Question from a reader -
I had a discussion yesterday with one of my friends about what we wanted to do with ourselves and we both have dabbled in numerous thing but nothing has stuck. He said if what we were doing was truly something worth doing, we'd be devoted to it. We simply haven't found what we want to devote ourselves to. Do you believe devotion follows interest or devotion is generated with work? I don't feel tied to anything, one moment I'll be playing a finger style piece on the guitar then whip out the electric and start playing funk. Maybe I'll start reading Ram Das, try learning HTML then go exercise. However, at the end of the day, I still feel errant and listless. Perhaps because I feel like I feel that ultimately, my actions are futile or are directionless.
"He said if what we were doing was truly something worth doing, we'd be devoted to it" - well, I'm not so sure that's the case. I know plenty of people who have causes they really believe in, but still have a hard time focusing on and dedicating themselves to it.
"Do you believe devotion follows interest or devotion is generated with work?" I think being interested in something helps a lot, but isn't enough. I know lots of people who deeply believe in something and passionately enjoy working on it, but yet still can't get the work out of themselves.
Actually, in some circumstances, it's harder to work on something you really believe in, because you get your identity wrapped up in it. Like the writer who can write plenty technical operations manuals because he aims to get it to just "good enough," but can't make progress on a novel because he's aiming for perfect and none of the words seem right.
Obviously, being good at something helps. When you start anything, you probably suck at it, and you have to get through that... it's hard to be engaged with something you aren't good at.
What I'd recommend to you, then, is figuring out broadly what you want out of life - what big picture things do you want individually?
I say "individually," because wanting world peace probably doesn't bring much clarity.
Okay, so what big picture things do you want? It's your own list, nobody's going to see it, so don't be politically correct and write stuff that'd just make you look good. What do you really want?
Now, what I'd recommend is trying to advance towards that when you're working on other stuff. Music or exercise or computer stuff or whatever. Try to make the individual tasks you do serve the big picture some. So, if you decide you want to be a performer of some sort, go practice guitar out in public with a hat for people to throw coins or money in. If you think you want to be a freelancer while traveling, then learn html by offering to build/refine a website for free for someone you like and admire who isn't tech savvy.
This way, you'll be getting closer to the big picture stuff you want. Even if it turns out you don't dig doing design, you'll still have learned about deliverables and working with people and how long things take to get done (answer: always longer than you expect). Even if you don't stick with a particular style of guitar, you learn more about performing in public and getting comfortable with being heard.
It's also probably worth reading, "Don't know what you're doing with your life?" which lists some generally useful skills to build.
One final thought - I do it too sometimes, working on a little of this and a little of that on a particular day. It's very easy to feel like you didn't accomplish anything on those days - so if possible, you might pick one thing you'd like to accomplish and jam away on it.
I actually found this from emptying my inbox and answering email. If I spend two hours answering email and empty half my inbox, and then write half of a long blog post, I feel like I got nothing done. But if I cleared the inbox to zero, then there's a tangible milestone accomplished. Or if I'd written a couple posts. You might consider setting one thing you want to accomplish, and forcing through the hard parts to get there. That's one of the bad things about procrastination - you generally procrastinate when you hit hard parts, so what winds up happening is you're a ways into four or five projects, but all of them you're stuck at the hard part as soon as you pick it back up.
That sucks. So ideally, pick one thing that you're going to do that day, and power through the hard part until you have a tangible accomplishment.
1. Figure out the big picture things you want.
2. When you work on day to day stuff, try to make it serve the big picture even if it isn't what you'll be doing forever.
3. Ideally pick one thing to do in a day to get to a tangible accomplishment, and do that.
4. Some generally good skills and things to build are in "Don't know what you're doing with your life?" - you might want to read that.
Good luck and godspeed. Lots of people have been where you're at. If you can make the individual things you do serve the big picture, you're making progress even if you don't stick with the current task forever.