Do it for you

The first few years of our lives, we learn a lot. How to crawl. How to walk. How to talk. How to put on pants. How to use a toilet. All the practical stuff we need to just exist in the world.

We learn shapes (rudimentary geometry). We learn to read. We learn to do arithmetic. And then we start learning a bunch of stuff that we’ll probably never use, but I’m all about learning as much as you can about a bunch of different stuff, so it’s OK.

And then we’re 16, 17, 18 years old, and we get cocky. It seems that if you’re that age and you know what you want, you can go straight for it. Learn what you need to know to get where you want, pick up some requirements along the way if necessary, and kick ass.

Or you’re the other kind of cocky — the kind of cocky that thinks you’ve got everything figured out, and pretty soon you wake up in your early 30s and you have no idea why your clothes, music and job are the same as they were when you were 24. Maybe you picked up a spouse, a couple of kids, a house and a couple cars along the way, but basically you didn’t grow at all for a decade.

Suddenly you realize you don’t know anything. Sound familiar? Be honest.

In Feck Perfuction, artist James Victore writes that he had this 15-year plan post-high school. He far exceeded his own expectations, and then stagnated.

Another mid-30s burnout.

Shepard Fairey went from the guy pasting up Obey Giant posters to the guy who designed one of the more famous presidential campaign posters of our era at about that time in his life.

Male comedians tend to start hitting their stride in their mid-to-late 30s, or even later (because there are fewer of them, women tend to get shuffled through the machine faster).

It’s like we have a dead decade, and then we start learning things.

Here’s something I’ve learned over the past few years: quit doing stuff because other people want you to. I’m not saying skip your spouse’s office Christmas party or your kid’s school play. But your time, energy and principles are yours. Follow through on your commitments, but don’t let others dictate what’s important to you.

Your time, energy and principles are yours. Follow through on your commitments, but don't let others dictate what's important to you. #betterhumanhood #notjustwords Click To Tweet

Feel like you work too much? Your employer doesn’t own you. You have a rental agreement with your employer. For most people in the U.S., it’s for 40 hours. You don’t have to check your email off the clock. You don’t have to let your coworkers rent space in your head when you come home. Yes, you spend 25% of the hours in a week with your colleagues, but if you see them socially two or three times a week and all you talk about is work, now you’re working a lot longer than 40 hours a week and your employer is still only renting you for the 40 hours you agreed to.

Key words: you agreed to. It all happens with your permission. You can withdraw that permission at any time. You can let someone else rent you instead. You can remain unrented. It’s up to you. You don’t have to have a job. You don’t have to live in such a way that you have bills.

In No More Mr. Nice Guy, Robert A. Glover reminds us to not be people pleasers. People pleasers do things for others to get something out of it. They’re often disappointed.

That’s not to say be selfish (but do be, a little). It’s not to say you can’t have an why outside of yourself (in fact, that’s what drives most of us). It’s not to say when your spouse asks you to take out the trash that you should refuse.

It’s to say that if you’re going to do something for someone else, don’t do it because you expect something in return. Do it because it fills your heart to do something nice, and then move on to the next thing. Don’t even expect a thank you. Anything that comes back to you — even as small as a thank you — is gravy.

If you're going to do something for someone else, don't do it because you expect something in return. Do it because it fills your heart to do something nice, and then move on to the next thing. #betterhumanhood #notjustwords Click To Tweet

Let’s look at our grander visions. This is where things really start to grind on us if we’re pleasing someone else. This blog? My podcast? JKWD? Time with my family? These things bring me joy. I do them for me.

Remember our friend, James Victore, who had to reinvent himself after far exceeding his expectations then stagnating? He has a contract with Do Books. They couldn’t pay him a lot of money, so their contract includes complete creative freedom for the artist.

He took the job, and he’s doing it for himself.

Remember we discussed Pan’s Labyrinth last week? Guillermo del Toro gave up his salary and points to do that movie. It was that much of a passion project that he had to do it, and he didn’t have much in the way of extrinsic rewards while shooting it.

If someone tells you that you “should” do something, think about this: if you did it, would you be doing it so you could tell that person, “Hey, that thing you said I should do? Look, I’m doing it!” or would you be doing it so you could look in the mirror, smile for real and say, “Hey, remember that thing that person said I should do? Look, I’m doing it!”

I think about the episode of Tim Ferriss’ podcast during which he told former Esquire writer Cal Fussman he should start a podcast.

Fussman was nervous about the technology. He was a pen and paper guy. A typewriter, word processor, Microsoft Word guy.

Well, he learned the tech, and Fussman sounds like he’s having a blast. He’s definitely not doing it for Ferriss (whom he thanks at the end of every episode); he’s clearly doing it for himself.

If you’d like to make some money from whatever it is, sure, it’s possible. But if you do it for the purpose of making money, it probably won’t happen. Do it for yourself, and if you’re very good at it, the money will follow.

Here’s a to-do for you: Take a look at what you did yesterday, last week, last weekend, last month. How many of those things did you do for you? Can you say no to more of those things that you didn’t, and say yes to yourself? For sure, no can be uncomfortable, but your life depends on it.


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