Recently, a friend of mine, Brianne Mees — brilliant leader and co-founder of Tender Loving Empire — shared something with me that’s been on my mind ever since. She explained that, in her opinion, the popular saying, “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” is bullshit. It’s a fantasy and a lie that’s misled and confused an entire generation of young people — many of whom are entering the workforce right now. Brianne explained that to truly find, pursue and live one’s passion, there will always be a counterweight of pain and suffering. It’s unavoidable. If you’re able to find your passion, and if you’re able to actually do your passion as your main gig or career, or even as a side hustle, you’d sure as heck better expect there will be some suffering, storms, a LOT of hard work, and some seasons of deep, dark adversity, too.
This counterweight concept Brianne shared has no doubt been true in my own life. And I’ve yet to read a single biography or hear from someone I know who’s successful and “loves what they do” that doesn’t have the ever-present counterweight of suffering as a constant factor in their story. There’s no way around it.
Thinking on more of a meta-level, I wonder if any measure of greatness or success is achievable without the counterweight? I ask this because I’m surprised by how often I encounter people who seem to expect to achieve success or greatness without the counterweight. It’s as if they truly believe that silly saying.
I see it most frequently in 20-somethings navigating the beginnings of their career, who after a year or two in an entry-level role, complain that their work is mundane or unsatisfying, and express frustration when a promotion doesn’t happen as quickly as they want. They either get impatient and jump ship after a year or two… or sometimes they just get increasingly louder, voicing their complaints and frustrations more and more until it breeds negativity and some kind of intervention is needed.
While I truly love the drive and the fire in the belly these types of people exhibit, I’m fascinated by the on-demand, instant gratification mindset and pain-free expectations so many seem to live by. It’s as if some can’t fathom the thought of taking two, three, or more years to learn, develop, and deeply master a role before moving on to something else. There’s a desire and expectation to have it all right now, unwilling to slow down to take the time and walk through the fire and experience some adversity — these are prerequisites to grow and rise to any real level of success and achievement. It’s as if some weren’t anticipating any pain or discomfort along the way. They’re unaware of the counterweight. My colleague at Marmoset, Rachel Schmidt, likes to remind me of this quote: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
— Thomas Edison
The truth of the matter is, there are no shortcuts. There’s no express route or fast lane to achieving great things, whether in a career or a side hustle. And there’s no way to avoid the pain and suffering that happens along the way either — which sometimes means enduring a role for a while that may feel mundane or isn’t very challenging. It’s all connected and part of the journey. This is the nature of life. The uncomfortable part that may be frustrating or painful is often, in hindsight, a necessary chapter in everyone’s story. It may not make sense while you’re in the middle of it… but upon reflection years later, I almost always find that there was something beneficial that needed to be learned, no matter how painful or how dark the experience may have been. That’s my story. And as a leader, I see too many young people start out on their path, and when the journey gets long… when it gets hard and isn’t fun… when pain and suffering occur… they so quickly get bummed-out, frustrated, discouraged and impatient — and don’t have reasonable expectations about what it takes. They haven’t prepared for the counterweight, so they hit the eject button.
Even worse — after you hit the eject button a couple of times, you risk losing the power of resiliency — the most critical power to develop and master in order to achieve what you want to achieve in life.
My friend and peer mentor, Mario Schulzke, recently shared an essay about his passion project. You can read about it here. Most fascinating to me, he reflected upon the ten years he’s been pursuing this particular passion, and he confessed it’s been about 51% fun and about 49% terrible. Whoa.
Mario explained how mundane and hard his passion project has been, and how at times he’s felt completely stuck. Yet he sticks with it and he finds a way to appreciate, and sometimes even love the process. Mario knows the counterweight quite well. A German immigrant raised by a single parent and meager means, he’s been mindful of the counterbalance concept his entire life. In fact, I know Mario is always expecting it — he’s anticipating it and always preparing for it. In Mario’s words, “Giving up is easy. You need time. You need staying power. You need to keep going when things get hard.”
I agree with Mario. And I agree with Brianne, too. “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” …truly is bullshit. Life’s counterweight is real.
How you prepare for it and how you respond to it is what ultimately determines the arc of your story. It defines who you are.
You can check out more essays and experiences in leading creatives at my journal at nurturetheory.com/journal/ Thank you.