, but I made enough to get by, and more importantly, I was no longer suffering from Sunday Night Syndrome. And when my six months were up, I confirmed what my managers back at Hughes Aircraft already suspected: I was not coming back, ever.

When I was working at Hughes as an engineer, what I really wanted to do was sales engineering, but I was thwarted at every turn. I suffered from the classic Catch-22: I could not get a job as a sales engineer without sales experience. Having not been born with sales experience, I was stuck.

After a year of tutoring I tried my luck again at seeking employment as a sales engineer. This time I was fortunate to find a company that was willing to train me—no prior sales experience needed. The job had three requirements: 1) had to be an engineer—check; 2) had to have contacts within Hughes Aircraft (they would be my customer)—check; 3) had to have not worked at Hughes for at least one year (that was the rule for selling into Hughes)—check, check, check.

By quitting my job I had unwittingly set events in motion to create an opportunity for myself I could not possibly have foreseen at the time. I got what I thought I wanted by giving up what I knew for certain I did not.

I am not going to tell you to quit your job—not in this economy. But I will tell you that life is short, and if you suffer from Sunday Night Syndrome then you are paying a dear price for whatever it is you think your job is giving you. All I can do is leave you with the famous quote from Steve Jobs’ Stanford University commencement speech:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. … Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

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Why Are You Here?

The surest way to self reliance is to make money doing what you love. ~ Carl Weisman

Why are you here? Not, why are you here visiting this blog, although thank you for doing so. Why are you here? On planet Earth? At this moment in time? Have you ever thought about that? Most people haven’t, which is too bad.

Some people know why they are here and they have always known. I have often thought that the greatest gift you can ever been given is to know your life’s purpose at a young age. The problem is that only a precious few receive that gift. You know them: Tiger Woods, Bill Gates, Yo-Yo Ma. They never question how they spend their days. For the rest of  us, it is a—sometimes lifelong—journey, if we choose to embark on it at all: what is our life’s purpose?

How important you think the answer to that question is depends almost entirely on your age. In your twenties? Who cares, pass the beer. In your fifties? Can’t sleep at night not knowing the answer. Time is running out.

If you are like most people, myself included, the way you spend your days is one giant amalgamation of random events. Maybe it was the major you casually chose in college, or some part time job you took one summer or some charity at which you volunteered. Whatever the circumstance, most of us are in a place we did not thoughtfully or consciously choose. Life chose for us, and we dare not change because we are too busy trying to make ends meet.

When you are trying to make ends meet, it is difficult to ponder the question, “Why am I here?” But if you are struggling to make ends meet, either financially or emotionally, have you ever considered that not knowing the answer to that question maybe the reason why?

Half the people I speak with over the age of fifty cannot wait until the day they retire. Do you know why? They hate the way they spend their days. They want to do something else. They are  not living their life’s purpose.

I have spent the better part of the last five years searching for my life’s purpose (as if it were some treasure, just waiting to be dug up). Am I living it today? I am not sure. I can tell you what I have done in the last five years. I have acknowledged my strengths, identified my passions, narrowed down my genius and I now spend my free time doing what I love: writing. And one more thing: I will never stop looking. The answer is just too important.

I would like to think that sharing what I have learned on this journey is my life’s purpose, along the way inspiring others to discover theirs. Maybe, maybe not. In the mean time, I am pretty happy doing what I am doing and I have a vision for so much more. All the result of the continuous search for meaning. Maybe that’s the key: identifying your passion isn’t a destination but a journey. And there is one thing I am sure of: they key to your happiness and fulfillment depends on your being true to your journey and not anybody else’s. Are you ready to take that ride?

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The Four Great Lies of the American Dream

Live like you’ll die tomorrow—learn like you’ll live forever. ~ Gandhi

One of the great things about America is the (apparent) freedom to do what you want. That has been its selling point all along. It is called the American Dream. But just because you can do something, does not mean you should. There is a very short list of things we have been told we should aspire to do or to own. In general, the things on this list are good things and many of us should aspire to them, but not everyone. And therein lies is the rub.

We have been sold this list as if we, the collective who occupies America, is a homogeneous entity. That everyone should aspire to these things. That is not the truth. There are times and circumstances under which the items on this list do more harm than good. Having the personal courage to recognize that in the face of the constant sales pitch can be quite a challenge.

The first lie is that everyone should buy a house. We can argue whether a house is a good long term investment, but I think by now, we can all agree there are good times to buy a house and lousy times. Like when prices are outrageously and historically high due to artificially low interest rates. Consequently, for some people, the numbers just do not make financial sense. And spending a lifetime in extreme debt, constantly teetering on bankruptcy, for the glory of home ownership is foolish. A reasonably priced rental with some savings in the bank is a much better life. After all, aren’t we all just renters anyway? Nobody takes their home with them when they go.

The second lie is that everyone should go to college. Unless you know exactly what you want to do with your life, college is an extremely expensive holding pattern. Expensive in both time and money. Even if you do know what you want to do, college may still not make sense. The numbers bear it out. Being a plumber, a truck driver or dental hygienist is a far better career move than going to college and majoring in all but a few disciplines. You will make far more money and your job will never be shipped overseas. Greater financial and employment security beats a piece of paper on the wall while searching for a job to pay off a mountain of debt.

The third lie is that everyone should get married. Having studied the subject of marriage and written two books on the subject, I feel qualified to say that some people should never get married (Tom Cruise!). You can love somebody without marrying them. You can have a child with somebody without marrying them. I accept that there is a lot of social pressure to marry, but a marriage that is destined to fail serves no purpose. I have met many happily never-married people. Their joy came not from remaining single, but from coming to terms with the idea that they made the correct life choice.

The fourth lie is that everyone should have kids. Just as with marriage, there is great societal expectation to procreate. But social expectation is not a sufficient reason to become a parent. For many people, not having children is their innate preference, but not all have the strength to stand up to that. I have chosen to forego fatherhood and have never questioned that decision. For me, the correct life path was to not have children. Everyone of us is on a different journey, and if yours is calling you to something other than parenthood, then that is the right decision for you, now matter how much you believe in the American Dream.

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