It’s not ‘what do you do for a living.’ It’s precisely what you should do for a living. The difference is often a chasm the size of the Grand Canyon.
I think I spend more time thinking about my potential career(s) or lack thereof than any other subject. I definitely think about it more than sex or sleep, and probably more than food.
An Ohio State University study says that although men may think about sex more often than women, it suggests that men think about lots of other biological needs (eating, sleeping, peeing in the woods, etc.) more than women too. And the research discredits the (albeit hilarious) stereotype that men think about sex every seven seconds, which would amount to more than eight-thousand thoughts about sex in sixteen waking hours.
If I thought of anything repeatedly eight-thousand times in one terribly long day, my mind would likely explode. That, or at least overheat and lead me to binge-watch Judge Judy episodes of small claims court plaintiffs trying to collect a couple of hundred bucks from their cousin Jedediah who defaulted on his personal loan to buy WWE tickets.
Of course, I do indeed breathe approximately twenty-thousand times every day, but I definitely don’t have to think about it unless I am meditating, and even then, it is a typically dull topic that my mind quickly wanders from… and right back to vocation.
I even spent quite a bit of time studying and writing an article on this topic called The Real Secret To A Successful Life—Or at Least—How Not To Hate Your Every Waking Moment.
According to the Harvard Gazette, People spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy.
I think I am often unhappy, but then I realize I am just hungry, and I enjoy a rousing bout of emotional stress eating, one of the greatest inventions of the civilized world. (Hmmm…. Salty? Sweet? Or perhaps Salty AND Sweet?!)
Darn it! I just became a part of the 46.9 percent statistic!
Now, where was I?
Oh yes! Thinking about my thinking.
I don’t have attention deficit disorder, I have intention deficit disorder. How about you?
Forbes did an article about “10 Shocking Workplace Stats You Need To Know” that claims 53 percent of Americans are currently unhappy at work. I hear statistics like this all the time, and I’m betting you probably do too. The trouble is that these are so vague and generic that they are not very useful to me.
Part of me (the pragmatic personality of the six, appropriately called Mr. Stoddard) just wants to resign myself to these statements’ semantics. After all, it is called work for a reason! There’s a reason that play wasn’t the keyword!
It makes it even harder because I am perpetually self-employed. That means I created my unhappiness. It’s my fault! That’s no fun at all since there is no boss to blame. It is so much easier to blame someone like an archetypal manager we all love to hate.
I think of William Lumbergh, the fictional character, who appeared initially in the Milton animated shorts, and later was portrayed by Gary Cole in the 1999 film Office Space. (By the way, you can actually buy the screenplay on Amazon. How cool is that?)
“Mmmm… Yeah…. Jesse, if you could get me that TPS report… That’d be greaaat.”
“Yes, Mr. Lumbergh. Right away, Mr. Lumbergh.”
And then I could very conveniently grumble and mumble under my breath seething venomous slander, secretly knowing it was myself who I truly hated for working under the jerk, to begin with.
I hear the clickity-clack of little clawed feet on our hardwood floor, moving from his box in the living room and working around the corner into my bedroom. The clicking stops momentarily, and he issues an abrupt snort.
It’s not a dog really, but it resembles a dog-cat-type furry alien creature with little black eyes and a black pencil eraser squishy nose. Some call it a Pomeranian. Mostly, it is a creature of habit like me and thinks it high-time that I get out of bed.
“Wake up! It’s dawn! Hurry up and get out here and let me out to pee, then feed me, then sit down so I can sit on your lap, you useless human!”
Stumbling out of bed in a daze, sometimes I wish I had been drinking all night. At least then, I’d have a valid reason for feeling hungover.
I check my phone, and my wife has sent me a picture of where the term Hungover actually comes from. Drunks used to pay a penny to hang on a line for the night. Hilarious.
Alas, my hungover-ness is completely self-induced, and probably just from staying up too late watching Netflix serials that I wish I was starring in.
Of course, that fantasy is a story for another time. I had plenty of chances to move to L.A. after discovering that it was required of any serious actor. I had plenty of opportunities and never got around to it.
Sometimes I regret that, but other times I think (no, I KNOW) that I would hate it there. I don’t like the idea of being in a big dirty city that is falling apart with overpopulation, pollution, crime, crazy-high taxes, Coronavirus, not to mention ultra-progressive-liberal-wacko thinking.
Oh, if only I could have been raised like the other theater kids—easily indoctrinated and assimilated into the culture. I never fit in as much as I tried to pretend I was one of them.
After my artistic self-expression college years, I made it a couple of years in New York and came very close to success. My best bet was the musical theater. Sadly, I just wasn’t gay enough… and by that, I mean it in the older sense of the word; happy and enthusiastic. Not everyone is the perfect fit for the dreams of their youth.
I groggily mix my Limeade Spark, full of amino acids, vitamins, and glorious caffeine in a tall glass of water and throw in a couple of ice cubes. I take a moment to look at the glass. I love the taste and how it makes me feel, but long gone are the days where I try to make money with it. I ponder that for a moment.
Over twelve years of my life that Spark stuff was my primary occupation. We were trying (and sometimes succeeding) at making money with that vitamin cocktail. Then government intervention and some pesky lawsuits hit the company, and our paychecks evaporated. Poof! The attorneys made more money killing that company than I ever did working for it. Now I just drink it out of habit, and the weird part is… I don’t even care.
The dog has finished his job of getting me up, and today he decides to saunter on back to bed. What?! He doesn’t even want to go out to pee! What started as a necessary routine in service of the dog, has become his obligation to take care of me. I guess I need my medicine. He curls up and falls fast asleep, a big doggy smile on his face, knowing full well that this lowly human is incapable of sleep until the next cycle.
And for me, meditation is work.
After many months of going through their standard courses, investing a whopping five to ten minutes per sitting, I ran out of routines and mined deep into the list to find the old version of the program where they have three-hundred and sixty-five days of meditation. The downside is that the stupid thing requires a twenty-minute commitment. Who has twenty minutes?!
I breathe deep and start the process, alternating between letting go and desperately thirsting for control, all the while buzzing with a bazillion thoughts, my mind crashing helplessly through the cosmos.
After about fifteen minutes, Andy Puddicombe, founder of this “Digital Health” company, finally comes back on and lets me ask the question in the second-person. Andy’s voice is pleasantly British, which I prefer most of the time, at least for meditation and nature shows. Puddicombe is a former Buddhist monk with a degree in Circus Arts, so I guess I can trust everything he says about any subject, as long as he does it in an English accent.
He insists I ask it like this:
“What should you do for a living?”
I have to say it in the second person for some reason. I guess to make it less intrusive, anxiety-producing, or otherwise easier to stomach.
Not only do I say it in my best Brit-ish accent, like a very bad Dick Van Dyke from Mary Poppins impersonation, but I also cynically emphasize the ‘you,’ like a petulant child saying “I know you are, but what am I?” As if to challenge and berate myself at the same time.
“What should you do for a living..?” (Of course, I try to leave off the ‘you fool’ at the end of the sentence.)
It doesn’t work.
He says I have to allow the emotion and feeling to simmer up to the surface and just sit with it.
Nothing comes up.
It’s as if the second-person perspective version of me just stares back blankly and, in a snarky tone, says, “What do you think you are doing, Einstein? This is ridiculous. You already know I don’t know the answer. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have to ask.”
He and I sit awhile, staring blankly at one another.
Finally, it ends, and I crank open my eyes.
Good work! Another morning meditation in the books.
We go away for a week to Lake Chelan. I am beyond grateful to my brother-in-law, who shares this beautiful place with us. He owns timeshare there and lets us use the week with him and two of his kids. We are seven in all, and it is a bit cramped, but nothing that a swimming pool and sunshine can’t fix.
He sits and watches Judge Judy. I can’t help but watch along with him as if seeing a train wreck in action.
I am trying to remember what I learned from Dan Sullivan of Strategic Coach about Free, Focus, and Buffer days. I am supposed to be on vacation, which means taking free days to do anything but work. I am not allowed to send or receive any calls or emails about work—no reading about work, no thinking about work, no stress. I am supposed to completely rejuvenate so that I come home bubbling with creativity and enthusiasm.
I fail miserably.
I check email a couple of times a day and put out multiple fires. Clients complain about how a social media post was phrased, how they want a meeting so I can give them clarity (if only I had clarity) or a web page design change, or if I can help them fix their email account. I have become customer service for Google without working for Google.
On second thought, if you are a small business, you work for Google. If you are a marketer or own a digital marketing agency like me, you work for Google. We all work for Google… Or The Facebooks.
The corporate giants are both watching you and me right now. The digital power players already know what I should be doing for a living. They have predictive technology with artificial intelligence and machine learning that will tell you what you will buy in the next twenty-seven seconds because you clicked on something that led you here from nineteen clicks beforehand.
They know this information, and they will sell it to the highest bidder, literally. Only I don’t want their answer. I miss my mom’s fancy electric typewriter from 1992 and our old rotary phone before I had countless spam emails and robocalls trying to sell me a dream and take all my money. I don’t remember having so much angst about the question back then, and I wish my mom were alive so I could ask her instead of Siri, who never knows what I really mean and always takes me so darn literally.
I need to get outside.
I take long walks in the morning and at night.
The dog has trained me well; I couldn’t sleep in if I wanted to. After twenty minutes of meditation and writing in my journal, there is still drool gently descending the sleeping babes’ cheeks, and a soft snore is coming from another. I lace my shoes and dip on out the door.
I make it to the end of the jutting peninsula of Wapato Point, in Manson, Washington. The manicured lawns and multi-million dollar homes make the little park seem more like the upper-middle-class neighborhoods of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I should be jumping over fences in a rush while remembering to say hi to the pretty bikini-clad sun worshippers along the way.
This day I have my journal. I start writing about what I should be doing for a living.
I have done this dozens or hundreds of times before. I have taken most of the personality tests, read the books, done extensive research on the subject, brainstormed, gotten council, prayed, meditated, and even created comprehensive spreadsheets. I combine talents, ‘giftings,’ passions, fascinations, skills, abilities, and juxtapose them with potential markets, demands, or money-making opportunities. I have juggled the ideas, split them apart, deconstructed them, burned them in effigy, and started over again repeatedly.
Today all I realize is that I need to keep my current income sources. I am nearly forty-three years old, with a wife, two kids, a mortgage, and a couple of small businesses I either own or am a part of. They are moderately successful by my standards, which means I barely pay all my bills, and God willing, will gradually get out of debt. I owe, I owe, so off to work I go.
I need to bring home the bacon. I need to because it is in my DNA. It is my belief system. I am not one of those guys who can up and leave their family to join the circus. I can’t be that selfish. I am not even convinced that it would work out anyway. If I did want to know about the circus, I would ask myself during meditation, and then maybe Andy Puddicombe’s voice would come and tell me about the ins and outs of a Bozo the clown life.
I look up from my journal. Through the trees and the morning suns brilliant glittering across Lake Chelan’s morning waters, I see an object moving across the channel from the other side. I quickly deny my initial thought that it is a deer’s head. There is no way one could make that swim, I think, and besides, why would they be here and coming to this obviously developed area?
I look down and write several more useless statements about finding myself. My mind wanders again, and I work hard to stay focused. Plenty of words are coming out, but not enough answers.
I feel something. Not sure what or why. It’s not a sound, just a feeling to look up, so I do.
About twenty feet in front of me, dripping wet, is a young buck staring at me.
I stare back at him, and we lock eyes for what felt like several minutes.
It turns out the shortest swimming distance between Sunny Bank and Wapato Point is approximately 4,338 feet, 0.82 miles, or 1.32 kilometers. That is a long swim. Of course, my naiveté becomes painful as a simple Google search tells me that deer have sturdy hind legs, which they use to good advantage while swimming. With that power and good stamina, a white-tailed deer can swim distances up to 10 miles, quickly allowing them to cross most lakes and rivers.
Yet to me, it was a sign—a significant metaphorical crossing, passing through a barrier, overcoming an obstacle, and journeying to a new land of discovery.
I see life’s purpose as something that we make out to be very hard but is probably quite simple with our sturdy hind legs. These same powerful muscles could propel us out of an existential crisis, out of the morass of mediocrity, and into self-actualization with the perfect career and passion for life.
But Buck didn’t care much about my significant discovery. He trotted off into the development. He looked at me as if I was disturbing his regular solitary routine.
Back to the Cage
Back from my trip.
I saw sunny places with golden opportunities.
But I better get back to my cage.
Back to the gloomy cage of darkness, I go.
No golden handcuffs.
Or maybe wood.
Or perhaps just zip ties.
Back in the cage, I go.
Asking tough questions
Why on earth would I torture myself with this question?
I think it goes far beyond making money. There is an infinite number of ways to make money. Most of my life has been being self-employed, so I am relatively well versed in it. I also know people that don’t find their identity in their work. They just do it and get their check and then go home and live their life outside of work, finding hobbies and passions to enjoy.
Man, I sometimes wish it were that easy for me.
I think it might be what we are put here on earth to do. Perhaps our mission is to figure out our mission. God put us here for a reason, and we have to discover or create it. Faith or freewill or a combination of both. Destiny.
At least I think I want to believe that I can design my life and that I am not a prisoner of my environment, background, upbringing, conditioning, nature, nurture, and genes. I want to believe that I can rise above it all and aspire to something greater—that I can transcend base reality and avoid or eliminate generational curses.
Five minutes later, I want to take a nap, or perhaps have some popcorn and watch a movie about other people living authentic lives full of mystery, wonder, and adventure.
Sometimes I think I find it. Sometimes I can taste it. I get inspired by a project or a business or an idea. I read about scanners in the late Barbara Sher’s book, Refuse to Choose! A Revolutionary Program for Doing Everything That You Love. Apparently, I am a particular type of scanner. Some of my projects span weeks, years, or even decades, and I seem to do fine with that. My mind needs to be doing a lot of different things. It is supposed to be a gift, but maybe it’s a curse (my dad had it too). I realize that I am great at changing focus and can still come back to things later to finish… eventually.
Then I read Dark Horse: Achieving Success Through the Pursuit of Fulfillment by Todd Rose and Ogi Ogas. It made me want to do something more significant with my life and helped me realize that it will often be through innovation and improvisation.
I took a class about Aquaponics in 2017 and started working on a system in 2020. I typically take action much faster, but I am finally learning patience. I should say I am impatiently learning patience.
So I continue asking tough questions.
Questions like, what would I do if money were no object?
This one really irks me. Of course, money is an object of great importance. I agree with Woody Allen, who says, “Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.”
If I didn’t need money, I guess I’d write essays, screenplays, and novels all the time, draw cartoons, get back into acting and improv and performing, and try to direct movies. I’d do more Aquaponics. I’d travel and see the world, and I’d start with my home country, which I have barely noticed. I would start a farm, be a speaker—do a lot of things.
I wonder how many people feel the exact same way.
I had a tough question asked of me by a guest of the improv class I teach at the local community theater. She sits through my first class with her husband and seems to enjoy it. She’s an attorney, and he’s a doctor, so these are educated folks.
At the end of the class, she comes up to me, and point-blank asks me, “So why improv and why not just do acting for stage or movies?” She adds that she is continually amazed by the acting in the tv shows she sees and how it seems to be more of a real career with financial potential than improv.
How insightful of her.
I proceed to give her a partially correct, but copout answer about how I love the sheer joy of improv and find it even more fascinating than scripted work and more of art vs. craft. This is all true, of course, but I was basically punting. The real answer that I was afraid to say, but thinking loudly, was, “Yeah, well, they ain’t exactly handing out acting jobs in the unemployment line.” At least, nobody was begging me to star in their movie. The last I checked, most actors were unemployed, and this was before the Coronavirus meltdown.
I don’t even know if I was as good as I thought I was. Maybe I was just lucky to be doing it professionally for my little window of time that I had. Perhaps I ought to be grateful and just let it go.
I believe in a higher power. I call it God. I don’t know what you call it, but it’s a heckuva lot better than believing in nothing; an emptiness of random chemical chaos created by nothing and leads to nothing.
If you follow along with popular culture, you may have already been indoctrinated to believe in the religion of anti-theism. I think that means believing that there isn’t a God, and simultaneously that all belief should be eradicated because it is dangerous for the new communist world order.
I pity you because you are subjecting yourself to darkness, sadness, despair, and depression. I realize America is heading in that direction quickly, but I don’t agree with it. I started out as an agnostic, became an atheist, later a Taoist. I tried all that out for a couple of years, and it was generally a malaise of miserable. So, no, thank you. Been there, done that. It’s just too depressing.
Besides, it does absolutely nothing to help me answer my question. The only answer those other philosophies provide is “it doesn’t matter.” That is lame, and it will never do.
I ask myself, “God, what do you want of me?” I want Him to just guide my steps, show me and tell me exactly what to do, deliver signs and wonders, and a two-hundred-and-fifty page self-help book bespoke to my particular nuanced situation. I want the For Dummies guide to my destiny. Or the slightly less successful runner up copycat, Destiny for the Complete Idiot.
I even read a book about deep listening called Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God by Dallas Willard. Great book. I think I get the idea that we have to look for clues.
Maybe God is saying, “Hey, Jesse, get a clue!”
Even though I logically and intellectually get it, I still have no clue emotionally.
“God, will you just tell me what I should do for a living? For… YOUR sake?!
For all my talent, hard work, privilege, and enlightened thinking, I sure did end up unremarkably average.
I was in a massive talent competition in Florida a few years ago. I was competing in several areas of acting, singing, and even some dancing. I was most interested, however, in improv comedy. The big stars of the show got a chance to be on a more significant competition with a major network, the likes of which you can tune in to every week.
I was one of the few people who did well in a vast number of categories but was not the best in any particular one. That’s all that mattered; being first in a class. Being seventeenth, sevenths, or even second place in a talent category got you nothing.
After the performances, we had a chance to wait in a long line with specific casting directors that might have remembered us in the sea of people to get feedback. So I waited in the room for over an hour to see just one of them.
I asked him if he had any feedback or advice. He impatiently said, “Just be a dad,” as if to dismiss me and waive me away to hurry up and usher the next in line. It felt like Ralphie from A Christmas Story when he finally gets up the nerve to tell Santa what he wants for Christmas, and Santa just retorts just like every other adult: “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!”
The casting director had essentially told me I’d shoot my eye out, so I might as well go home.
So I did. I got on an airplane and went back to be a dad to my two kids.
It turns out, I am a normal guy, like lots of others, and ordinary people don’t do well in Hollyweird.
Earnin’ A Paycheck
I tried to go back to corporate America in 2017. I was lured in by the regular paycheck. A part of me craved normalcy or at least the illusion of it. It was a total and complete disaster.
So I left and started another business. This one is a marketing agency. It’s pretty cool some of the time. I’m good at it, and it is profitable and in-demand right now. The problem is that I am not sure if I should be doing it forever, or if it is the only thing I should be doing.
Do other people feel this way? I think so. That’s why I am sharing this with the world. Maybe it will help somebody else who is also thinking about this topic way too much.
I go to work on Monday, like a regular job, to pretend I earn a paycheck. I don’t really because I am the owner. I get paid last. I get paid if there is money left at the end of the bills. I’m not sure why I like that better than a regular job. I must be crazy. I have been told that all entrepreneurs are somewhat insane and that we should be proud of it.
My childhood friend once said I was an “artist-entrepreneur.” That makes me double crazy. Artists aren’t exactly known for their sanity. There was one that cut his own ear off if that’s any indication.
So what I do for a living is several things that produce multiple streams of income. It is working for now. At least, I provide for my family, although it is far from glamorous, and I am not what most would consider wealthy. I live rich, though, which is different.
Most days, I am too busy working to trouble myself with strange existential crisis questions. I don’t ask if I should earn a paycheck, I just do it. Little mouths gotta eat, you know.
Tomorrow I will get up, God willing, and go to work. I will earn a living, and then I will wonder if I should be doing the thing at all, or perhaps something else. And maybe the next day I will do that something else and be happy.