Find the thing you do for the joy of the thing itself

There was a common theme in two things I read today. 

First, I read this Jon Westenberg post on Medium that included a striking insight about work:

“Have you ever watched one of those reality TV singing competitions? You’ve probably seen a hundred young people, eyes shining, clutching microphones and talking about their dreams. They’ll explain that ever since they were kids, they wanted to be singers.

They hardly ever say they wanted to sing. When it comes down to it, half the time it’s because actually singing isn’t the end goal. They want the trappings and lifestyle and the breaks of being a singer.

If the act of singing was really their end goal, they wouldn’t be on a reality TV show. They’d be out there every night singing anywhere they could, writing songs, starting bands, recording music.

The same is true for anything you could make. Do you want to make X, or do you want to be the person who made X? Because if you don’t care about the act of making something, and if you don’t want to get out there every day and try to make something, you might as well quit.

You want people to care?

They should care about your work. Not you.”

And then I read this today at lunch after finally getting started on Anne Lamott’s highly regarded book on writing, Bird By Bird:

“Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do—the actual act of writing—turns out to be the best part. It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.”

Find the thing you do for the joy of the thing itself, not for any extrinsic reward attached to the thing. Go in the direction of the things that give you intrinsic rewards

I keep coming back to this profound, potentially life changing passage from Anthony De Mello’s The Way to Love:

“You must cultivate activities that you love. You must discover work that you do, not for its utility, but for itself. Think of something that you love to do for itself, whether it succeeds or not, whether you are praised for it or not, whether you are loved and rewarded for it or not, whether people know about it and are grateful to you for it or not. How many activities can you count in your life that you engage in simply because they delight you and grip your soul? Find them out, cultivate them, for they are your passport to freedom and to love.”

This advice might not lead you to any paying gigs or a dream career. But you still should find those things that make you come alive without any attachment to external rewards. Even if it’s only a hobby or a side hustle, get busy making something or doing something that is simply a delight to you, where the process is an end in itself—where the journey is the reward.

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