In my previous essay about Stoic Exercises, I briefly touched upon a technique called “The Stripping Method”.
Let me, as usual, modestly quote myself:
The thinking behind this exercise is that every situation has many layers, just like an onion. Each layer represents something that we bring to the situation and not the situation itself. It’s only by considering the core issues without the relatively unimportant layers we add that we can act according to a proper ethical framework. Stop considering your reputation or whatever personal advantage you think you may gain as part of the equation when working out what to do in a given situation. Ask yourself the following questions:
What value does this situation bring to everyone? You might be surprised at how many times the answer is “none”.
What type of qualities does this situation require? If you have these qualities then great, if not then just think of this situation as a good chance to develop them.
Let me give you an example.
When we are growing up, many of us struggle to decide what we want to do in lives. If we strip this question down to the core, it’s all about finding something fulfilling and meaningful to work towards. Initially it’s worth ignoring the problem of monetization or other people’s expectation of what you should do otherwise you might find yourself living a life which is far removed from who you truly are.
So today I want to discuss “The Stripping Method” further, especially focussing on removing one the hardest layer, the layer of monetization. In other words, asking the question:
What would you do if money wasn’t a issue?
This is a brilliant question to ask yourself before you dedicate your life to something. As a society, we spend so much time chasing money that we forget the real reason why we do what we do. If you dig deep and find that you are only working for the money, then it is seriously time to think about quitting your job.
I know it’s often not that easy, but you only get one life and to spend the only irreplaceable commodity we have, time, doing something you don’t enjoy doing just for the money is a poor strategy in my opinion.
I propose a better strategy:
- Ask yourself what you would like to do if money simply wasn’t an issue.
- Start doing that thing.
Now part one is obviously easier than part two, but neither is impossible.
Let’s handle them one at a time.
Part 1. Ask Yourself "The Question"
This can be quite daunting at first, and it doesn’t have to be rushed. I’ve read ridiculous posts online about finding your life’s direction in twenty minutes and whatnot. Total bullshit if you ask me.
I’m not saying that we should spend years deciding, but there is a happy medium. Give yourself at least a week, and accept that it may well take several months.
While action is great and makes us feel like we are moving forward with our lives, action taken after reflection always trumps thoughtless action. So, think about what you would do. You might reach the unfortunate conclusion that you don’t really have any strong passions towards anything. That’s alright, it’s nothing to panic about, scores of others have had the same problems.
Some of the greatest people in history were afflicted with large doses of self-doubt and lack of direction and passion, yet they persevered and went on to do great things; just think of the young Beethoven who gave up composition in his teens when he had a couple of negative reviews of his first few pieces.
A good way to discover what you may be passionate about is simply to try as many things as possible. Enroll in courses, read articles, speak to professionals in that field. One stumbling point, which I hint at by my choice of image to accompany this essay, is that you might think that you would just lose yourself in buying things and living what most people consider to be the “goo life”. I refute this idea in my essays On Luxury and also Enlightened Hedonism and Consumerism.
When you finally choose something, don’t expect an easy ride. You will have setbacks, there will be boring parts to the job and you will have to be put in a large amount of hard work and there is no guarantee of success. Perhaps it’s not sounding so appetizing anymore, it’s best to stay where you are, at least you are safe even if you don’t like it that much. Well, the reply to that is that you will miss 100% of the shots that you never take. It’s also worth remembering that the majority of elderly people regret the things that they didn’t do the most.
In other words, risk a little.
Part 2. Start Doing That Thing
This is the part that most people have trouble with, but it’s actually the easiest part. If you’ve managed to complete part one then it means you have found your Raison d’être. Congratulations, now all you have to do is follow up on it!
This is why it’s quite easy:
- If you’re passionate about something, you will willingly put in the hours and you will be willing to do what it takes.
- If you put in the hours and do what it takes, you’re eventually going to get good. Pretty damn good.
- If you’re damn good then someone, somewhere, will give you money for the skill you’ve developed.
That’s it. It’s not rocket science and it’s not magic either.
Taking the other side.
Now, there is a large school of thought that says that doing what you're passionate about is the wrong strategy, and the arguments break down in the following:
- Passions are difficult to rank.
- You change over time, and so do your passions.
- You may be quite bad at your passions!
- It's a very self-centered way to view your life, and perhaps we should be thinking in a more holistic fashion.
Let's take a look at these arguments, as I believe they are also very valid, and worth considering as one decides what you should do with this thing called life.
1. Passions are Difficult to Rank
The argument here is that it is difficult to know if you prefer history or philosophy, especially if you are making this decision before you're twenty-five, when your brain is still extremely malleable and you've not fully developed into an adult. That said, it is difficult to know oneself regardless of your age!
Perhaps a much better question, is to ask what you're good at, and then work hard at that, and passion and enjoyment will come as a reward for being to do something well. After all, it is difficult to be passionate for something you're unskilled at, and if you are, then that's a hobby, not your life's calling.
2. You change over time, and so do your passions.
Linked to the first point, it is even more difficult to keep a pool of passions stable over long periods of time, because as we live we gain new experiences and insights, and the world around us is also always changing, and we may find that what we once loved in now the source of distinct hatred, or perhaps just common apathy.
If you pick something that you're good at, then it is likely that you will become better over time, especially if that thing is routed in a intellectual pursuit vs a physical one, as it is difficult to keep physical performance at a high level as one ages.
This also links to our oft-discussed topic of Hedonic Adaptation, and how the things that we once wanted, once we have them, stop being so desirable, and we turn to something else to focus our desires.
3. You may be quite bad at your passions!
Another reason not to blindly follow your passions is that you may simply not have the talent pool required to perform your passion at a high level, and regardless of how hard you try, you'll never be able to make that your full time occupation. The budding actress that is still working as a barista at the age of 38 needs to at some point realign herself to reality, and think about what else she can do with her life that will bring a positive benefit to both her and the world.
She may find that she's developed a passion for coffee.
4. It's a very self-centered way to view your life, and perhaps we should be thinking in a more holistic fashion.
Perhaps we shouldn't be thinking in terms of what we want, but what the world needs, and how we can best contribute to making it a better place for everyone?
With this in mind, is it fine to sacrifice the many nice things in life to work grueling 80-100 hour weeks if you are doing something that you believe is right, even if you don't enjoy it or it's not your passion?
Remember, there are many far more important things than money in the world and we shouldn’t rely on our incomes as a way to validate ourselves. There are many ways to look at success, and it is best if we turn inwards and ask ourselves vs looking at society at large for the answers.