- try hard to do or achieve something.
- earnest and industrious effort, esp. when sustained over a period of time.
I’ve been reading a lot of interviews of successful people’s view on work. I’m interested in understanding the “why” and “how” they got there. Success is subjective, but an unrelentingly strong work ethic is the real stuff of human ambition. I’m always so humbled when I see this work ethic in action. If there is a formula for success, it must be hard work, passion, and grit. So, what I’m interested in learning is: where the hell do you find that drive? At 24, many of my peers and I have not found that one true love yet that will inspire us to bust ass for the goal. For reasons I’ll (attempt) to identify below, putting a finger on what we’re meant to do in life is tricky.
As someone who dreams of doing creative work for a living, the interviews I’m drawn to are with graphic designers, musicians, illustrators, filmmakers, actors, pro surfers, dedicated people excelling in their field, well respected and dignified. Interestingly, a common theme that I’ve found is that they all say some variation of “I’m lucky that I found what I’m passionate about, because work doesn’t feel like work – it’s fun. I love what I do.” The ingenious and barrier-breaking movie director Spike Lee advises, “The trick is to find something that you love.” In the same interview, he later goes on to say, “I didn’t choose film. Film chose me.”
As 20 somethings figure out what path to take, that is the goal — just to find work we love. To create a career based on love seems pretty basic & straightforward, but it’s easier said than done. Why is that so? Firstly, our elders who experienced the golden-era of economic prosperity in the 1990s where stable jobs were the norm, often encourage a safe path. Secondly, if what we’re passionate about is not immediately monetarily valuable, society discourages us from pursuing it. This is a discourse we need to change.
I can say from experience, without passion for your work, grinding out the hard hours necessary for success in today’s economy will be harrowing to get through. Passion won’t come from doing something that doesn’t fit–it’ll come from assessing your interests and natural talents. I strongly believe every person does have a natural talent that, once they know what to do with it, can take them far. As Silicone Valley venture capitalist & essayist Paul Graham has said on finding work you love, “If you think something’s supposed to hurt, you’re less likely to notice if you’re doing it wrong.” You should love your work because if you don’t, then why are you doing it? 40-80 (or more) hours a week at a job that feels painful more than enjoyable will certainly be excruciating–and that’s no way to live a life, dear reader.
So, 20 Something Endeavors is a series of interviews that aims to highlight the work of young people who are chasing their dreams. They take risks, they trust their instincts, and they work hard. The goal is to better understand how to find what you’re meant to do in life. Also, this series serves as a response to many claims made by popular media that our generation feels “entitled” and therefore we are lazy and uninterested in working hard towards our goals. Particularly this article on Wait But Why that went viral on the interwebs earlier this year. I saw the article posted multiple times on Facebook and several different friends started email chains about it. This article generalizing my age group as lazy and perpetually naive was striking a chord with people. Many of my peers echoed the arguments as completely true, others had a bone to pick
There is some truth in the depths of this argument, but overall I found it condescending and lacking merit. When jobs are no longer guaranteed and you have to work your ass off just to get an entry level position, there is no reason to think we’ll magically land our dream job without hustling for it. There is no replacement for hard work. Prioritizing passion won’t mean we won’t have to work hard. Rather, finding passion in a career will mean we can find a greater sense of purpose in life, a goal important to our personal development as human begins. The author of that article missed the point: we aren’t a group of young people that can be simplified into “entitled and lazy” — the economy tanked and times are different from when our parents grew up. There is no blue print for how to navigate the system now. Creativity and endurance are going to be highly valued keys to success.
In Sir Ken Robinson’s lapidary TED talk on How School Kills Creativity, he argues that every person has a talent whether they realize it or not: “Many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not — because the thing they were good at at school wasn’t valued, or was actually stigmatized.” That is quite significantly a hindrance to the individual and our society. However, once a person finds what they love to do, they can tap into a natural supply of motivation and enthusiasm that drives them not only in their careers but also in their personal lives. Work becomes something that they enjoy, rather than just endure–and that’s empowering. It’s interesting to note that this talk is actually the top most TED talk of all time according to this list published in August 2012. With 14,850,200 views recorded at the date the article was published, it becomes clear that this idea that society fails to encourage people to follow a creative path resonated with a large sum of people.
To put this in perspective, one of my best friends from college–someone who will be featured in this series–realized her talent/interest/dreams in improvisational comedy. She got involved in the improv group at our school, starting doing competitions, and studied comedy at Columbia College in Chicago for a semester. She’s hilarious and loves to make people laugh. She’s oozing with enthusiasm whenever she’s doing so. It’s a natural state of pure joy. In her personal life, realizing how good she was at something she loved to do made her more confident in herself. This gave her direction and purpose in life. She fell in love, too, and told me once that if she hadn’t gotten into improv she doesn’t think she’d have had the courage to go for someone she’d liked for so long.
Last year after we graduated, she also had the courage to pack her bags, leave her love and all her friends behind to take a chance on her dreams. Now she’s taking classes and performing with Second City in Chicago, one of the top (and arguably the best) training grounds for aspiring comedians in the game (including the likes of some of the most beloved entertainers of our time such as John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Tina Fey, and many others). Being at the top echelons of improv, Second City is not easy to get into. But she did (on her first attempt) and she’s excelling. Why? That innate talent is powerful, my friends.
Sir Robinson extrapolates on his theory in a follow-up talk that took place a few years later:
Very many people go through their whole lives having no real sense of what their talents may be, or if they have any to speak of. This is actually tragic considering how markedly an inner spirit dies when you ignore what your heart is really asking you to do. Rather than perpetuate this notion, let’s find what each of our talents are. If we can identify what we can offer the world, we have a chance to lead fulfilling lives that are built upon a calling. There is a need for a multitude of talents in this global economy, so embarking on this challenge is not an unworthy one.
It’s about passion and what excites our spirit and our energy.
-Sir Ken Robinson
20 somethings: maybe we’re coming of age in the shittiest recession our parents have ever seen, maybe we’re victims of FOMO and a perpetual epidemic of quarter life crises, but I strongly believe we can find what we love to do, regardless. Chai & Chats attempts to find these stories among the mess. We’ll find a way to be happy, despite being told we’re the first generation that won’t be able to achieve the “American dream” in all its traditional home-owning glory. Maybe we can’t rely on the same economic prosperity that made the 1990s a great time to grow up, but we have the opportunities and potential to make what we will out of our futures. With a little hustle & grind, we’ll get there.