As a kid growing up in Nigeria, many of us had roughly the same idea about our future working lives drilled into our heads – “you need to become a professional like an accountant, an engineer, or a medical doctor so that you can make enough money to care for yourself and those around you”. I can’t speak to your own unique circumstances, but I can say for sure that this was my reality growing up. To be clear, I don’t blame any of those people who tried to direct me or the children of my day down the conventional route of earning a living because truth be told, it makes a ton of logical sense. After all, it is probably a lot easier to find a decently high paying job as a medical doctor than it would be to find a job as an independent fashion designer.
As a result of the prevailing narrative of the time, the children of my generation (born somewhen in the 1980s) grew up aspiring to be doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers and so on, not because we actually loved the subject matter, but because it was the “right thing” to do… whatever the heck that means. Anyhow, we were completely fine just barreling through the required coursework, internships, and standardized tests until something started to change. Seemingly all of sudden, a radically different and almost seductive school of thought emerged about choosing a profession. Out of nowhere, it became cool to find what you loved to do and do that for a living. This was so radically different to those of us who had grown up on the “must become a professional” doctrine that it took a while for us to really grasp what it meant. I remember asking myself “So… does this mean that people would actually pay me for splashing acrylic paint around on a wall or on a canvas?… Would people pay me for going off to electric guitar solo land over an insanely powerful amplifier to a blues backing track from the 60s?” Incredulously, the answer to that question has proved to be in the affirmative.
OK so assuming I have convinced you that it is actually possible albeit more difficult to make money doing what you love, the next logical question to ask then is: how do you find what you love? You see, love is a tricky thing to understand because in the most colloquial sense, most of us equate love with pleasure which isn’t entirely accurate. To be fair though, people who associate love with pure pleasure haven’t gone completely bonkers because there is a lot of pleasure in love. However, the pleasure of love is only a part of the story. I can’t speak for everyone, but in my honest humble opinion, the deep insight into understanding what you love can be gained by considering the following simple question: what are you willing to suffer for?
None of us are immune to the suffering that life can sometimes bring. To be blunt, life can suck sometimes. I think it was Forrest Gump who said “shit happens”, and boy… he was spot on. Neither of us can avoid the “shit” of life because wherever either of us go, it will follow in some form or the other. The key then is to find the “shit” you enjoy dealing with, roll up your sleeves and get to work. People might think that being a musician is all sunshine and rainbows and to be fair, there is little better in this world than the silky smooth sounds that emanate from a combination of a Fender Stratocaster plugged into reverb tube amplifier through a distortion pedal. Hearing that sound for the first time might initially fool a person into thinking they’d love to be a musician. However the real questions such a person should be asking themselves are as follows:
- Will I be able to endure being really bad at this for the first year?
- Will I have the fortitude to keep going even though i’ll suck at first?
- Am I willing to sit and suffer through 2+ hours of practice each day?
- Am I willing to haul around annoyingly heavy gear when I go play live?
- Am I willing to deal with the thousands of broken strings I’ll have to replace?
- Am I willing to forgo nights out with my friends so that I can stay home and practice?
- Am I willing to deal with the drama of playing with other musicians?
- Will I have the patience to sit in the recording studio for hours recording my own backing tracks and original songs?
- Would I still want to do this even if I earned nothing?
Having had the good fortune to be blessed with the opportunity to study a myriad of things, I can confidently say that pretty much everything has its annoying parts. The thing that distinguishes successful folks from others is usually grit which you can think of as the ability to endure the “shit” you don’t like along the way to attaining what you love. We’ve used the example of being a musician above, but this way of thinking applies to a lot of other areas in life too. For example, most men want a solid relationship but are we willing to help our wives and/or girlfriends around the house? Are we willing to listen to and comfort them when they become deeply emotional about something? Are we willing to pick up the slack with the newborn baby when she’s recovering from childbirth?
I hope that the message is clear by now… when you are trying to figure out what you love, pay little attention to the easy parts. The real litmus test that lets you know if you’ll be able to sustain for the long term is how well you’ll be able to deal with the difficult parts of whatever it is you choose to do. From all of us here at chubaoyolu.org, we wish you all the best with finding the things that light your soul on fire. Take care of yourselves and each other.
Oyolu B.C. Ph.D.