Everyone has a cause they believe in. It could be a charity. It could be a broad concept like education or the environment. It could be World Peace. It could be religion, being environmentally friendly, helping starving artists- you name it. Causes hit our emotional heart strings and compel us to act and to believe, even if just for a few moments, that we can make a difference.
In these days where we are all hyper-connected, I’m often asked to care about other people’s causes. Sometimes I do, and other times, I just don’t. I ‘m having a bit of empathy fatigue. I hate feeling cold-hearted, or that I just want to tell someone who is looking for donations from the public for some epic dream of theirs that maybe they need to choose another dream they can manage on their own. Maybe they need to take smaller steps towards their goal. Maybe they need to do something else and delay the dream.
Everyone wants their dreams to come true, the sooner, the better. But I know I always appreciate what I’ve had to work for much more than what is handed to me. The journey of reaching the “dream” is often far more satisfying, and you learn so much along the way, that the path is the true treasure, not the destination.
The one thing that becomes incredibly valuable as you hit “mid-life” is perspective and experience. I’ve seen friends bloom and become incredibly successful, and I’ve seen friends and family die far sooner than seems fair or just. I’ve seen people get caught for years waiting for that one big break, while others go and make their own opportunities, unwilling to wait for some magic moment to occur, when they will finally be appreciated for their true creative selves. Instead, they take what resources they have and leverage them to make something bigger happen, to use all of their talents and assets to their fullest potential.
Sometimes our dreams just aren’t realistic. For example, at 5’3″, I will never be a star basketball player. I have accepted that a long time ago, and decided early on that slam dunking was not realistic unless I learned to play basketball on drywall stilts. Sure, I’m kidding a bit here, but what I am trying to say is I have to accept the reality of my life, my talents and my assets I have right now, and figure out how to use them to get to where I want to go, not play the “If Only” game.
The honest, ugly truth is that we do better when we use our talents, rather than wishing we had different ones. Now it’s very important to understand the difference between talents and skills (I’ll leave that to Marcus Buckingham and his great books on identifying your individual strengths and turning them into true talents.)
We can always learn new things, but we may not have an knack or interest for everything we like, either. That’s perfectly fine. I love knitting, for example, but I never intend to make a living from it- it’s a pleasure thing for me. Likewise, I love cooking, but I know running a restaurant would drive me insane, because it would take my passion and turn it into a job- and that’s very dangerous territory. It can kill your love of your passions when you need to price them in a competitive marketplace, and what was fun is now work, and not nearly as much fun as it was when it was an interest, not a career.
I wish everyone who wanted to be an artist could find their audience. Sometimes, the audience is not as big as it needs to be to be sustainable. Sometimes you may not be as talented as you thought you were. That can be crushingly disappointing. It can take a long time to find something else that makes your heart sing. But you’ll be much happier finding something you can be good at, consistently- where work and play seem hopelessly intertwined, and where success seems to come almost in spite of any intentions you had to the contrary- than you ever will be struggling against Sisyphean odds, only to get crushed by that boulder a few years from now.
If it seems like a constant struggle, maybe it’s not what you’re best at- maybe you do need to find something else.
I speak from experience. I gave up an opportunity to get a PhD in Biology for Law School. I felt like a big fat failure at the time, and like I had wasted the time of my mentors, and the people that believed in me. Yet on the new path, I was much happier, almost immediately. It was easier, it was a better fit. Looking back, it was the best decision I ever made, despite the disappointment I felt at the time. I thought “hard” was the only metric that counted back then; now I know that finding your niche and finding happiness is really what matters.