“Do not ask for what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and do it. For what the world needs is people who are fully alive.”
‘But you’re not thinking like an entrepreneur!’
This was a (well-intentioned) observation made to a friend of mine recently. He had shared with a group of friends he met regularly for coffee that he was a little uncertain as to how he should proceed with a new passion project.
It’s a research project-slash-business initiative – one that reflects his values and that could potentially help many businesses and individuals. He’s hit a bit of a roadblock, though, because he’s not quite sure he’s ready to ‘get out there’ and ‘sell’ it. He knows he wants to launch it and see it reach the people who matter, but he has reservations around it growing beyond what he knows he can manage, and he’s afraid of losing his original intent: to help people.
He’s conscious it’s been a slow burn, requiring much thought and slow, methodical organisation. This suits him, because he’s a thinker: a person who contemplates deeply, takes his time, enjoys research, and who doesn’t love the idea of being the marketable ‘face’ of a business.
And yet, from all sides, he feels pressure to be otherwise.
‘This could be HUGE!’ he’s told. ‘You need to get yourself out there!’ friends exclaim. ‘You need to sell it!’
In other words: he needs to monetise it, and MAKE A SUCCESS of it. And he needs to get on with it – now.
Trouble is, none of this advice seems to fit. So he’s stuck: not wanting to move, but also not wanting his work and passion to go to waste.
We discussed this as we sat together on a sunny day, looking over the sea and listening to birds warbling around us. There was a rabbit, and chickens. It was peaceful, and deeply nourishing.
I shared these thoughts with him:
I was in my late forties when I hit my sweet spot in terms of work. I know these things about myself:
I love to write and read. Clearly 😉
I love and need solitude. Lots of it. I work alone, and I prefer to spend a lot of my free time alone, writing or reading or walking or shopping or gardening or whatever it is that I feel like doing on any given day. My home, filled with books, is my haven. I can go for days without seeing anyone. I have a wonderful network of people I care about, but lots of time by myself is vital to my happiness and wellbeing. It’s just the way I’m wired.
I’m a little fussy, extremely details-orientated, and exacting when it comes to … a few things, but mostly writing. And I can spot errors in books a mile off. I’ve always been that way.
I also love to share my knowledge. I love to speak about the things I’m passionate about. Ask me to present a workshop on editing and proofreading and grammar, or to talk about my novel The Library of Unfinished Business, and I’m like a pig in muck. And I think I’m good at it. (I’m a theatre performer, so that helps.)
Now, I could have looked at myself and my career choices, and thought: You know, I should be spending more time with people. I should be doing group projects, and enjoying team building exercises involving falling back into colleagues’ arms to build trust and brainstorming on whiteboards and role-playing Myers Briggs. I should be getting myself out there more. Also – I shouldn’t be so bloody anally retentive. I shouldn’t be a grammar nerd. I should get a job that makes me LESS fussy about language. And also, I shouldn’t want to present and lead workshops, because that’s a bit arrogant, isn’t it? That’s a bit ‘big’ of me. A bit ‘too much’. I should be completely different to who I am; my career should not be congruent AT ALL with my nature. Instead, I should try to change everything about myself, or at least go completely against the grain of my true self to fit some capitalist ideal so that my life can be one continuous self-improvement HARD SLOG.
Because how dare I … just do what I love, and what fits my personality exactly?
Now there’s a thought.
Instead of beating myself up for being a pedantic grammar nerd writer loner with a big mouth, I trained to be an editor/proofreader, then launched my own work-from-home editing business. I wrote and published more stories and articles, and my first novel was published earlier this year. I started to put myself forward for public talks and workshops. And I can honestly say I wake up every day and sigh with contentment that this is my career. It fits me exactly. What I thought were my ‘faults’, the things I should work on or tone down, are in fact my strengths – because I chose to honour them and use them in the best way possible, instead of trying to ‘cure’ them.
My career choice, then, was motivated from a deep self-knowledge, and an acceptance (it took a while; I’m not immune to these pressures) that the way I am is absolutely fine – even necessary.
And I said to my friend:
‘Do you actually WANT to make this business of yours a “HUGE”, monetised affair, with capitalist ideals driving you to “sell hard” into “viable markets” to make “massive returns”?’
He looked at me. ‘No,’ he said. ‘I want to research. I want to take my time. I want to share my research and learnings with people who need it. I want to find a job that’s good enough for now, as I explore all my options. And, I want to write a book, and perhaps do a PhD.’
Finally, my friend’s words were aligning with who he is in his gut and heart and soul.
He doesn’t have to think like an entrepreneur – because he isn’t one.
And he smiled, and it seemed to me that his shoulders relaxed, and we sat and looked at the sea for a while.
So often we feel we have to change to fit some sort of ideal of what the world wants of us. In my friend’s case, he had partly bought into the lie that talents always have to be monetised, passion projects have to become industrialised ‘side hustles’, and that we all have to GET OUT THERE to make it happen.
What if we sat with ourselves for a bit, asked ourselves who we are as people and what resonates with us, what our values are and how we think we can contribute best – and let that determine some of our choices and decisions?
Now, I’m aware I’m speaking from a position of privilege. I had the economic means and support, and many other privileges besides, to pursue the exact career I wanted to. I’m not suggesting everyone can just swan around by the sea and wax lyrical about what makes their soul sing then bounce off and make it happen.
But at the heart of this post is this: What if, instead of listening to the many and loud voices telling us we must be a certain way to succeed in the world, what if we stopped, perhaps by the sea, with a rabbit and chickens and birdsong all around us, to ask ourselves what success actually means to us, personally – not our friends, or our parents, or the government, or the banks, or social media, or the patriarchy, or capitalism?
And what if we gave ourselves permission to just be … who we are?