I meet too many folks whose ambitions are just lifestyle aspirations. Actually, they are daydreams of a lifestyle, which they imagine come with a certain career. Kids aspire to be rockstars or pro athletes, but they don’t daydream about the hard work or the practice, they imagine parties and private planes. Middle aged men dream about being their own boss, with time and money and prestige to spare, not the toil of running a business.
These daydreams are so seductive that many stall out in their efforts to make their ambitions actual. Here’s the subtle trap: because we are attracted to the lifestyle, we begin to adopt some of the trappings of that lifestyle because it feels like we are getting closer to our dreams. We pick the low hanging fruit and gorge on it, ignoring the harder work of climbing the tree, or planting our own tree.
For example, I meet lots of people who want to be writers. Why do they want to be writers? Do they enjoy writing? Maybe a little bit: they dabble in blogging or write an occasional newsletter piece. Some have a novel they’ve been working on for six years, a couple of short stories they’ve started, or a great idea for a nonfiction book. But turning those into finished products and selling them for money is hard work. Deep down inside, their dream is not to write, but to “be a writer.” So instead, they begin to adopt the trappings of what they imagine is a writer’s life: they hang out in coffee shops, or attend literary conferences, or wander through bookstores.
Do you want to be a professional writer? Then write. A lot. Learn how to write what will sell, and do that.
The same is true for any other endeavor; there is no shortcut to simply doing the work. To do that, you have to love the things you want to make, not just the lifestyle you think goes with making them. Stop aspiring to a lifestyle, and start perspiring to create tangible products that you can take to market. As Steve Jobs famously said, “Real geniuses ship product.”
© Greg Smith, 2013