When I was in Dubai, I met up with my High School friend. He invited me for lunch near his vacation home just a few steps from the JBR Walk, a very upscale neighborhood. Just after we got caught up with the usual life conversation, he began telling me how much he detested his job as an attorney.
"Why?" I asked. "You have to understand my business. My day basically consists of writing nasty letters on behalf of my clients. Then we get nasty letters back. This goes on for weeks until my clients realize how many billable hours they've run up. Then they start getting nasty with me. The whole business," he said with a shake of his head, "is kind of nasty."
So I asked, "Why don't you do something else?" From the look on his face, you would have thought I suggested he stopped breathing. "Do something else?" he said. "You don't understand. I have a BIG mortgage. I have two BIG cars. I have two BIG kids going to college soon. My wife and I take BIG trips. She runs up BIG bills. What else am I gonna do?"
"I don't know," I said. "But it all sounds like a BIG ‘mistake’ to me."
The sad part is my buddy is a bright, talented guy. He's giving up a lot! With his experience and law degree, there are plenty of other things he could do. But he doesn't believe that's realistic. Why? Because, like most of us, he can't tolerate the thought of a temporary loss of status or income. Unfortunately, that's usually the price of admission.
As the psychologist Laurence G. Boldt once wrote, "The life you spend doing what you love is a different life indeed from putting your life out for hire to the highest bidder. The only way you can say it makes no difference is to say life makes no difference."
These words hit me between the eyes when I first read them five years ago. At the time, I was working at my family's eye clinic business. My job paid well, but I had grown increasingly bored with what I was doing. I'd grown tired of having the same repetitive conversations and performing the "good old" eye exams every day.
So I left to be a teacher, instead...
All my family members thought I had lost my mind. "Nobody gets to the point where he has all these assets, and all this income and then just walks away," one of my uncle told me, incredulous. "You're given a running business. If you leave, you're really going to regret it."
But I haven't. Not for one minute. If anything, I wish I'd done it sooner. Hell, I wouldn't even go to Optometry School! Joseph Campbell was right: Follow your bliss.
"If you follow your bliss," he wrote, "you put yourself on a kind of track, which has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living . . . I think the person who takes a job in order to live - that is to say, just for the money - has turned himself into a slave."
That sounds harsh, I know. After all, we all have commitments and responsibilities. But that doesn't mean change isn't possible. It hurts to spend your days doing something that is not really suited to your talents, especially when you know you could be doing far more than you are.
Work you enjoy is invigorating. You're expressing yourself, making an impact. Too many of us approach the job market thinking of nothing more than money, security, and benefits. I'm not saying these things aren't important. They are! None of us would survive long without them.
But for a true sense of fulfillment, there has to be more than just money and security. (Just as there has to be more to retirement than golf and television.) It's tough to feel genuinely satisfied without expressing your abilities, even if your primary talent is raising happy, productive kids.
Some may call me an idealist, a dreamer. Perhaps. But life is not a practice round. This is it!
You can work a job. You can pursue a career. Or you can choose a vocation. The choice is yours!