Do What You Love
by Susan Ahn
For as long as I can remember, I have been plagued by the following question: “What are you going to be when you grow up?” As a child, my parents made a point of asking me this question several times a month – as did most of the parents in my neighborhood - and at school, numerous writing assignments and “show and tell” exercises were devoted to expounding upon our several, many, or non-existent future aspirations. When we were in grade school, most of the kids wanted to be firefighters, ambulance drivers, flight attendants, and doctors – mostly because we all wanted stethoscopes. In middle school, we had grander but more predictable aspirations which aligned specifically with our talents and interests – to be astronauts, pilots, race car drivers, Olympic athletes, writers, artists, rock stars, dancers, or anyone with the cool factor of Tom Cruise or Madonna. Some of us even considered pursuing several of these career paths at the same time! But by our senior year in high school, reality had set in, and we had resigned ourselves to a wide range of interesting, but practical careers in hairdressing, brain surgery, auto mechanics, divorce law, engineering, restaurant management, real estate, or accounting.
Generations of parents bear witness to this “evolution” in their children’s outlook as they grow up. “Children are naïve,” they say. “They don’t know the ways of the world. Once they come to understand our current economic system, they will understand that it will be up to them to fit themselves into it, and to be active and responsible members of society.” As you must have guessed by now, I’ve always had considerable difficulty with this train of thought. In my opinion, the prevailing assumption that we are all economic units and that it falls to each member of society to make himself or herself “fit” into the current social order defies all common sense. After all, any kind of positive and substantive transformation for the better cannot take place in a society which values conformity over innovation.
Where would the women’s movement be if this were the case? It was, after all, the established order that prevented women from securing their right to vote and to participate as full, political citizens in the government of their communities for so long (and which continues to do so today in several parts of the world). In a society which truly values conformity, it is entirely possible that we would continue to tolerate oppression or segregation based on race or ethnicity, and that we would actively promote the abuse and enslavement of races or nations in an effort to secure economic gain or out of a sheer human desire to dominate or to violate others. In a society that truly values conformity over progress, there would be no progress, and any attempt to challenge the established order would be violently suppressed or silenced, as is currently the case in many other countries around the world.
Although it is inaccurate to say that North American society “values” conformity, it would not be far-fetched to say that our society does more than its fair share to “strongly encourage” conformity. Our society harbors a terrible weakness, that is for sure. We are a complacent and lazy lot that prefers the established order over progress and innovation, because - let’s face it - it’s just plain easier and more convenient to follow in the footsteps of those who have gone ahead of us than to forge our own path through the woods. To live in accordance with an established and pre-ordained set of regulations and customs allows us to take off our “critical thinking” caps, and to throw them up on a coat hook while someone else entertains us with success stories that can only be attributed to the status quo.
Change is a difficult thing for humans to accept, never mind to embrace. The existing educational system in North America, for example, has been widely criticized for failing to address the emotional, academic, and future career needs of our children, but the effort required to initiate change is so enormous that very few people are aggressively championing a radical restructuring of the system. A system, after all, becomes a living, breathing thing as it gains strength with each year of its life, equipped and armed as it is with its own administrators, its own way of doing things, and its own employees, suppliers, and contractors who are dependent upon it for their livelihood. It is no wonder that such a creature would naturally develop its own agenda for survival. Like all human creations, the systems we create are viable, although obviously imperfect and artificial living organisms that are very difficult to dismantle, to redirect, and most importantly, to change. They are, for all intents and purposes, a true reflection of their creators’ weaknesses. Like us, systems stubbornly resist change.
Although we would prefer not to admit it, most of us are a product of a system, a political, social, economic, and educational system that prompted us, at some point during our lives, to choose a career based on what we then believed were our future aspirations. Let’s face it – there are very few 5 or 10 or 15 or 20 year olds who know what they want to do FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES. Some may have an inkling of what they would like to do or are at least committed to giving it a try, while others may be blessed with an absolute, incontrovertible passion or devotion to a particular field of study that manifests itself at an early age. But as a general rule, especially in this technological, post-industrial era, there is little advantage to torturing oneself with the idea that during one’s lifetime, one can only commit to doing ONE thing. After all, in today’s economic reality, very few individuals will remain on the same career path “for their entire lives.” And while many professionals argue that only years and years of dedication and practice can guarantee that individuals will attain the high level of specialization and expertise required to perform certain tasks (which I will not deny), few would take issue with the suggestion that we should consider many diverse pursuits over the course of one’s lifetime, instead of single-mindedly deciding on ONE at the adventurous, but uninformed age of 15 or 20.
Consider the possibilities. What would you do if you weren’t afraid to fulfill your heart’s desire - if you didn’t feel pressure from your parents, your family, your peers, your teachers, and society in general to conform to some pre-established set of expectations? In other words: What would you do if you could do ANYTHING you wanted to do?
In light of the many global challenges that we as a society and as a species will face in the short and medium term, I feel it is imperative that we stop trying to make ourselves fit into a system that has not been made for our benefit, that exists of its own will, and that – by necessity – has its own agenda for survival. We must stop surrendering ourselves to the belief that we are commodities to be bought and sold in the larger labor market and that we must do everything we can to shape ourselves into a cog that someone else will want to buy – a cog that will fit, just perfectly, into that machine we are all working so hard to keep alive.
Instead, we must take the time to ask ourselves the following question: “Am I happy in my work?”
If you are NOT happy in your work, then it is high time you consider finding another way to make a living. You may think that this is not possible, but with all of the technological and creative innovations that are currently taking place on the internet today, many of the excuses that our parents and our grandparents used to justify their choice to “not follow their dreams” are slowly and quietly being stripped away. Whatever your interest or passion, there is someone out there in the physical world creating some website or application that has need of your skills or energy – or that will soon provide you with a platform to exhibit your talents and to celebrate your interests. I am sure that if I had told a crafter ten years ago that she could make a living by selling baby booties on Etsy, she would have laughed me right out the door. And no-one would have taken me seriously I had said that you could make money by selling antiques on E-Bay or by posting short films to YouTube! This is the beginning of the revolution that I would like to talk to you about. And it begins when one individual says: I want to be happy! I want to be free! I want to do the things I love to do everyday!
Those who are in power have convinced us that certain leaders and so-called experts are in control of the world, and that if you follow their rules and their guidelines, that if you mold yourself into something that can fit into their system, you will be part of a global solution that will remedy all evils. Although you may have to mortgage your health, and renounce your freedom and happiness in so doing, you will be part of something larger than yourself, and the so-called “experts” will do everything within their power to ensure that you and your family are well taken care of in the future. The powers-that-be have a plan, and we are part of it!
Suffice it to say that this is plain old malarkey.
The truth is that our political leaders and so-called experts have failed miserably at finding solutions to the world’s problems, and their continued efforts to shout the rest of us down while we try to lend our voices to the fashioning of more constructive solutions - is no longer tolerable. The world can no longer wait for our leaders to come up with solutions to the challenges that will face us in the future, but requires that every person lift his or her voice, and lend his or her support to crafting realistic and effective solutions that take into consideration the needs of individuals, families, and communities around the world. This is not just rhetoric. This is not an excerpt from a political speech. This is the truth.
For those of you who think that you have nothing to contribute to the world, think again. Take a moment to think about what the world would look like if every single person on this planet was doing what he or she loved to do – everyday. Would we call it work then? Would we call it a career or a profession? The very idea of “doing what you love” is such a radical idea that most people laugh at me every time I bring it up. And yet, there are people out there – like myself – who are doing it. We are restructuring our need for material wealth and conventional success in exchange for an opportunity to live the life we want and to be happy and joyful in our work, and we’re not turning back.
For anyone out there who believes that it is time to radically change the way we do things on this planet, I propose that you take a moment to ask yourself the following question: “If you knew that your life would end in the next two years, and that your family and children would be well taken care of after you die, what would you do TODAY? I know that this is one of those questions that many say are impossible to answer, because when taken out of context, they yield only artificial results. Perhaps. But they do offer a glimpse into the human soul.
Here’s MY answer: I would take as much time with my kids and family as they could possibly tolerate. I would travel extensively and see as much of the world as I could fit in during that time. I would build The People Project from whatever location in the world I happen to be in at the moment. And I would love harder than I’ve ever loved before. I would embrace life. I would take care of myself and of my health. I would be kinder. I would be more patient. I would give as much of myself to my family and to this project as I could. And I would be happy everyday.
This is how I know that I am doing what I should be doing right now. Because there is no other place I would rather be RIGHT NOW. There is no other thing I would rather be doing TODAY. There is, in other words nothing in the world that I want or need. I am surrounded by my beautiful family all the time, everyday. I am with them and supported by their love 24 hours a day. There is nothing in my life that I regret. And looking back, if my life were to end today, I could not say that I didn’t live a miraculous, brilliant, joyful, original life.
It is possible to be happy and fulfilled.
This is the purpose of The People Project – to provide a platform for individuals to celebrate all of the things they love and care about, and – eventually – to provide a shared space from which every individual, if they choose, will be able to derive their livelihood from doing the things they love to do. Creating such a vehicle will, I believe, be the first step to building a better and more compassionate world, one in which every individual is valued for his or her contribution to the whole, one in which every individual is engaged in an ongoing and global discussion about the things that matter the most. In this way, every person will have an opportunity to participate in the creation of a better society, in the way that he or she is most comfortable, in a spirit of optimism, friendship, hard work, open-mindedness, and artistic devotion.
Is our vision utopic? You bet.
Welcome to The People Project.