A while ago I read Mark Manson's book "The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck," and to be perfectly honest the only part that has stuck with me vividly is the title, although I remember liking it very much at the time.
I heard recently in this podcast on burnout that the opposite of depression isn't happiness, it's purpose. That book's now on my shelf, but I haven't gotten around to reading it yet because I am too busy engaging with my purpose - to be of service to other artists struggling with technology and isolation. But since I heard the podcast I've been watching my levels of satisfaction and fulfillment wax and wane. Previously I would have mapped this onto my thoughts - I've been slowly teaching myself that this is wrong for years. Now I've been noticing that purpose is actually the best yardstick for my fulfillment.
Let's take programming as an example. I am a very experience and skilled programmer. But I also find it the singularly most abhorrent and painful activity in my life about 20% of the time. I spent 80% of my time for many years feeling this way following the good ole 80/20 rule. I made a promise to myself I wouldn't take any new paid programming work - that I would only do it for my own projects.
But over the last 6 months I've actually found myself doing a decent amount of programming. This isn't so bad, I told myself! Maybe I should take a consulting gig! Come on in, the money's fine!
Last Wednesday I found myself finishing some revision for the one outstanding consulting contract I have. For the last two hours of the day I hit a nasty bug. The kind of thing that should have been easy and "just worked" didn't, and then didn't, and then didn't. I spent two hours more enraged than I have been in years. I'm not sure how close I actually got to smashing my laptop into itty bitty pieces and hurling it through the window of the airbnb my partner had rented for us upstate (for me to get some time away from work - that clearly went well), but I do know that it absolutely wasn't how I wanted to end my day.
So why do I voluntarily end up doing some of the same tasks when it's my own work? Do I not get frustrated? For starters I usually stop before I get that frustrated because it's my project and if it doesn't get done today I'm the one that gets to deal with it tomorrow. But no, I do get super frustrated.
The difference is purpose. When I get frustrated, I'm doing it for a reason. And doing it for money is never a good enough reason.