We hear it all the time, don’t we?
“Do what you love and the money will follow.”
“Follow your bliss.”
And of course, we could go on and on and on.
But I hear from so many people who have pursued their passions, only to be left disillusioned on the path. They did what they loved, they followed their bliss, they planned, worked at it, only to have one door after another close in their faces.
They built it . . . and nobody came.
Wouldn’t it be great if all people in the whole wide world did what they truly loved and were rewarded by fame or monetary gains or Olympic gold medals?
We actually had that experiment in this country, with the generation now known as Millennials. And quite the experiment it was.
I’ll never forget how shocked I was while my nieces and nephews were growing up. They participated in different sports, and rather than having winners and losers and everybody in between, they all got medals for participating.
Which wasn’t what surprised me. The eye-opener came when those who actually won weren’t recognized any differently.
I know the idea behind this—that we want everyone to participate, to give their best, and get a big pat on the back for doing so, thereby keeping that elusive self-esteem protected.
Self-esteem isn’t built by someone constantly telling you how great you are. It comes from within and mastery of tasks.
But the rub is that self-esteem isn’t built by someone constantly telling you how great you are. It comes from mastery of a task, it comes from within.
Which arises from earning it—the old-fashioned way. With grit and determination and persistence.
Giving the ‘good old college’ try isn’t effective if you only do it once.
Annoying, isn’t it?
And let’s face it—not everyone has the gifts of a Michael Phelps.
But how often do we see so many in that millennial generation disillusioned because the “real” world hasn’t rewarded them in the manner to which they’ve become accustomed?
I see this with my editorial clients. Learning to write fiction well really is rocket science, and takes years if not decades to truly grasp all the nuances.
But why put in all that time and effort when you can slap a bunch of words on the page, toss out a book via one of the self-publishers, and call yourself the next Hemingway?
In short, many times they whine and say, “Learning all those skills just takes too much time.”
And that’s just the first task at hand.
Because even after you’ve sweated all that blood, shed all those tears, well, that in no way means you’ll garner all those awards that “should” come your way.
Life really is short though, no? The older one gets, the more apparent this cliché becomes.
And I still shudder at times with the story of “The Death of Ivan Ilych,” where we learn “Ivan Ilych's life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible.” And on his deathbed he asks: “Can it be that I have not lived as one ought? But how not so, when I've done everything as it should be done?”
Quite a testimony he gives to living a life of should, rather than one crafted with passion and love.
Yes, the risks of living the inauthentic life are perilous indeed.
Conversely, we know that fashioning a life based on what we love stirs our passions, fills us with meaning, brings inspiration to lift our wings as we toil.
Living another way, I cannot imagine. Although I, too, have done it.
That was a choice. It’s always a choice how you live your life. But I’ve made a different one today.
Doesn’t mean any of it’s ever been easy.
One of the main keys here is from that Field of Dreams quote, alluded to earlier. It’s commonly misquoted as: “If you build it, they will come.” I.e., paint your picture, write your book, offer your heart and soul as services, and you’ll become rich and famously successful.
But that wasn’t actually the quote now, was it. The actual quote was: “If you build it, he will come.”
This story was far more about healing a deep psychological wound than about riches and fame . . .
And isn’t that the crux? Nobody ever said that if you do what you love, follow your dreams, you’ll be the next Michael Phelps. Is it possible? Anything is possible. Likely? Um . . . Guaranteed? In no way.
By following your dreams, you follow your destiny.
Your life will become oh-so-much richer than you ever thought possible.
Your world will be rife with meaning.
Just always know the corollary exists as well, the harder part, which “they” rarely tell you:
Persistence is required, along with hard work. Sometimes for years. Sometimes, decades. Depending upon your field of endeavor, sometimes achieving what you seek takes a lifetime.
Persistence is required, along with hard work. Sometimes for years. Sometimes, decades.
Are you up for it?
In the end, there’s only one way to keep carrying on in the face of all of that:
Believe in yourself. Believe in your destiny. Know that no matter how odd the monsters may look on the side of the road around you, you’re on your path.
Wherever that might lead.
And if you find the grit to follow that road less taken, to commit to doing what you love, to head out on your own hero’s journey, your life will absolutely change.
As Joseph Campbell also said, “When you follow your bliss...doors will open where you would not have thought there would be doors, and where there wouldn't be a door for anyone else.”
Are you doing what you love? If not, what’s stopping you?
Award-winning writer and editor Susan Mary Malone is the author of the novels, "I Just Came Here to Dance" and "By the Book," as well as four co-authored nonfiction books, including "What’s Wrong with My Family?" and many published short stories. Forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers.