The Myth Of The Bloodless Calling

There’s this lie out there that goes something like this:

To find your calling, identify high value work that is difficult and distasteful for the masses but EASY and FUN for you.

Now clearly, this is an attractive idea. Wouldn’t things be so much simpler if vocational success and fulfillment could be boiled down to the simple formula hard for you + easy for me = bank?

Problem is, it’s dead wrong. And I can tell you first hand you’ll waste precious years and open yourself to massive regret if you follow that advice.

Giving your gift to the world will NOT be “easy” or “fun” for you. Not if you’re doing something uncharted and worthwhile.

Hemingway famously said “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Steven Pressfield wrote an entire book on the Resistance creatives feel, dissecting all the numerous ways doing great work tortures and desolates even the most talented of men.

I wasted years of my life avoiding writing, composing, and other difficult creative work, relegating it to “hobby” status instead of making it my calling because I had fooled myself into thinking if it was truly my calling, my great gift to give… it shouldn’t be so hard.

I shouldn’t have to DRAG myself to the chair to write.

What finally snapped me out of it was an afternoon I spent years ago creating a family budget in Excel.

I realized that day that there was a part of me that truly enjoyed creating spreadsheets. I even had an insane moment of wondering if this might be my “calling.”

But after I was finished the spreadsheet, the enjoyment I had felt while doing the work gave way to a sense of emptiness and dissatisfaction.

I may have enjoyed the DOING part of it, but I sure didn’t enjoy the HAVING DONE part.

It hit me that with writing, the inverse was true: you could say I “hated” the doing part of it and loved the having done part.

When we talk about doing work we enjoy, we confuse the issue by failing to specify WHEN in the work cycle that sense of enjoyment happens.

When you think of work enjoyment in these terms, there are actually four different work modalities:

1. Hate the doing, hate the having done

Examples of this include doing work you loathe for a boss you hate and a mission you don’t believe in. This is hell. If this describes your work life… stop now.

2. Love the doing, love the having done

This is the fantasy, the Hollywood-ized depiction of the creative life.

3. Love the doing, hate the having done

These are the indulgences, the vices, the guilty pleasures. Watching too much TV, eating crap food, filling your day with busy work, creating spreadsheets.

4. Hate the doing, love the having done

This is where the magic happens. It’s the place you go if you want to change the world.

I don’t care how much you say you love your work. If your vision is bold enough, there will soon be a point where your passion is used up before the work ends. Enjoyment does not carry you far enough when you are sailing epic waters.

We’ve been brainwashed into thinking our “perfect calling” is out there waiting for us.

It’s this carrot that keeps us uncommitted and restless, turning over stone after stone, year after year, searching in vain for something we’re never going to find.

So I say screw fun. Screw easy.

Do the hard work.

Do the work you dread.

Do the work that leaves you bloodied and reeling.

Bryan Ward is the founder of Third Way Man and author of the LIT Black Paper

Comments

  1. Bill Lennan says:

    I totally agree about doing the work – with a twist.
    Mary Poppins said “for every job that must be done there is an element of fun, find the fun and snap the job’s a game”.
    Full disclosure – finding the fun can be stupidly hard.
    I’ve managed to use this for things as diverse as exercise, diet changes, career evolution, educating my kids, and getting home chores done.
    It’s also enabled having an amazing divorce.
    This is not for the faint of heart. Like founding a startup, the level of emotional effort is crazy. And like a startup – the potential upside is enormous.
    I wouldn’t trade this practice for anything 🙂

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