Advice to a Young Man
By Hugo Pim
Written by an educationalist in response to a question from a young, unemployed man who was feeling super demotivated and stuck. He asked for advice on how to approach the challenge of finding work, deciding on a career, and generally building a life.
I think there’s a bit of a collective delusion that’s been going on since happiness became some kind of weird entitlement that people with clean running water started chasing as a meaning for life.
Firstly, the idea that passion must be present for a good life, that somehow you have to find your talent and live this ‘life less ordinary’ in order to reach your potential, is the stuff of movies and sit-coms. Sure – it’s always good to do stuff and enjoy doing it – but everything requires consistency, graft and just cracking on with it at some point – and there’s actually a sense of achievement and deeper self-actualisation to be found in mastery that people waiting for their own ‘special destiny’ to arrive often miss, as they become disenchanted with concepts like ‘work ethic’ or ‘self-discipline’, believing things should be ‘easy’ if only they could find their path. You get something out of figuring stuff out that free stuff just doesn’t deliver.
You can be ‘passionless’ in terms of career ‘dreams’, long term goals or areas of special interest, and still be really, really good at something. In some ways, caring less allows the space to make better choices when compared to someone who is so ‘precious’ about their activities that everything is just too personal to really see it as it is, or take on board useful additions like criticism or advice.
I also loathe that cliche that should you follow your talent you will never work (experience working) a day in your life. That’s total bollocks! I was a musician for years. Loved it. And worked harder and for longer and with greater intensity than any of my friends who worked in jobs they liked less than I loved mine.
The bottom line is that HOW you do things counts for far more than WHAT you’re doing. So having a passion for something isn’t a prerequisite – passion can develop once you commit and work hard at something too. Please don’t wait for passion before you start applying yourself to an opportunity. Passion is not exclusively a prerequisite for excellence. It can also be an outcome. I get the feeling that Steve Jobs and outliers like him would have made amazing shoes, or kites, or fountain pens, if they had decided to do that instead. It wasn’t what they were doing that counted, it was how they were doing it that made the difference.
The challenges with motivation tie into this too. You don’t need commitment and discipline to do anything that you actually already wanted to do. So to wait for something you want to do is akin to never wanting to need any willpower or motivation. Lack of motivation just requires more willpower. It’s like the turbo for motivation. Think about it like this, can courage exist without the presence of fear? Think about it. Courage is a reaction to fear, isn’t it? If you’re not afraid – how can you be brave? The same is true of commitment and discipline. They’re (i.e. these qualities) are only relevant when you’re faced with something you’d rather not do (like going for a run on a wet cold and windy day at dawn, or signing up at yet another employment agency), or when you need to stop doing something that you’d prefer to be doing (like smoking a joint and staying up late watching YouTube when you’ve got an interview the next morning). And in a way – this idea that we should all be motivated and enthusiastic at our core is another of these bullshit stories that have come out of movies. It’s always uncomfortable to exert discipline and commitment. That’s why it is respected. If you are looking for a way to be disciplined and committed that does not involve being uncomfortable, that’s like trying to swim without getting wet! Like all successful life on earth, human beings are designed to conserve energy. Like water, we are naturally attracted to the easiest route from the mountains to the ocean. We also enjoy feeling in control though (although) a lot of people make up a narrative to justify a life which has largely been the consequence of opportunity and timing. Not saying that a lot of people don’t work extremely hard. Just saying, we all struggle with it at times. No shame in that. Perhaps if more people felt comfortable sharing their struggles, we’d be less inclined to feel alone when we ourselves struggle.
And please, please remember – we are all in this together. There is far more that connects us than separates us. So if you think most people are having an easier time of it than you – that’s probably because most people are faking it. The majority of people feel the way you feel, more often than they are likely to feel comfortable admitting. People tend to use self-discipline and concepts like manners or self-respect as a reason to keep their struggles from being too visible or becoming their master. So often the only people you hear of who are struggling, are really drowning in it and can no longer keep up appearances. But that doesn’t mean they are the only ones.
So think of it like this – you don’t need motivation if you’ve got willpower – and willpower is a choice. A personal choice. Will power is literally your personal power in life, in its rawest form. Choose to exercise it and perhaps other more positive and helpful traits will start kicking in. My father used to tell me ‘action creates action’. In other words – don’t wait for a perfect moment, and don’t wait for motivation. Start working hard at whatever is at hand, NOW, using self-discipline, willpower and determination. Do that, and I genuinely believe that ‘motivation’ will follow. Once you get that trick, you can transplant that process into other areas. So perhaps start off with cleaning your room every evening before you go to bed. Or do a few stretches and push-ups in the morning. Or just setting an alarm when you don’t need to, strengthens your ability to act at any time. Once you start to see your willpower manifesting into clearer living spaces, stronger arms and more time to do stuff during the day, you’ll be able to harness that momentum elsewhere. But start somewhere, is what I am saying. Seek progress, not perfection.
The above comments also apply to the concept of laziness – think of it as a form of ‘locus of control’ and notice how often we all delegate responsibility to external factors that rarely line up as neatly as we’d like, and then use them as excuses to not take responsibility for our own internal factors, factors which we can actually do something about!
Maybe ‘lazy’ (or similarly prejudiced words that describe inaction) is a description of a response to specific stimuli. It’s not a character trait in and of itself. Your habits collectively are creating this moment for you. Change them by simply not doing stuff the way you’re currently doing it. Read a book. Watch a movie. Take some advice. Look at how people who are getting stuff done operate and copy them. But the point is – if you want to change this – you can.
The unemployment thing sucks. I know that feeling. But it’s also a cart and horse thing, isn’t it? The habits of discipline, achievement and progress can be approached by doing press-ups and taking a run every morning. Cleaning your living space. Cooking healthy. Keeping your word. Keeping your appearance clean and sharp. Reading something educational or challenging every day. And all that stuff accumulates into an attitude that makes getting a job just a little bit easier. Of course – getting a good job is never easy – but if you keep yourself tight and focused habitually – that comes across at interview and helps at least.
Bottom line. Don’t wait for a perfect moment. Don’t believe that everyone else has it better or easier. Whatever is going on – this IS your life – so don’t make excuses for it – find reasons to make it work. And slowly, inch by inch, it’ll change – until enough habits have created a different perspective, and that perspective becomes an experience, and that process starts to build up a momentum that will inevitably create a change in your circumstances. And here’s the good bit, the more times you crack on when you don’t feel like it, the more times you take a knock and refuse to let it keep you down, the more resilience you develop. Resilience is an earned skill, not a learned one, and once you’ve accumulated enough of it, it becomes a question of when, not if, you’ll get to where it is you end up wanting to go. Action creates action.
You yourself have got to give it a go though. Expectations of a passion-filled easy life that doesn’t require commitment and discipline would make anyone bitter, because it’s creating a utopia that can never, ever, be achieved. Being unemployed sucks, but you are never powerless, no matter how much it might feel that way. Unemployment can be as temporary as your efforts to get a job make it. Sounds like middle class pomp I know. But it’s how I got out of that particular cul du sac myself. Just went at it until something stuck.
On top of that – Lottery tickets create more problems than they fix if you ask me – and waiting for one (a winner) to arrive is a risk – expecting one to be delivered without making the effort to even buy one isn’t just a risk – it’s the expectation of a miracle – it cultivates a perspective of entitlement that can only be disappointed. And disappointment that things are the way they actually are, isn’t just depressing – it’s debilitating to action and purpose. So try and see things as they are. Not as you wished they were, or how you fear them to be. But as they truly are.
You are a human being. You have value. Who you are is important. But more important is how you react to stuff. I think that for you, it’s really about getting to it and then adapting as things start to gain momentum. It’s simply amazing how things will work out once you’ve got a bit of momentum going. I also suggest you don’t think on it too much. Don’t say it – Do it (as my dad would say). Try and aim for productivity and progress, not perfection and that moment of absolute certainty that may never arrive. Dreams are realised every day, but they tend to evolve slowly into the real world. They tend to be woven on a tapestry of smaller, less enticing and less engaging stuff, and they tend to manifest for those who are the most resilient, not the most talented.
And finally, please, please remember how amazing you are! I mean, really take a minute and remember who you are. In your bones. Outside of circumstance. Outside of the hopes and fears and trials and tribulations of the “NOW”. Remember how simply amazing you are. As a human. As a person. As YOU! Without that knowledge, you’ll be looking for validation forever.