It’s a good thing my son puked this morning. It got all over my lap, the couch, his legs — I only barely got the plate out of the way. Curried chicken salad. As I grabbed him and hauled him to the shower, my wife called the school so they knew he’d be a little late. As I grabbed the Simple Solution and sprayed the couch down, my wife turned to me with a smile and said, “Guess what? Today was Late Start anyway. We’ve got nothing to worry about.”
If it weren’t for that puke, we would have driven him to school and no one would have been ready for him. The vomit might have been inconvenient — and gross — but we’re old hands at puke by now, and it was well worth it to not have wasted the time driving to school, and back, and back again.
And it connected, in my mind, with an epiphany I had a few days ago. But explaining that epiphany is going to take a little more storytime.
A few years ago, in our ongoing quest to solve the riddle of our ongoing poverty, my wife and I got this book called “The Millionaire Mind” by a gentleman named T. Harv Ecker. Among other things, T. Harv said that the reason most people have trouble with money is that they have stupid thoughts about money that they acquired in childhood and never paused to reconsider.
That’s definitely true of me. I’m a firm believer, because I watched my mother work herself to the bone in order to pay for everything, in the primacy of family, community, and love over money. I firmly believe that money can’t buy happiness, and that the classic ’90s movie villain (the Corporate Scumbag) is a very real thing. The thing is, I read Ecker’s book, and I realized that money wasn’t important enough to me to make me give up those thoughts.
Fast forward to last weekend. I was depressed — in a minor slump, because my house is a mess and the clients that I had lined up all had tasks that I wasn’t looking forward to. There are quite a few of my clients that I love to write for — they ask me to write about things I love, like kung fu, and search engine optimization tactics, and new gadgets like the Kindle Paperlight. These were not those. These were long, fairly mundane articles about plastic surgery, and dumpster rental, and corporate event venues. My wife was unhappy because I was unhappy, and she told me that I wasn’t in control of my emotions, and I wasn’t in control of my momentum, and there was no way I could be in control of my future if I wasn’t able to get a grip on the simple act of working.
And for some reason, that idea — the idea of not being in control of what was going on in my own head — bounced into the idea from T. Harv Ecker of being enslaved to your beliefs. Before I could finish the thought, however, my wife asked me what I thought about success — what it meant, how I could accomplish it. And I immediately replied, “Yeah. I want to teach my son, and give him the tools he needs to be successful.”
She looked at me and said, “Why him? Why not you?”
I didn’t have a good answer for that. I’m like, some years old already. I missed my chance, didn’t I? I didn’t need to say that out loud to know how stupid it was — but it really was a thought that was in my head. I had, in my own head, without my conscious realization, the thought that I’d somehow used up my chance to be awesome — that it had passed me by, and…
First Stupid Belief That Leads to Failure: Opportunity Only Knocks Once
Wow. Whoever made up that statement and taught it to the people around him was a shitty person. I’ve decided that every time I catch myself thinking that, I’m going to replace it. Because the truth is that Opportunity lurks within every obstacle. If you run into a problem, it’s never JUST a problem — every problem represents an opportunity if you understand it well enough to flip it on its side…just like my son’s morning barf opened up a whole extra forty-five minutes worth of time to watch Phineas and Ferb. It’s rarely that obvious and easy, but it can be. And we all know how common problems are — if opportunity only knocked once, life would be a hell of a lot easier, because there would be significantly fewer obstacles in our paths.
So my wife tells me, because she’s the wisest person in the world (and yes, I’m looking at you, Dalai Lama) that if I really want to change the way I’m thinking, I can’t just think in my own head. Thoughts are too easy to set aside and forget about. I have to talk to myself — or, more accurately, because I’m a writer by trade, I have to write to myself.
After a moment’s consideration and a flashback to a wonderful essay my friend Nicholas Anderson once wrote about feminism in post-apocalyptic Burma (love ‘ya, Nik!), I sat down and wrote out a four-page conversation with myself in the Socratic format: Q&A.
Along the way, this came out:
Work doesn’t make people happy.
Bullshit. YOUR work doesn’t make YOU happy, but that’s because you let yourself do work that you think sucks. Do work that makes you happy, and your work will make you happy.
I don’t know how to do that.
Pick work that makes you feel like you’re accomplishing something of value — something that you can be proud of.
I don’t know how to feel proud of my work.
Bullshit. You’re proud of the work you put into being a father. You’re proud of the work that you put into making your wife feel supported and stable and loved. You’re proud of the effort that you put into things like your epic Dungeons of Dremor mod and your 153-page file of Dungeons and Dragons stuff. You’re proud of your son, your mom, your other mom, your wife, and your fiction. Why can’t you be proud of your work?
And the next line stunned me…
Second Stupid Belief That Leads to Failure: Work is that which a body is obliged to do. Fun is that which a body is not obliged to do.
I can’t even tell you how deeply ingrained in my psyche this concept is. It was uttered by Mark Twain, one of my personal heroes. Man was a literary and comic genius, but holy bleepity bleep bleep, did he get this one epically wrong. Because the moment you define work as “anything you are forced by outside circumstances to do,” it basically becomes “fate slavery.” There is literally no way that you can look on work as a positive thing when you predefine it as “that shit I have to do.”
But thanks to the insight from T. Harv Ecker, I realized that this was just a belief I had, not a law of nature. It was a belief I’ve held since middle school, and it’s played a crucial role in how I perceive the very act of choosing to work (as a ‘sacrifice’ that has to be made to ‘earn’ the time you get to spend not working.)
My holy hell, what a destructive idea. So I chose to redefine work — to give up Twain’s crap and choose a new definition of work for myself that better fits the actualities of the world. Work is your way of showing the world that you are worthy of their time, attention, and money.
That’s all. If you do something — anything — that shows off your unique skill set and creates, that’s your work. It doesn’t have to be for money (though it helps). It just has to be something that other people can’t do as well as you can, and it has to be something that’s intended to make other people’s lives better somehow.
No one starts their life thinking “I’m going to grow up and be an insurance coder for a major medical facility!” That’s not a dream that anyone has. People do stuff like that because they don’t spend time developing a skill that they love, that benefits other people. And when they land in those roles, they either wash out, or they get good enough at it that they become valuable because of the skill they’ve learned.
I didn’t intend to become a professional SEO content writer, small business blogger, and website copy producer. I fell into this job because what I really wanted to do is write, and everyone has always told me…
Third Stupid Belief That Leads to Failure: Artists are Starving; the chances of making it creating art — be it paintings, fiction stories, carvings, or macramé owls (looking at you, Caroline) — is almost zero.
The truth is that ‘making it’ is a very strange beast. I’ve always defined ‘making it’ as ‘generating enough income that I wouldn’t have to work.’ But if you define work as “that which a body is obliged to do,” there’s no such thing as ‘not having to work,’ because the moment that you do anything to pay your bills, you become obliged to keep doing it. And if you define work as “that which you do to show the world that you have value,” well, why would you ever have the goal of not working in the first place?
So worrying about ‘making it’ or not is stupid and lame and destructive and stupid. Instead, I’m going to choose to replace that belief with the notion that a life lived for art is never a life wasted. (looking at you, Macklemore.)
As such, starting today, I’m starting a second blog. A blog that I’m going to post in whenever I can — at least once a week — and I’m going to write a story, one entry at a time. I’ll link it up on the home page here and in my next post. My goal is simple and finite (looking at you, Elle Woods): Every day, clean one thing you didn’t use*, make $5 you didn’t expect to make, and add one thing to the world that shows everyone your true passion and your deepest skill set.
(*And everything you did, natch.)
If I can do that, every day for just one year, I will be a success, and no one will be able to tell me otherwise.