It’s a struggle almost every person goes through. “What do I want to be when I grow up?” “What am I passionate about?” “What am I not terrible at?”
For the most part, people believe that all you have to do is find the thing—that one bloody thing!—that you are “meant” to do, and suddenly, everything will click into place. You’ll do it until the day you die and always feel fulfilled and happy and prance with unicorns and rainbows while making a million euro in your pyjamas.
Between ages 17 and 24, I changed career aspirations more often than I changed my underwear. And even after I had a master’s degree, it took another three years to clearly define what I wanted for my life.
For most of my teenage years, I fantasized about being a professional boxer.
Any boxing match I saw, I would always close my eyes and envision myself in a ring, fighting in front of a screaming crowd like something straight out of a Rocky movie.
That fantasy could keep me occupied for hours on end.
The notion continued up through school. But it was never a question of if I’d ever be up fighting in front of screaming crowds, but when. I was biding my time before I could invest the proper amount of time and effort into training and making it work.
First, I needed to finish school. Then, I needed to make money. Then, I needed to find the time. Then… and then nothing.
Despite fantasizing about this for over half of my life, the reality never came. And it took me a long time and a lot of negative experiences to finally figure out why: I didn’t actually want it.
I was in love with the result – the image of me in a boxing ring, people cheering – but I wasn’t in love with the process. And because of that, I failed at it.
Well, I didn’t even try hard enough to fail at it. I hardly tried at all.
The daily drudgery of training, the logistics of finding a boxing club and sparring partners, the pain of injuries. The broken hands, the pad work, hauling 20 kilograms of gear to and from training sessions with no car. It’s a mountain of a dream and a kilometre-high climb to the top. And what it took me a long time to discover is that I didn’t like to climb much. I just liked to imagine the top.
Our culture would tell me that I’ve somehow failed myself, that I’m a quitter or a loser.
Self-help would say that I either wasn’t courageous enough, determined enough or I didn’t believe in myself enough.
The entrepreneurial/start-up crowd would tell me that I chickened out on my dream and gave in to my conventional social conditioning.
But the truth is far less interesting than that: I thought I wanted something, but it turns out I didn’t. End of story.
I wanted the reward and not the struggle. I wanted the result and not the process. I was in love not with the fight but only the victory. And life doesn’t work that way.
Look, everybody wants what feels good. Everyone wants to live a carefree, happy and easy life, to fall in love and have amazing relationships, to look perfect and make money and be popular and well-respected and admired and a total baller to the point that people part like the Red Sea when you walk into the room.
Everyone would like that – it’s easy to like that.
A more interesting question, a question that perhaps you’ve never considered before when choosing career paths, is “what are you willing to struggle for?”
Because that seems to me to be a greater determinant of how our lives turn out.
Everybody wants to have an amazing job and financial independence—but not everyone wants to suffer through 60-hour work weeks, long commutes, stifling paperwork and to navigate corporate hierarchies. People want to be rich without the risk, without the sacrifice, without the delayed gratification necessary to accumulate wealth.
People who enjoy the struggles of a gym are the ones who get in good shape. People who enjoy long workweeks and the politics of the corporate ladder are the ones who move up it. People who enjoy the stresses and uncertainty of the starving athelete lifestyle are ultimately the ones who live it and make it.
This is something I wish I had known when I was starting out in my career: our struggles determine our successes.
So my advice? Choose your struggles wisely, my friend.