If you are at all familiar with my work, you’ve heard me, on many occasions, say something to the effect of: We are happiest when we are serving others. And that’s true. But here’s the thing—this happiness is not due to any great sense of altruism on our part. The fact that others may benefit from what we produce is fine, but it is only secondary. Our real joy comes from the actual act of producing.
It’s great to know that others enjoy and benefit from what we produce. There’s certainly a lot of satisfaction to be had in that. Satisfaction feeds our ego and pushes us onward and upward, but it does so only to a limited extent.
If everyone around us rejected our ideas, our creativity and our work (a way of life for the CounterThinkers among us) we might eventually become sullen, depressed and resentful. We might even quit for a while. But eventually, we’d find ourselves back at it… creating again.
I’m at that very place right now—working my heart out on a new project, not knowing if what I struggle so hard with every day, will in the end, matter to anyone other than myself. This is nothing new. I’ve been here before. I’m sure you have, too.
Many of us find ourselves hammering away at a thing, for no apparent reason, other than hoping that maybe someday, someone will recognize whatever it is that we are attempting to build, and help us make sense of it all. And that’s just fine, so long as whatever you are attempting to build matters, at least to you. If you’re doing whatever it is you’re doing, strictly for the approval or benefit of someone else, you’re doomed before you begin.
Creating and building something new is really hard. To make it through all the bullshit you’re going to have to go through in order to succeed, you must have passion for your work. We all have to do some shit we don’t enjoy doing—for me it’s accounting, budget meetings and firing people. But when you are driven by passion, you don’t allow those things to trip you up or bog you down. You find a way to get those unpleasant tasks done and quickly out of the way, so you can get back to doing what you love.
Doing what we do, for the sheer love of it, can carry us over much bigger hurdles than most any other motivator I know of—fame, fortune, power, social recognition or approval of others all pale in comparison.
The American writer Elbert Hubbard put it better than I can, “Get happiness out of your work,” he said, “or you may never know what happiness is.” Bottom line: If you hate what you are doing, it does not matter how much good you are doing for others.
Slugging our life away, at an endeavor we resent, ends up with us resenting the very people we set out to please in the first place. And, if we let pleasing others dominate our work and our entire life, we run the risk of dying with our music still inside of us. I saw that happen with my own father— a naturally gifted artist, who, in order to rescue his parent’s home from foreclosure, abandoned art college and began instead painting houses for a living. My dad died when I was a young boy, so I don’t remember very much about him. What I do remember was— I always saw him working, but I rarely saw him smile.
So, no… it’s not solely serving others that drives us. It’s more than that. Our drive, fulfillment and passion come from the simple act of creating something that matters—more correctly, matters to us.
Take any productive person, drop them onto a deserted island, and that person will continue to create— even if everything they produce ends up in a huge pile, never gaining recognition from or benefitting anyone other than themselves.
This is the story of many of history’s greatest philosophers, innovators and artists—all of which were ahead of their time, but who were rejected, scorned and ridiculed not only by the public, but also by their peers.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir was laughed at, not only by the critics, but by his fellow artists. The Parisian painter Édouard Manet once told Claude Monet, “Renoir has no talent at all. You who are his friend should tell him kindly to give up painting.”
One Parisian expert, after having looked over Renoir’s paintings sneered, “You are, I presume, dabbling in paint to amuse yourself.” The artist replied, “Of course. When it ceases to amuse me, I’ll stop Painting.” Everything Renoir painted delighted him.
Renoir, along with Degas, Pissaro, Monet and Cezanne were a group of CounterThinking artists, who were all rejected by the establishment of their time—simply because they dared to see things differently. Five of the greatest artists of all time, all doing what they believed in, regardless of public or critical opinion, and in the face of total rejection.
While we’re on the subject of Renoir— during the last twenty years of his life, the artist suffered from the painful, crippling effects of Rheumatoid Arthritis, especially in his hands. Renoir was able to transcend his own physical suffering, the death of his wife and the wounding of his two sons in the First World War and continue painting with undiminished passion.
When his friend Henri Matisse visited the aging painter and saw that every stroke of the brush caused him intractable pain, he asked Renoir why he continued to torture himself. Renoir answered, “The pain passes, but beauty endures.” Passion is the great motivator. We will endure more for it than any other motivator.
On a cold Parisian December day in 1919, at age 78, the now successful and finally famous master, looking over his work, optimistically remarked to a friend, “I’m still making progress.” And the next day he was dead.
This is the mark of the creative and productive person. Still making progress, still learning, still producing as long as he or she has breath in their lungs— despite pain and problems of all kinds. Not producing for the satisfaction or approval of others, but because he must. Because doing so gives him, and him alone, pleasure and satisfaction.
Do what you love. All the rest will fall into place.