Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will be stationed in the presence of kings; he will not stand before obscure men. – Proverbs 22:29
I’m not the most skilled writer in the world, not even close. I’m not the most prolific, original, or stylish.
But I know one thing for sure — no one can spin words the same way I can.
I have a unique voice. I honed that voice by being diligent and purposeful in my work. Throughout my life, I’ve never been able to put effort into anything except my writing, except things that filled my purpose. In the narrowest of lanes, I’ve found everything.
You can have it, too.
You can be special by being diligent and purposeful. Regardless of the field or path you’re in, simply being dedicated to something with passion will make you stick out like a sore thumb. You’ll “become so good they can’t ignore you.”
I never set out to become a “great writer,” at least not at first. But, after a certain point, I took myself seriously as well as my craft.
Then a strange thing happened. Opportunities started to come to me.
It’s weird. We all want the fame, the money, the status. We crave all of this, but then we often don’t want to do the work. But then those who not only do the work, but genuinely want to do it, attract good things into their life.
As a writer, I just ask questions, explore topics, and give suggestions. I, like many others before me, am curious about the meaning of life.
In my experience, the answer seems to be this:
You’re meant to be useful, diligent, and purposeful.
You don’t have to be Steve Jobs. You don’t have to be an entrepreneur at all. Your work doesn’t have to fill you with bliss every single day. You don’t need to find your ultimate passion.
But it’s hard to live a good life if you don’t find fulfillment in your work. It’s a third of your life, after all.
We all live with a void, a half-broken heart, wandering around this planet wondering why the hell we’re here.
Few things can fill this void completely, maybe nothing can, but diligent and purposeful work comes pretty damn close.
It’s above and beyond friends and family. Most of us have that. And that comes with its own unique set of downsides, much of them out of your control.
Working on something you care about gives you that aura and look in your eye most people don’t have. You walk a little faster, stand up straighter, people feel you.
It doesn’t matter what you’re working on, how much money it makes, or what anyone else thinks of it. It matters that you wake up in the morning and give a shit about what goes on from the time you wake up til the time you go to sleep.
It’s important. Deeply important. And I harp on it because I clearly see the negative impact of a lack of meaning in our lives, as have many others:
“At the age of 25 most people were finished. A whole god-damned nation of assholes driving automobiles, eating, having babies, doing everything in the worst way possible, like voting for the presidential candidate who reminded them most of themselves.” – Charles Bukowski
For whatever reason, I was able to see this at a very young age. It’s why my teachers’ words when in one ear and out the other, “You’re wasting your potential. You could have a great career like me.” Ok.
Even when I was dead broke and depressed, I could still see a glimmer of light in a future of purpose. I knew that was it. Even when I didn’t know I’d be a writer, I knew. You know what ‘that thing’ is too. You know you know. But you’re scared.
It’s the proverbial tough nut worth cracking.
It doesn’t solve everything, but boy does it topple a bunch of dominoes. Your cup begins to runneth over, too. This type of work also fills the other areas of your life you care about, superficial as they may be. The need to stand out and feel important. Status.
And it’s a different type of status. An empty suit in a BMW impresses no one. No, we love the free, valuable, and rare individual. You can achieve all three buckets with meaningful work.
“Socrates demonstrated long ago, that the truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery. While those who will not govern themselves are condemned to find masters to govern over them.” – Steven Pressfield
Freedom doesn’t necessarily mean you work for yourself. It means you have options.
Freedom means you’re so good at something that you never have to worry about your prospects.
This could be the entrepreneur, but it’s also the top engineer at a Silicon Valley company. If they were to lose their job, they’d have ten offers the next week.
It’s top-tier freelancer with such a good reputation that they have too much work to deal with, not too little.
It’s the writer with a voice, an audience, a platform, and art people want.
Or it’s the leader of a tribe, be it on the world wide web or local community, with 1,000 true fans who’d follow them anywhere they go.
Freedom means doing what you want to do, day in and day out.
Most people do what they have to do to survive, which there’s no shame in whatsoever. They have to do this because, in terms meant not to judge but to be accurate, they’re common commodities.
Are you free? Only you know the answer to that.
Are you rare or common?
You can’t be both common and free, which leads to my next point.
“Specific knowledge can’t be taught, but can be learned. Knowledge that gets you paid. Identify your strengths and apply them to what you care about. Iterate at the edge of knowledge. Building it will feel like play to you, but look like work to others.” – Naval Ravikant
I keep harping on the fact that I’m not special, but rare.
I’m not inherently better than anyone else. I’m not more worthy than you.
So when I say I’m rare, what do I mean?
I’m rare because I only work on stuff I’m good at, double-down on it, and persist in doing so for long periods of time. Because I like it.
Contrast this with most people.
They don’t necessarily follow their strengths or do work they enjoy (mind you, not “love,” just enjoy above a level of tolerance). They follow carrots and avoid sticks.
I’m sure that if I forced myself, I could do something like become a lawyer. Maybe I’d be good at it. I could make a lot of money and have societal status. But I’d never be free, or rare. And it has nothing to do with the profession itself.
You can be a free and rare lawyer, if being a lawyer fits your strengths and you genuinely enjoy doing it. I think Johnny Cochran really loved the game of litigation. You look at people like the founders of the Innocence Project who use their legal skills to free the wrongfully convicted and notice the freedom and rarity of what they do.
Even if I buckled down hard, I’d always lose to the lawyer who loved litigating. For her, as weird as it sounds, the hours digging through obscure foot-tall law books would be a playful experience — a sort of investigative joy. For me, it’d be labor.
This is why people burn out. People who enjoy what they do rarely get burnt out because they’re not “working.”
Counterintuitively, the bar for being rare is very low, trait wise. But following through is extremely difficult. Why?
Logically, it doesn’t seem that hard to find your passion and follow it through:
Sure, it takes time, but it’s fun.
Sure, it’s nerve-wracking, but it’s worthwhile.
So, what then?
Here’s my hypothesis:
I don’t think it’s your fault at all. There’s just so much bullshit and friction in the world. Noise. Pointless white noise. You’re fighting uphill through petty annoyance and trivialities, constantly, every day. How can you have anything left in the tank when your day to day drains you?
You have the talking heads on the news babbling about this or that, commercials making you feel bad about yourself, the politics and monotony of your job. As you get older, something new aches every day. Your brakes go out after you have a little money saved. Kids, god bless them, are soul-draining angels. Shit.
The best answer I can give, is that carving out a path of purpose is worthwhile, through all the shit and mud you have to climb through, because it’s one of the few things that give you a fortress to run to in this chaotic world.
With all my neuroses, I feel pure flow when I write. Everything fades to background. I’m sure this is what the athlete feels like, the crowd is white noise. The surgeon feels this. So does the Librarian who genuinely loves literature and organization — a literal silent fortress she works in. There are so many forms of this. Find yours, and you get your peace. You get to build.
It doesn’t matter what the job is. You could be the owner of a daycare with a mile-long waiting list because you’re the best in the city. The best law-care company in Wichita Kansas. The owner of a pop-up pottery studio that does private parties. The accountant the richest in the world run to to shuffle the numbers.
The bottom line: you have a rep.
Deep down, we all want that celebrity feeling, whether it be world-wide or a 30 mile radius around your home. You want to be recognized for your competence. It just feels good to get good at something. That’s what passion really is.
You can get there, too. You just have to start.
I just started a Youtube channel:
It’s another area I think is in my wheelhouse, but I haven’t given a full shot yet. Why am I doing it? I’m doing it because I love to write, but I have a modicum of success now. I want to go back to the mountain and climb again.
Not for the money, status, fame, none of that. But because climbing for climbing sake is fun, and gets you all the aforementioned as a bi-product anyway.
I’ll try to become rare and valuable in this sphere, too.
Not by having the best video production.
Not by picking the hottest and trendiest topics.
But by working diligently, playfully, and purposefully to make the videos only I can make.
Your life is a miracle event by statistical odds and you have impossible to copy strands of DNA.