There are few things that will eat your soul faster and more ravenously than spending your life doing something you hate for a living. As Maria Popova beautifully illustrates in a brand new feature for Brain Pickings, we have careers for a reason — to give our lives purpose and meaning. Love and play are the two other realms that make up the three dimensions of a truly meaningful life, but our careers are often the most difficult of the three to get in orbit.
In a recent interview with Charlie Rose, billionaire investor Warren Buffett explained how when he was 23-years-old he moved to New York to work for a famous investor. Buffett’s passion was so intense he said he didn’t even know what his salary was until he looked at his first pay cheque. He simply didn’t care — he wanted to be there that passionately. As Popova points out, renowned French-Cuban author Anaïs Nin wrote in her diary in 1941:“There is an ugliness in being paid for work one does not like.” Truer words than this have rarely been spoken, and Popova goes on to highlight some of the most extraordinary insights from various icons of past and present who have made it very clear that our lives are too short and too valuable to fritter away in meaningless work.
Amelia Earhart: “I flew the Atlantic because I wanted to. If that be what they call ‘a woman’s reason,’ make the most of it. It isn’t, I think, a reason to be apologized for by man or woman … Whether you are flying the Atlantic or selling sausages or building a skyscraper or driving a truck, your greatest power comes from the fact that you want tremendously to do that very thing, and do it well.”
Neil Gaiman: “The greatest satisfaction you can obtain from life is your pleasure in producing, in your own individual way, something of value to your fellowmen. That is creative living! When we consider that each of us has only one life to live, isn’t it rather tragic to find men and women, with brains capable of comprehending the stars and the planets, talking about the weather; men and women, with hands capable of creating works of art, using those hands only for routine tasks; men and women, capable of independent thought, using their minds as a bowling-alley for popular ideas; men and women, capable of greatness, wallowing in mediocrity; men and women, capable of self-expression, slowly dying a mental death while they babble the confused monotone of the mob? For you, life can be a succession of glorious adventures. Or it can be a monotonous bore. Take your choice!
Thomas Edison (to a friend who marveled at Edison’s productivity and long 18-hour days): “You do something all day long, don’t you? Everyone does. If you get up at seven o’clock and go to bed at eleven, you have put sixteen good hours, and it is certain that you have been doing something all that time. The only difference is that you do a great many things and I do one. If you took the time in question and applied it in one direction, you would succeed. Success is sure to follow such application. The trouble lies in the fact that people do not have one thing to stick to, letting all else go.”
Maria Popova’s column is, in fact, a feature profile of career counselor William J. Reilly’s 1949 book How To Avoid Work (Amazon). She points out some brilliant insights of Reilly’s, which include: a breakdown of the three most common excuses we use to prevent ourselves from pursuing what we truly want to do; a terrific chapter entitled “If You’re Under 35”; as well as his wise understanding that one of the biggest common denominators of the most rewarding careers involves a powerful grasp of creative thinking and the ability to generate good ideas. You can read it in full by visiting BrainPickings.org.
Maria closes her piece with another amazing column where she profiles LIFE magazine’s must-read 1991 edition entitled The Meaning of Life: Reflections in Words and Pictures on Why We Are Here (Amazon) in which the editors compiled three years’ worth of posing this grand question head-on to 300 “wise men and women,” from celebrated authors, actors, and artists to global spiritual leaders to everyday farmers, barbers, and welfare mothers. You can read it in full by visiting BrainPickings.org.