Don’t Do What You Want; Do What You Can

Over five years ago, Me From The Past made the following Facebook status:


The answer to this question was “no”, and I knew it.

So I sat calmed my little butt down, took my head out of the clouds, finished my degree, then got a job. Then another job. And then another job.

I’ve still got a job, and I love it.

This is not the glamorous story that I’m supposed to be telling – it’s supposed to say that I left the dreary world of work behind, I quit my day job, and made a living following my passions.

But, I’ve got a few questions to those story-tellers:

  1.    Who says the world of work is dreary?
  2.    Who says you can’t follow your passions without doing it for a living?

And most importantly,
3.       When I give up my source of income…what am I going to eat?????????????????????

I’m sure you’ve heard this message before. It usually falls along the lines of the words found in this picture I swiped from someone I follow on Instagram:

2016-08-06 09.18.58

Maybe this is right; maybe it isn’t.

I don’t know.

But as far as advice goes, I think it’s pretty terrible.


I already wrote before about luck, and how thinking there’s “no such thing as luck” is a sentiment born from a certain privileged ignorance. (Hint: we’re all privileged.)

Whenever people say that school isn’t important, or that the world of work is a shackle, what they mean is that these things are true…FOR THEM.

But…let’s just be real for a quick second: this advice makes no sense for the majority of the people in the world.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying this message is *wrong* or *bad*. I’m sure that there are people out there stuck in awful situations that need to hear exactly this. And obviously, it’s helped a lot of people improve their lives.

But I think the only reason this message is so overwhelmingly fashionable right now, is because so many of us feel ‘stuck’ and unhappy.

And the only reason we have to feel stuck, is because we’re still wallowing in feelings of helplessness; we can’t acknowledge how powerful we are, so we accept our self-produced feelings of discontent.

Quitting school. Leaving your job. Following your passion. Owning your own business. Let’s stop glorifying any of these things as a necessary step to happiness.

Every situation in life comes with its own set of crosses and crap. Your happiness isn’t determined by quitting school or your job because – in some way – everything sucksIf you’ve learnt to be truly content, you will be content in whatever situation in life you’re in.

There is no inherent value in “doing what you want.”

‘What you want’ may be delusional or dangerous. ‘What you want’ may leave your family in financial ruin. ‘What you want’ may not even be what you want.


One thing that I’ve learned from pursuing the ‘millennial dream’ of travel (and I can only speak for myself here) is that it’s highly overrated.

Yes, travelling the world is useful in the sense that it exposes you to new ideas.

But…let’s be real here. It’s 2015, not 1948.

You become exposed to new ideas just by stepping out the front door.

Actually…you don’t even need to get out of bed. Just open YouTube.

The other facet of the millennial dream is doing “what you love”. Of course, most human beings are quite capable of doing the things we love to do.

But that’s not enough anymore; we have to do what we love for a living. We’ve got to make money doing it.

Our modern consumer culture means that ultimate value is placed on what you earn and what you do to make money. Add that culture to just enough entitlement, and just enough privilege, and this is what you get.

We’re loathe to admit it, but we millennials are entitled.

And it’s this special breed of entitlement that leads to sentiments like the ones in the pictures above. (BOTH pictures.)

If you think about it for just a second, the world we enjoy could never exist if everyone were out there chasing their passion. And the way we live would cease to exist if, right now, everyone dropped all their responsibilities, and went out to “follow their passion”.

The thing is…if you are truly passionate about something, you’ll do it anyway – whether it makes you money or not.

If you love music, you’ll play anyway. You’ll form a little band, or play in church, or go to free karaoke nights during your free time. If you love art, you’ll draw anyway. If you love writing, you’ll do it anyway.

The problem isn’t that you can’t do what you love. It’s that you can’t get what you want. But why do you want what it is that you want?


It’s been shown that humans are notoriously bad at knowing what we want, and at predicting what will make us happy.

Without a doubt, even if you grew up isolated from modern society in your own self-sustaining community, you would live with some measure of discontent.

We’re hard-wired for it (thanks a lot evolution).

But television and the Internet is good at serving us up more wants and desires than we know to do with them. Think: bearable problem, SUPERSIZED!

Never forget for a moment – popular culture is pretty much always trying to sell you stuff. Even I am trying to sell you something right now. It’s just the way it is, man. Money haffi mek. Food haffi nyam.

But keeping that knowledge in the back of your head is crucial for navigating a world where the majority audience may look nothing like you, and may live nothing like you.

So you find yourself wanting this air5

and wanting this Tour_Eiffel_Wikimedia_Commons_(cropped)

 … not because it’s an honest desire, but because these ideas have been sold to you.

In this nonstop economy, something is always being sold – and it’s usually not goods and services – but ideas.

Take travel for instance.

I love to use this one because I used to want more than anything in the world to travel. Why?

Travelling appeals to those of us who have an adventurous, curious nature; who want to see and experience new things.

But the reality is that even if I travelled through the tiny island of Jamaica and went to a new place every single day, I wouldn’t find all there is to see, and I wouldn’t experience all there is to do.

There’s just as many interesting people outside my front door as there are, on the other side of the globe.

It’s just about the sell. We’re sold the travel package and it sells pretty nicely: it makes some nice people a lot of money, provides a ton of jobs, and helps to fuel the economy.

But along with that we’ve also ingested some strange ideas: the idea that international travel is somehow prestigious (it’s not), the idea that there is some great wisdom awaiting us on some other continent (there isn’t).

And because this sales tactic has become so ingrained in our culture, we all now actively participate in it.

Instagram of passport anyone?

Of course, just as how there isn’t anything inherently good about travelling…there isn’t anything inherently bad about it either.

I’m not bashing anyone here.

What I AM saying is: Whenever you find yourself desiring something, it’s helpful to think about what it is you really want.

For years, I thought I wanted to travel, but what I really wanted was novelty and excitement. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found ways to infuse my own life with the excitement that I crave, no matter where I am, and no matter how ‘boring’ (or weird) it may seem by others to be.

So what have we learnt today friends?

  1. Having a decent job and some financial stability is important to most people. And for the vast majority of those people, that will entail going to school and working for years in some job. There’s nothing wrong with that.
  2. People don’t pursue their passions because it will make them money; they do it because they love it and want to do it anyway. There’s always a way to do what you’re passionate about, even if it’s not your job.
  3. Our surface-level desires and wants have been sold to us. It’s up to us to dig deeper and find the underlying want, instead of falling into the trap of desiring what’s been manufactured by consumerism.


Since I’m already up on my makeshift pulpit, why not go all out?

Don’t do whatever you want. Don’t always try to follow your dreams.

Bide your time. Plan, and be patient. And, along the way, you realize that you already have what you were actually looking for.

Screw TV and screw the Internet.

Screw blogs of successful people telling you what to do. (They’re the luckiest outliers anyway.)

Trust yourself.

Trust your passion.

Trust your ability to know what’s best for you.

Let’s end with a Venn diagram because who doesn’t love a good Venn diagram?

the venn

Set A is what you can do, based on your abilities, opportunities, realistic limits and life prospects. Set B is what you want to do, based on your desires – real or manufactured.

The intersection of these two sets might be big or small, but it’s always a blessing…when what you want, is what you can actually accomplish.

But do you see how big both sets are? There’s an infinite amount that you can do – no matter the current circumstances of your life.

And – to counter that – there’s an infinite amount that you can desire, stuff that’s being sold to you by the media, or your community, or society. No matter how wealthy, or beautiful, or privileged you are…there’ll always be more you can get. There will always be something else that you can want. If you choose to focus on set B.

But take a look at Set C. Most of us spend way too much time tottering within the confines of set C. 

We look at set B longingly, thinking that over there lies our happiness and fulfillment. 

We’re so focused on the fact that we don’t have what we want, that we don’t realize we’ve only scratched the surface of what we can get.

Your ultimate fulfillment and happiness will lie squarely inside the set of whatever you CAN do, not necessarily what you want to do.

Is this an invitation to be lazy? Is this a free pass at accepting mediocrity? Hell no. What you can do could be so astronomically amazing that no one has ever even thought of it yet.

But it also could be so ordinary that it’s been done a million times before.

And that’s okay.

Go do what you can, and be great.



  1. I like this. Coming from someone who wanted to do so many things that finances just would not allow, I know all about doing what one can.

    1. Shanks Shari! ^^

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