What Do You Want?

One of the biggest problems in life is figuring out what you really want. We are big complicated creatures with an endless stream of immediate desires and needs, and we have to learn from the first day we try to run through the house naked when the neighbors are visiting that we cannot just do everything that we want when we want it. After that, it's a balancing act of determining which impulses will cause us problems if we ignore them and which impulses will just disappear with the appropriate amount if time or distance.

One of the big questions early on in life is "What do you want to be when you grow up?" This question is so big that people are still asking themselves this question when they are about to retire. And, once you hit a certain stage of life, the immediate icebreaker question in any conversation with a new person is, "What do you do for work?" The effect of the question means that your job becomes your identity. Thus, all of that pressure from not knowing what you want to be when you grow up intensifies, and the importance of tying what you get paid to do into a worthwhile pursuit becomes very high on the list of wants and needs.

My first couple of jobs out of college were making video games. For the geeky, and especially the male set, making video games seems like an ideal job. You get to make the things that you've devoted much of your life to playing, you get to make people happy, and you are generally awesome.

If you know people in the video game industry, though, you'll find that the reality is often very different. If you work for a big game company, especially the biggest game company, you will find that deadline pressures cause you to work a tremendous number of hours, which often you will be happy to do for a while because you want to make a great game. That pace is unsustainable for most people though, and when you or most everyone you know is laid off when the deadlines are done, you find that sometimes tying your dream to your work isn't the best way to accomplish your dreams.

This is not to say that you can't have a happy career doing what you love, and it's not even saying that you can't have a happy career in video games. Both of those things are possible. What it's saying is that you don't have to tie your identity to your job, and you don't have to sacrifice everything else in order to work in something you love.

If you want to do something awesome, figure out what it is that you really want from doing that awesome thing. Singer/songwriter Marian Call recently mentioned that, with merchandise sales, accounting, promotion, production, touring, and similar activities being necessary for the independent musician, that she would get more time making music if she had a regular job and made music on the side. Which isn't to say she isn't pleased to be a full-time independent musician. It is to say that, if all she wanted was to make and record music, she is not going about it in the most efficient manner.

So, when you're thinking about doing your awesome thing, think hard about what you really want from it. Do you have a world inside your head with compelling characters who won't stop talking to you until you share their stories with others? Then write the book, but don't necessarily try to become a full-time author. Full-time authors are the exception more than the norm, and you will likely be surprised when you learn which authors have other, non-writing jobs.

Similarly, if you love performing in front of people but don't have any love for the creation of music, there are plenty of opportunities in any area to perform in theater, coffee shops, or karaoke. Or if you hate performing but just like living in a bus and eating diner food, instead of becoming a touring musician or stand-up comedian, consider becoming a long-distance trucker.

There are lots of ways to become what you want, if you can take the first, hardest step of figuring out what it is that you really want. Once you have a handle on that, you can work towards fulfilling your desires.