The “Pursuit of Happiness” Versus “A Day Job, Plus A Calling”
I would like you to prepare yourself for a thought experiment.
That experiment will hopefully enable you to make an informed decision between two very different lifestyles.
The experiment consists of comparing two different styles of wilfully designing a life.
The first lifestyle: the pursuit of happiness in making a living.
The second lifestyle: a more or less balanced environment in which you have a sufficiently remunerated work day, plus a calling that you diligently pursue during evening times and on the weekend.
That German Street Musician With 30+ Years Experience
This is where I am coming from.
I have seen many failures in life, and the most tragic ones were people who tried to derive income from what they love to do: playing music. You can see these people literally at every corner in the inner cities, playing music for those people that pass by. Some seem to do this for decades.
I recently visited Munich again, and when I had a walk around the block before I went to sleep I saw this known face.
He was already a street musician when I went to university in Munich, back in 1986. I have hired him for an event of my students’ fraternity, this is why I remember him. We had a long talk back then and I admired him for his courageous lifestyle. Our lives took very different paths since then.
And he was still a street musician when I went to Munich again, in 2019, which was 33 years later. His jokes were different, though, and his face had a worn-out look. He has probably given more than 200,000 little gigs since then: the result of 33 years * 365 days * 20 gigs/day.
I did not dare to ask him whether he is happy when I saw him again this year. I will do so next time when I see him again.
About Finding Happiness
Part 1 of my thought experiment for you is this: test the message of this article for you.
It has been written by Harrison Barnes whose articles are regularly published on my website here. I agree with almost everything that Harrison promotes in his articles.
You will find a part of Harrison´s life story in his article:
When I was 26, I started practicing law. I hated it but I tried my very hardest at it. For some reason, I felt I needed to be an attorney. Despite having an incredibly successful business that I loved doing, I made the decision to go to law school. Once there, I could not believe my misfortune. I was very much unlike the kids who chose to enroll in law school.
When I started working in a law office, looking out the window from ten floors up was upsetting for me. I would see various businesses down on the ground and get excited about how these businesses could be improved. I would go to the bookstore for some days during lunch and buy business books. I would even be excited if the manager came up to me in a restaurant to ask me how my meal was so I could talk to him about the business the restaurant was doing.
Clearly, I was doing the wrong sort of job sitting inside a law office.
In my job, I watched some very gifted attorneys who seemed to really love what they were doing. These attorneys were not interested in business, and instead, seemed to just love the sort of work attorneys do. They would become visibly animated and excited about the prospect of going to court or giving a client legal advice. These people were in the right profession. This is exactly how it should be. You need to do what you enjoy and what comes naturally to you. We owe ourselves this.
Harrison consequently quit being a lawyer and he became a very successful entrepreneur.
When doing so, he saw that suddenly some of his employees also wanted to be an entrepreneur. But they were not successful entrepreneurs at all.
Something I have noticed through the course of being an entrepreneur is that numerous people I have hired in the past decide that they want to be just like me. Instead of doing what they were hired to do (because they were gifted at this and had a history of doing this), they decided that it is better to be an entrepreneur.
Perhaps they feel being an entrepreneur is sexier, perhaps they believe that being an entrepreneur is a better way to make a living.
Everyone has their own rationale; however, what I do know is that I have seen numerous people quit whatever company of mine they are working for and set up competing companies. Their thought seems to be that it is better to do what I do than what they are trained to do and understand and love to do.
Sometimes, this is the correct decision for people—but most times, it is not. Being a manager, or an entrepreneur, is a completely different job and it may not be what you are good at.
That made him think.
Something I have never understood is how people can be happy and successful and then end up sabotaging their success by believing another type of job is better than their own. I have seen people do this more times than I can count. Someone is happy doing a job and is good at their job and then, all of a sudden, decides they need to be something different in order to be happy.
Most people who put themselves on a path that does not match their skills become extremely unhappy. If you are doing something that does not make you happy and does not make use of your natural gifts, then the odds are very good you will be unhappy doing this.
Your career is a spiritual practice. What you do for a living is about taking something invisible and making it visible—and this is something that I believe is “spiritual” in nature. When you are doing something you truly love and that gives you pleasure, you are drawing on something deep within you that excites you.
This is where the problem starts: linking a job with happiness.
According to my own experience, happiness is short-lived. One harsh blow from reality and happiness is gone. And that is what happens when you have a job, whether it is your favorite job or any other job.
Science tells us that people are built to experience a very wide range of motivational and emotional states. The Bible (in Ecc 3, 1-8) confirms that by saying that there is a time for everything:
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
So, a healthy personality has a very wide range of aspects which cannot be boiled down to a single dimension, say happiness versus unhappiness – life is not that simple.
I only discovered this late in my life: life is complex and tragic and difficult, and the problem with everybody putting happiness as the ideal state is what made my own suffering worst when I was young. Young people feel that if they are suffering and not happy, this means that there is something wrong with them. And that makes it impossible for young people to speak about why they are not happy.
We simply cannot constantly be in a state of happiness. And in a sideline only, what I find is that if I am not happy I often create works of profound substance. Many great artists did their most outstanding works in a state of unhappiness.
At this point, Harrison gets carried away in his article:
The problem with many people is that they think of their jobs as work. They believe it is important to be very professional and serious, for example, or that work should not be fun. When you think like this, work becomes unfulfilling and dull. In contrast, when you are doing something you love and that makes use of your natural talents, you are likely to be far more fulfilled.
On a side note only, “fulfillment” is already a much better term than “happiness”. Fulfillment is what we have sometimes when we are in our “zone”.
Everyone has various gifts and skills.
Some people are born to be good managers.
Other people are born to be entrepreneurs.
Other people are born with a certain talent that could be sales, or music, or athletics, or law.
The biggest mistakes happen in our careers when we want to be something that does not match our natural gifts and skills. We believe we need to change and be something different. We grow unhappy with who we are and decide that we need to change. This sort of thing is always occurring and there are an incredible number of people out there who seem to believe they need to be something different than they currently are.
Insofar I agree with Harrison.
Whatever your skill is, you need to embrace your gift and not try to be something you are not. Rejecting what you are good at leads to unhappiness. For example, if you do a job just to make money, you are likely to be extremely unhappy. You may have “success,” but you will not be fulfilled doing the work. Success without fulfillment is a failure. What you get never makes you happy in the long term—who you become makes you happy (or, if you make the wrong decisions about who to become, sad).
Harrison again gets carried away. I had successes without fulfillment in my own life. Sometimes this is what clients pay for. That does not curtail these successes.
Harrison has obviously found fulfillment in his job, as you can see when you continue reading.
From a young age, I have operated and started various businesses. I have always enjoyed doing this and I gravitate toward it. This is just something that I seem to enjoy and I find myself thinking about doing this sort of thing quite a bit.
When I was around 8 years old, my stepfather opened a small nautical gifts shop and I spent a lot of time in the shop watching him and learning about being an entrepreneur. I saw him almost go out of business and I also saw his successes. I learned about the sense of possibility that went along with being an entrepreneur—and about the potential for failure.
I remember when things were going well for him and he went to look at a Rolls-Royce, and another time when he was looking at giant yachts you could land helicopters on.
I also remember when things went poorly and all sorts of people were showing up at the door of our home asking for money. I remember that I was asked to answer the door back then, even as a young child, so the people calmly went away.
When you grow up around something like this, you learn to understand it. You can deal with the emotions of it, and just being around this you end up improving. You see patterns other people do not and you get a sense of things. You find joy in aspects of the job others might not. In my case, this is what I found.
For me, entrepreneurial work was the sort of thing I gravitated to and what I enjoyed.
Several years ago, I was meeting with a famous lawyer about something. He had become incredibly successful as an attorney and I admired him. We were walking around his office in Century City in Los Angeles and I looked around and admired all the work that was going on. I expressed to him that a part of me wished I had stayed an attorney doing the sort of work he did.
“No, that’s the last thing you should be doing,” he said. “You have a different gift than I have. You need to do what comes naturally to you.”
He was absolutely right. The thing about doing the stuff that we are gifted at and good at is that it can make a huge difference in our lives. When you are doing the things you are good at, you will love yourself much more than if you are doing something you are not good at. Moreover, when you love yourself, you will also have more love to give others. When you connect with yourself, it is also far easier to connect with others.
Please note that only a tiny number of people find fulfillment in their day jobs. Harrison Barnes found fulfillment in his day job, his lawyer colleague found fulfillment in his day job, I found fulfillment in my day job. But most people won´t find fulfillment in their day jobs, that is a fact.
And those people who try to find a day job that gives them fulfillment will most of the time end up in badly paid positions where they have to hustle for a poor living.
That is why I cannot endorse Harrison`s recommendation and final conclusion:
You need to find your true gift and go with it. You should never try to be something you are not just because it seems attractive from afar.
Never try to be someone who you are not or something that does not match your natural gifts and skills. Embrace your skills, whatever they are, rather than rejecting what you are good at and setting yourself up for unhappiness. Find your true gift, and run with it.
Not many should follow this advice. It may well bring you in deep trouble, and you may lose a lot of time until you realize what has happened.
Now to the second thought experiment.
About Finding A Balance between Your Day Job and Your Calling
One of the outstanding experts on the distinction between your job and your calling is Dr. Gary North, whose articles are also regularly published on my website.
His first publication about this subject matter “job vs. calling” is from 1981, here CR-Mar1981.PDF
This is what Dr. North writes in one of his recent articles about “job vs. calling”:
I have recommended to people that they get settled mentally about their callings before they decide what kind of job to accept. The problem with this strategy is obvious: most people are employed for years before they even hear about the distinction between job and calling. When they find out that they really ought to have a calling, they have obligations: families, mortgages, and employers who try to extract more than 40 hours a week out of them for no extra pay.
Dr. North lays down some very practical guidelines to consider in preparation for identifying your calling.
1. Interest. You have to be greatly interested in something. The more narrowly focused this interest, the more likely that it can become your calling.
If you have little interest in something, then you would be unwise to pursue the matter in any great detail. The value of your time is high. You may also have to spend money in finding out more about it. Any time and money that you invest in developing one interest is time and money that you will not be able to invest in another interest. It is best to start where you already are highly interested. Perhaps you have invested time and some money in pursuing this interest. You are convinced that others would be helped if you could share your information about this interest. You are on the road to identifying your calling.
That is very practical advice: start with what you are interested in. Or the other way round: even if you are good at something, it cannot become your calling if it does not interest you very much. That kept me away from becoming a professional Olympic handball player, back in 1980. Although I was very good at it – I even made it into the Bavarian national youth team, and I was offered a college sponsorship – I was never really interested in playing Olympic handball.
2. Skills. Your calling should be an extension of your skills. If your skills are incomplete, then at least your calling should be an extension of your interests. These skills should be highly specific. This is where you should have an advantage due to specialization. If your skill is broad, then you would be easy to replace. The more specialized your skills, the more difficult it would be to replace you.
There are two forms of skills: content and technique. You have to have specific knowledge about a particular field or process. But you must also have the ability to communicate this information.
The communications skills are general. Yet they are not possessed by most people. If you can speak and write, you can apply these skills to almost every area of life. In this sense, these are broad skills. On the other hand, few people are really good communicators; these skills are narrowly distributed within society. So, if you have highly specialized content, and you also have the ability to communicate this content to people who would be interested in it, then you have what is necessary to establish your calling.
A major advantage of developing your communication skills is this: you can apply these skills in every area of your life. Therefore, the time and even money that you spend in developing these skills can gain a positive rate of return in your job and in your personal relationships.
That is again very practical advice. Or the other way round: if you are not very good at something and if you see no chance to become very good at it, it is unlikely that this will become your calling. That kept me away from becoming a professional soccer player, back in 1982. I liked playing soccer much more than playing Olympic handball. Although I was quite good at it, I could not see how I would become one of the 20 best German soccer players in my age group. There were very strong players like Oliver Reck, Frank Ordenewitz, Thomas Helmer, Hans Dorfner, Andreas Thom, Karl-Heinz Riedle, Manfred Binz, Jürgen Kohler, and Ulf Kirsten in my age group and more people than today were pursuing a professional career in soccer. I may have made it into a second or third league position because of my body physics and features, but never would I have played Premier League or in the German national team. I was simply too big and too slow for that.
But there was another pattern in my life. I had my first business at the age of 14. It was a tuition organization. I helped younger students to improve in math and physics. I was very successful in it. And I had excellent grades in school. Studying has always been extremely easy for me. And I was good at inventing. My family ran a mechanical workshop with a retail shop for bicycles, motorbikes, and garden tools. We always had about 20 employees. I helped my father in his business from a very early age, and I learned everything that was necessary to run it when he was away for holidays. I also used the workshop for prototyping my numerous inventions. Consequently, I became an engineer. I started as a mechanical engineer and I then went into robotics.
This is what became my own calling: I help inventors to become successful entrepreneurs.
Dr. North continues:
3. Job/Calling Connections. If your calling is an extension of your job, or at least could be, this is a big advantage. My calling in the field of economics has always been an extension of the information that I was gathering in college and graduate school. It also was related to my work at the Foundation for Economic Education. When I began my newsletter, Remnant Review, I found the time that I invested in gaining more information about the economy could be used in writing my books on Christian economics. So, I got a double payoff for my investment of time and money. I was able to improve my performance on the job, but I was also able to improve the quality of my books and nonprofit newsletters.
My job forced me to develop marketing skills. These skills have been valuable in developing my work in Christian economics. I had to learn how to write motivational copy in order to gain sales for my newsletter. But the skills that I acquired in studying direct-response advertising copy enabled me to write books that were clearer than they otherwise would have been.
Please check out my own blog here. If you know where I am coming from, connect the dots and find the connections between my job as a patent attorney and my calling to help inventors to become successful entrepreneurs. I run a patent attorney firm, and I give talks about entrepreneurship and innovation. You find free marketing and sales courses on my website.
My website also brings in new clients that are interested in improving their business.
This is how my job furthers my calling, and vice-versa.
Let´s turn to Dr. North´s article again. He writes about when finding your calling becomes complicated.
4. Identifying Your Audience. This is difficult. Ideally, you should identify the audience before you start making your investment in time and money. The problem with this is that you probably developed your interest in a particular field before you had any idea that you could become a significant contributor in the field. You also may have developed skills associated with the field before you had any idea that you could become a recruiter, teacher, and facilitator.
I recommend this strategy. When you are convinced that you can make a significant contribution, think back to where you were at the very beginning of your interest. What got your attention? What information did you not possess then? Who spent time with you to instruct you? What sources did you go to in your quest to develop your skills? What would have made your journey easier or more efficient if you had access to specific information earlier?
Have these gaps been filled by others? Do newcomers still have the same problems that you had? Do they still have to struggle in order to find answers to their questions? Maybe not. The rise of YouTube has changed the way people learn. There are many teachers on YouTube who try to make things easier for newcomers. But almost all of them are incompetent. The videos are not effective.
If you watch videos on Lynda.com, you will see what effective teaching videos can accomplish, and how they do this. It would not be a bad idea for you to subscribe for a few months and take some courses. Find out what makes these courses effective. Find out why people are willing to pay money for them. Find out why LinkedIn paid Lynda.com $1.4 billion to buy the site.
You have to consider how you are going to get the information you possess to your target audience. Are there mailing lists? Do they watch YouTube videos? What can you do to make a search engine place your material higher on the list?
At one point in time, I decided to not become a professional inventor or a manufacturer. Professional inventors never have customers, and successful manufacturers never are inventors.
What I could also see is that becoming a scientist was the last thing that I wanted to do. This is why I turned down two scholarships for a PhD program, one at the University of Montreal and the other one at the University of Grenoble.
But then there was this opportunity of becoming a patent attorney. That meant that I enroll into a distance learning law school, at the same time doing an internship with a patent attorney, followed by a 15 months long program as a government trainee at a German High Court, at the German Patent Office, and at the Federal German Patent Court. The German government offered us various posts after completing that but I also confirmed during that time that I don´t appreciate the life of being a bureaucrat. I actually found out earlier that I won´t become a bureaucrat, as a reserve officer cadet in the German army, 1984 – 1986.
As a patent attorney, the audience is easily identifiable. Actually, my audience is attracted by my job title “patent attorney”. All inventors know what a patent is. All inventors want patents. All lawyers know what patents are but they cannot do patent work because they are not engineers. My audience for my calling are inventors and regular lawyers.
So this part was easy for me. Needless to say that my job as a patent attorney pays for my calling. That is how it should be: the day job pays for your calling. You won´t directly make money from your calling.
Dr. North goes on:
5. Legacy. Maybe you think your calling will not involve teaching. This is a mistake. The better you get at your calling, the more important your ability to teach will become. Eventually, you will have to quit. You will get bored, or you will get sick, or you will die. If something is worth doing at a high level, then it is worth preserving. You have to look at the long run. How are you going to identify and train successors? If you are serious about your calling, you don’t want it to end with you.
You should also consider how you can encourage the people you help to become recruiters. If you have a way to help people solve problems, you need to encourage those people to out and help other people solve the same kinds of problems. This is the model for Alcoholics Anonymous. This is the 12th step:
Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to (addicts), and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
This step is what you see fulfilling right under your nose. My target audience has changed slightly. Although my courses are universal, and also inventors can take them, my webpage is intended for people who work with inventors and entrepreneurs.
I have started my webpage to produce materials that will help to guide bright young people through the minefields that the IP profession has. Here they can find what to read, how to negotiate their prices and what conferences to attend. I show them some practical tricks and other useful stuff. This page is also helpful for seasoned Patent Attorneys and IP lawyers who are looking for ways to save time and increase their productivity, especially by giving their staff proper training. The typical price for one good course here is less than what is charged for half an hour of an IP lawyer’s work time.
Dr. North suggests one final step.
There is lots more involved in identifying your calling. You have to count the cost. If the cost is too high, then you had better find another calling. If not, then you’d better find ways of reducing the cost.
That is the most difficult part. The costs. While the monetary costs of running my webpage are not high, the time involved in running this page is tremendous. I spend about eight (8) hours per week with reading, improving my webpage, writing articles, preparing and giving talks, and so on. Sometimes more, up to 24 hours.
I believe that I need to get some help.
Call To Action
Decide which one of the two strategies you find more reasonable: the “pursuit of happiness” or the quest for the balance between a job that pays you a sustainable life and a calling.
I would recommend the latter. If it works for me, it may also work for you.
Don´t waste your time.