Instagram lied to you.
Sorry, it’s true. The #hustle culture, perpetuated by well-meaning entrepreneur-turned-influences like Gary Vee, has convinced an entire generation that if you simply work hard enough for long enough, you will succeed. If you haven’t succeeded yet, it’s just that you’re not working hard enough. Or you haven’t committed enough years of your life
This is false. Or at least, it rests on an underlying assumption that the only thing standing between you and success is commitment to the idea. But it misses an important fact:
Not every idea is a good one.
Whomp, there it is.
The question becomes, how do you know when an idea is good enough to continue pursuing?
The Universe Operates in Ordinary and Predictable Ways
I once had lunch with a lovely gentleman – let’s call him Jeff – who had been climbing the corporate ladder since college. Jeff was only 26 and already making six figures, raking in promotion after promotion for his work ethic and results.
He was also an aspiring comedian whose real dream was to quit the rat race and go all-in on comedy.
“How do I quit my day job and become a full-time entertainer like you?
“Okay, let’s start with this,” I said. “How much money are you currently making doing comedy on the nights and weekends?”
“I’m only doing open mics right now. I’m actually paying for most of the slots.”
“Ah,” I said. “In that case, let me ask something different. How long have you been doing comedy?”
“I dunno, maybe five or six years,” he said. “I started in college.”
Starting to see the problem? Jeff was a rising star in the corporate world, succeeding beyond most people’s wildest dreams, and probably even his own. In comedy, however, he was floundering. After six years he was still paying for stage time.
“Are you having fun doing comedy?” I asked.
“Oh yeah! It’s the best! I look forward to it all week.”
So, should Jeff continue pursuing comedy? Should he quit the 9-5?
Job, Hobby, Career, Vocation
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic, definitively answered this question by distinguishing jobs, hobbies, careers, and vocations from one another.
Here’s a quick summary:
A job is what you do for money. You don’t have to love it.
A career is a job you love. If you don’t love it, quit and get a regular job so you can free up time and energy to do things you love.
A hobby is something you do for fun. You may have many hobbies, and they may come and go. Enjoy them as they come, and let them go easily.
A vocation is a calling, something you feel you were born to do. You pursue this with everything you’ve got, regardless of whether or not you ever monetize it.
Mind blown, right?
Jeff was describing a vocation. He loves comedy and will continue to pursue it with everything he’s got. But he’s never made any money doing it, and after six years without climbing the comedy club ladder, it’s unlikely he ever will. Sure, he might suddenly explode, but probably not.
His gig in corporate America is a job. It pays the bills and supports a comfortable lifestyle so that he can pursue his vocation on the nights and weekends.
From that perspective, it’s a pretty sweet deal.
My friend Stuart MacDonald is a world-renowned magician. He’s won a multitude of prestigious national and international awards in magic and even fooled Penn & Teller on their CW show Fool Us.
After a lifetime of magic being his vocation while working various creative jobs for Whirlpool and other corporations, Stuart finally quit his job to turn his vocation into a career.
He did that in October 2019, and he was immediately successful. By March 2020 he was touring the world in theaters and on cruise ships.
And then the global live event industry shut down overnight. Like me and literally hundreds of friends and colleagues, Stuart received hundreds of cancellation emails in the span of 36 hours.
But while I immediately made a Pivot to running virtual communication workshops and performing virtual magic shows, Stuart refused.
“I was one of those purists who said, “Nope, this Zoom magic thing sucks. I won’t do it.”
So instead, Stuart started applying to jobs in order to put food on the table, just six months after quitting the 9-5.
“I applied to 10 jobs per day, 7 days per week. That was my job, finding a job.”
Stuart received 700 rejections in a row.
Stop ignoring your calling
On the rare occasion, Stuart was offered a second interview, he was told he was too creative. “Too creative” for Creative Director positions.
That’s when Stuart finally snapped out of it and realized his vocation, magic, was the right career path. So he built a Zoom magic show from the ground up and has been working ever since, doing what he loves.
For Stuart, being a magician was the right idea all along. But he only discovered that when the universe told him 700 times in a row that a regular 9-5 wasn’t in the cards, pun fully intended.
I sat down with Stuart to capture his Pivot story. It’s raw and incredibly actionable. He teaches us how to apply an engineer’s mindset to our wildest ambitions in order to bring them into reality.
Listen or watch our conversation, plus access clips from his award-winning act that will blow your mind: https://beyondnetworkingpodcast.com/stuart-macdonald
Finding the right path
Are you trying to force a career of out of a hobby, like a square peg in a round hole?
If you’re unhappy with the current state of your career or life, take a moment tonight to consider deeply whether that thing you’re pursuing is best suited to be a job, hobby, career, or vocation.
Would you be happier working a boring job, so you had the energy and freedom to enjoy your hobby on the nights and weekends? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Or are you so determined to turn your vocation into a career that you’ll stop at nothing to get there, even if it involves compromise? If so, prepare to hustle.
Even still, you may have initially turned your vocation into a career, and now find yourself treating that thing you used to love, that life’s calling, as merely a job. It’s okay to quit.
After 10 years of being a full-time professional magician I was completely burnt out. Magic was once my true love, but a decade of grinding it out to make ends meet turned it into any other job. It was only a matter of time before audiences and clients would pick up on my lack of passion. We’re not machines. We can’t hide our emotions as well as we think.
So I moved into speaking and writing about human connection. And yes, I love the work I do now, which makes it a career. I show up to work every day eager to make a difference in at least one person’s life, to lead the human connection revolution in workplaces across the world.
And now I get to do magic. I don’t have to do magic. Which means my vocation remains pure, and my life feels balanced.
As Seth Godin once told when he was a guest on my podcast,
“There’s no such thing as balance. There’s just time. There’s just where you are and what you do.”
Where are you? What are you doing?