I know this is a little meta, but I once experienced a profound moment when I was listening to Lagwagon (a punk rock band from the 90s), and one of their songs included this quote from the movie “Swimming With Sharks” in it:
Look, I can appreciate this. I was young too, I felt just like you. Hated authority, hated all my bosses, thought they were full of shit. Look, it’s like they say, if you’re not a rebel by the age of 20, you got no heart, but if you haven’t turned establishment by 30, you’ve got no brains. Because there are no storybook romances, no fairytale endings. So before you run out and change the world, ask yourself, “What do you really want?“
I’m sure this question hits at different ages for different people depending on your life trajectory, but, at some point, we all have to answer it. And, in the spirit of quoting other people, I’ve recently run across two valuable insights on this from two unlikely sources: Tim Ferriss and Jerry Seinfeld.
In a book so popular I don’t even want to say the name of it, Tim Ferriss writes:
The opposite of love is indifference, and the opposite of happiness is—here’s the clincher—boredom.
Excitement is the more practical synonym for happiness, and it is precisely what you should strive to chase. It is the cure-all. When people suggest you follow your “passion” or your “bliss,” I propose that they are, in fact, referring to the same singular concept: excitement.
This brings us full circle. The question you should be asking isn’t “What do I want?” or “What are my goals?” but “What would excite me?”
I’ve actually thought of this question in different formats before. One inquiry I always make to potential employers when I’m interviewing for a job is “What gets you out of bed in the morning?” The reason I ask that is because I can tell by their answer if they still have any sort of passion for what they do or if they’re phoning it in, using their work simply to fund the life they enjoy living outside of work. Because, like most people, I don’t want to work for someone doing the latter.
A question I now ask when interviewing potential employees is one I borrowed from a friend of mine who always asks interesting questions when we hang out: “What are you learning right now?” I specify it can be anything: personal, professional, hobbies, life in general, whatever. Their response gives me incredible insight into where this person’s head is, and what they are most excited about in life at the moment.
Once you figure out the “what” around the thing you really want, it’s important to understand the “why” that drives you towards it. And this leads us to the quote from Jerry Seinfeld.
Recently, Seinfeld was a guest on the Howard Stern Show, and Stern suggested Seinfeld might like the new Michael Jordan documentary “The Last Dance” because it shows a person who worked hard and “willed himself to be the greatest.” But Seinfeld had a different take on that. He said:
That was not will … what Michael Jordan uses and what I use—it’s not will. It’s love. When you love something, it’s a bottomless pool of energy. But you have to love it, sincerely. Not because you’re going to make money from it, or be famous, or get whatever you want to get. Will is like not eating dessert or something. That’s just forcing yourself. Love is endless. Will is finite. Real love is what enables you to accomplish anything. Not will, not discipline, not work ethic. You gotta love it. If you love it, those other things come in behind it. They’re the troops behind. Love is the general.
Wow. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard someone explain what so many classify as “drive” or “ambition” so succinctly in my life. Everything I’ve ever achieved, whether professionally, in my musical career, or in my personal life, are summed up in those two things: love and excitement. Before hearing these two quotes within 24 hours of each other, I could never explain why I could pull down a 70-hour work week without complaint, or (since my self-isolation from COVID began) do an intense one-hour workout almost every single day, or run back the same song five times in a row in a band rehearsal to get it just right. But now I do. It’s love.
This probably sounds a bit woo woo, but I LOVE crafting just the right strategy and messaging to make a marketing campaign perform far beyond expectations. I LOVE finishing a workout proficiently that I could barely do the first couple times I did it. I LOVE crafting the perfect piece of musical storytelling in a song that will move an audience.
Do I lose sleep over all these things? Well, yeah. But is the excitement and satisfaction they bring me worth it? Completely.
Don’t get me wrong here. Sometimes we all go into auto-pilot and just coast along in life. And, at times, that’s necessary. But when it comes down to living the life you want and doing what really matters to you, you have to ask yourself the hard questions and dig to find the answers. So I challenge you to answer this one question: What do you really want?