But you must be sure that your imagination and love are behind it, that you are not working just from grim resolution, i.e., to make money or impress people.
— Brenda Ueland
In my dreams of flying, I need to flap.
I wave my arms in imitation of a bird, and after a minute or so of exhaustive effort, find myself rising slowly from the ground. In a few minutes I’m above the treetops, moving slowly, in the cumbersome way of a giant dirigible with a tiny propeller.
Once, at a party I think it was, I shared this dream with a woman I knew. She laughed.
“What’s so funny?”
“All that effort.”
“How do you fly?” I said.
“I just fly.”
“You don’t have to flap?”
“No. I just go.”
“As fast as I want.”
Well, I flap.
THE CUP OF REELING
I was reminded of my flapping when Bruce Dolan responded in his luminous way to my post about losing things a couple of weeks ago. He said:
Sometimes we lose things, and sometimes mysterious forces kindly take the cup of reeling from our hands, having drunk to the ashes and the dregs, our palates so appreciative of honey.
Just as not everyone needs to flap in order to fly, not everyone needs spells for loss. I wish I were one of those people. But apparently I’m someone with spells for everything.
Which brings me, almost, to the Prince of Wales.
THE DREADED P WORD
A short time ago I ran across an essay by Paul Graham, “How to do What You Love.” The web is filled with advice about doing what you love, most of it rot. But this essay spoke to me.
I flap a lot over doing what I love. I wish I could just do it, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards. I have to flap first.
I recommend Graham’s essay to you because it’s specific. It proposes a sort of technology for doing what you love, a way to flap. If you can fly without flapping, I’m sure you don’t need to read this essay. You’re probably already doing what you love. But I found it helpful.
The first thing I liked about what Graham said was this: doing what you love doesn’t mean doing what you would most like to do this very second. You don’t have to be obsessed with it, or even feel the dreaded P(assion) word. You just have to like it enough to want to occupy your spare time doing it (assuming you are not already doing it for money.)
Einstein, when he worked in the patent office, did physics in his spare time. Later, when he was paid to do physics, he played the violin in his spare time.
Once, when he had to give a lecture on relativity, he said something like, “Why don’t we all just enjoy ourselves?” and instead of giving the lecture took out his violin and played for the audience.
If the idea of doing what you love can be so fluid for someone like Einstein, surely it can be so for mere mortals.
Graham identifies two siren forces that lead people away from doing what they love: money and prestige. He says this:
A comparatively safe and prosperous career with some automatic baseline prestige is dangerously tempting to someone young, who hasn’t thought much about what they really like.
As examples of such dangerous careers, he lists corporate law and medicine.
How many corporate lawyers would do their current work if they had to do it for free, in their spare time, and take day jobs as waiters to support themselves?
I still remember my first day as an intern, my first day as a working doctor. I didn’t know much and was completely overwhelmed with the responsibility I now had, but I remember thinking, At last, I’m something. I have a place to stand in the world.
It took me a long time to respond by asking myself the question, Yes. But is this what I want to do?
I promised you a spell, and something about the Prince of Wales. It’s this:
If you’re not sure of what you love to do, that is, if you’re not quite sure that money and prestige haven’t biased your choice, then imagine you’re the Prince of Wales, and ask yourself what you’d do in your spare time.
There’s not much you could do that would give you more prestige than the heir apparent to the British crown, which pretty much takes the flap out of prestige’s arms. And there’s also not much you could do that would give you more money than the prince already has, so the question of getting money from what you choose also becomes moot.
So what would you do in your spare time, when you’re not cutting highway ribbons and smashing champagne bottles against new boats?
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:
How to Do What You Love by Paul Graham
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