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You Can't Do What You Want By Doing Something Else

10 replies on 1 page. Most recent reply: Jan 29, 2010 7:17 PM by Prabhat Kiran

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Bruce Eckel

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You Can't Do What You Want By Doing Something Else (View in Weblogs)
Posted: Oct 3, 2009 12:51 PM
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I'm reading Po Bronson's "What Should I Do With My Life?" which is brilliant on many levels. For one thing, it's the anti-self-help book; it's just stories from talking to people, and by no means is everyone successful.

And it's dense, by which I mean not fluffy but packed with insight. He spent years researching and developing this book, and his own struggle is woven into it. Indeed, it's not about formulas and answers, but about the struggle itself.

One observation set me back. There are lots of people who wanted to do one thing but then got "practical" and did something else "first." The idea was that they'd be successful and sock away money doing the practical thing, and after that they could go back to the thing they loved. Bronson was sure that, among the hundreds of people that he interviewed, someone would actually have been successful with this strategy. It sounds so reasonable, after all.

But he encountered exactly zero people who pulled it off. Everyone who tried got sucked into the "practical" career and were never able to extract themselves from it. Too comfortable, too many expectations from friends and family, too easy just to keep doing what you're doing.

Although we admire when someone can do something unique and creative, society is set up to resist such attempts. Your parents, with all the love and best intentions, will urge you to do something that "makes a good living." Your friends and coworkers resist behaviors that might take you away from them, and will tell you stories of how this or that person tried and failed. And hardest of all, when you are ready to make your leap of faith, the temptations appear; the tremendous opportunities that for some reason only come out of the woodwork when you are ready to walk out the door.

There's a quote that appears again and again in various forms: "close one door, another opens." It seems like magical thinking until you see it happen. And it only happens when you don't leave the door partially open, but instead firmly close it. For some reason, being certain that you're ready to move on does cause some kind of magic to happen, and I don't know why.

This doesn't mean it will be easy. But your struggles will be towards happiness rather than trying to avoid some litany of unpleasant things as most people do -- and most people (over 80% in this country, it appears) are unhappy in their careers. And knowing that you are moving towards something that you love (even if you don't yet know what it is) seems more likely to make you happy than just marking time in a job, waiting for something to happen so you can start doing what you really want.

Dawn McDonald

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Registered: Oct, 2009

Re: You Can't Do What You Want By Doing Something Else Posted: Oct 4, 2009 9:40 AM
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I did it! I extracted myself from 'practical'!! Very few thought I made a sane decision and a Supreme Court Judge serving my divorce told me I was being "selfish and irresponsible (as a mother) to be going back to school at this stage in my life" -- exact quote -- but I did it!! My life is much better now, money is no longer an issue and above all else, I am happier than I have ever been and much better equipped to comfortably raise my children! So :P to my society who resisted!

And sooooo true, when I enrolled in school to change my career, my employer finally, after 5 years, offered me the job I wanted. Too little, too late! And the people I left behind are still miserable.

Paul Grunwald

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Re: You Can't Do What You Want By Doing Something Else Posted: Oct 4, 2009 2:03 PM
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I was ready to buy this book based on your recommendation but after reading some the amazon reviews, I'm not so sure.

Can you talk a little more about the book and what you are finding interesting and useful in the stories?


Daniel Will-Harris

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Re: You Can't Do What You Want By Doing Something Else Posted: Oct 4, 2009 3:49 PM
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People can and do spend more of their energy avoiding what they don't want, rather than visualizing the things they do want.

I've done it--and it seems that everyone's done it--even animals do it.

Pema Chodron's book "The Wisdom of No Escape" starts with this great thought:

"There's a common misunderstanding among all the human beings who have ever been born on the earth that the best way to live is to try to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable. You can see this even in insects and animals and birds. All of us are the same.

A much more interesting, kind, adventurous, and joyful approach to life is to begin to develop our curiosity, not caring whether the object of our inquisitiveness is bitter or sweet. To lead a life that goes beyond pettiness and prejudice and always wanting to make sure that everything turns out on our own terms, to lead a more passionate, full, and delightful life than that, we must realize that we can endure a lot of pain and pleasure for the sake of finding out who we are and what this world is, how we tick and how our world ticks, how the whole thing just is."

Todor Boev

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Re: You Can't Do What You Want By Doing Something Else Posted: Oct 5, 2009 6:08 AM
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What does this mean for passionate coders (this is a programmers site after all)? Do not stand a job where you are forced to crawl when you want to fly? :)

Kanwarjit Saluja

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Re: You Can't Do What You Want By Doing Something Else Posted: Oct 6, 2009 4:18 AM
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I WANTED to have a great job; I WANTED to earn a lot of money, I WANTED to have a huge house in an up-market area and, I WANTED to have an understanding, loving and pretty wife.

If I got all this, wouldn’t life be perfect?

I wanted and wanted and wanted, but I COULDN’T, for reality of life was not about WANTING, but about balancing your WANT with your other priorities and responsibilities.

1. I WANTED to find a good job, which allowed me to carry home a huge salary, but compulsions and pressure forced me into a profession for which I lacked qualification. So, I had to make-do with whatever came my way. I didn’t excel in my career, but did I actually fail?

For, if God prompted me to buy property, which multiplied manifold, it was not my intent or my WANT, but my destiny. If I am staying in a large dream apartment, in a well known locality and have my very own office, it wasn’t even in my dreams, forget about wanting. If it has happened, it is the twist of destiny and not my WANT. I must add though, when the opportunity arose, so did my want.

I lost my job in an MNC, due to internal politics . With the PF amount, I bought an office space, which multiplied six times in value, over the last nine years. Had I not left the company, I would have never thought or bought this place. While in the company, I would have never been able to spare that amount.

So, if God maneuvered events to benefit me, reality took me beyond my want.

2. Then again, had I been working, I would have been driving a Maruti 800 cc or some low-end vehicle, given to me by my office. I would have never owned my own high-end car, which I do now.

3. In marriage, I WANTED a beautiful wife, but finally ended up giving preference to education over beauty. I thought an educated wife would bear me intelligent children. This was to overcome my own mediocre student-hood.

Here again, WANT had been overcome by other priorities. Today, after 30 years, I can say, I didn’t have an ideal married life, but we are still together. I compromised on my choice of a life partner and lost out of many of the dreams I wished to live, but it paid dividends in other respects.

Now, that my goal is fulfilled, would I marry again to live my dream? In no uncertain terms, let me say – NO. Compromises, at times, are worth it.

4. I never earned enough in my job to BELIEVE I could send my elder son overseas for his studies. But today, if both my sons are in the US, one having completed his Masters and well settled, and the other doing his MBA, it was far beyond an ordinary man’s WANT, but it happened.

Had I thought about it earlier, I may have WANTED it, but it would have been considered as a foolish man’s absurd demand. But now, when it has happened, how do I define it or how can I take credit for it?

Life is not always about what one WANTS, for want is ‘an effort’ to live one’s dream. At times it gets fulfilled and at other times it remains unfulfilled. So, I wonder whether WANT is the ultimate tool towards meeting one’s goal or happiness.

By no means can I claim to have led an ideal life, but, would you call me a failure? I may not have lived my ultimate dream, but in the end, I am satisfied.

Angsuman Chakraborty

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Re: You Can't Do What You Want By Doing Something Else Posted: Oct 6, 2009 10:56 PM
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I disagree. I wanted to do software product development in my own startup. I also wanted to self-fund it. To self-fund it I needed to do some outsourcing work initially, which I did for few years. Now we are focused on product development and successfully released software products and services and are working on more.
Being practical first also works out, it takes more effort and grit to do it this way.

-- Angsuman

devid dukovni

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Registered: Oct, 2009

Re: You Can't Do What You Want By Doing Something Else Posted: Oct 13, 2009 10:31 AM
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i doubt someone would seriously give this advice if its going to affect them negatively. for example, if the only way your husband or wife is going to be happy is to leave you and pursue a career, will you still give advice like this? i doubt that. its going to be great for the other person, but not for you.

this is why family and friends discourage you from doing something crazy (even if it meant your happiness). if you fail, they will share a burden of your failure (like borrowing money, embarassment, etc).

if you are all alone and have no responsibilities and no one will be negatively affected, do whatever you want. go crazy. however, if doing something will seriously impact other people in a not so positive way, think hard about doing it.

Abhishek Gupta

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Registered: Nov, 2009

Re: You Can't Do What You Want By Doing Something Else Posted: Nov 10, 2009 12:02 AM
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Fear keeps one from doing that which one wants to do. This applies not only to big life changes but also to minor procrastinations such as watching TV when one should really be working on that presentation or code snippet.

Submission to fear is the end of creativity, death of achievement, and a severe challenge to growth of any potentiality or talent.

What stands between who we are and what we tell ourselves we would like to be is a self that walks the daily life unaware of the reasons for why it does what it does, remaining a prisoner and victim to its own conditioning.

Gary Ledin

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Registered: Jan, 2010

Re: You Can't Do What You Want By Doing Something Else Posted: Jan 28, 2010 9:33 AM
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I agree with the premise...but only as a second step in an iterative process.

The first hurdle is finding out WHAT you want do at that point in your life.

Our society is so quick to want to label us into a career and the tangible advantages of being "successful" are hard to resist.

With my two oldest children I have encouraged them to take a "bridge" year between High School and any further job training. During their year off they took advantage of the Rotary's program for people to live for a year in another country; Taiwan and South Korea in our case.

Now I feel they have enough knowledge to make the first pass through the journey of discovering what you want to do and then plan on how to get there.

Prabhat Kiran

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Nickname: pk137
Registered: Jan, 2010

Re: You Can't Do What You Want By Doing Something Else Posted: Jan 29, 2010 7:17 PM
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I do tend to believe in the main hypothesis. I quit a good-enough job to pursue my Masters because I wanted to do something "really technical" and "challenging". This meant putting on hold a few social functions in life.

I'm a good example of having tried this hypothesis, because it didn't really bring me my "imagined" happiness. But that's more because of me rather than the move itself. Our imagination of future and our own realities may differ. But I'm happier today that I tried & struggled, rather than just stayed ruing: "what if I had made the leap".

I think it's more about keep trying to find your way through life, inching towards what you "think" interests you most, and see for yourself if it works out. No point being in a secret suffering of dissatisfaction forever. Yes, it's hard, and it keeps getting harder, but that's what probably life is for - "to live (or keep trying to)"!

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