Why Doing What You Like To Do Gets Tricky In Life

Usually, people read things like this, and passively chalk it up as a reminder to actually do something they want to do some day soon, or to set some sort of new goal, or to simply enjoy life’s small pleasures.

But a couple of days ago, I saw this question and I stopped and gave it some thought. (It’s the “really” in that question that gets me.)

Sadly, I notice that it’s common, as people reach a certain age or stage in life, to taper down on making large, demonstrative choices about things that make them happy. So much hinges on what made us happy in the past, or what we know to do/practice in order to be happy — which is similar, but not really the same thing. These calculated activities hardly qualify because they’re based on what you learned over time, and require discipline.

In other words, we engage in behaviors that we know will contribute to our general happiness, health, longevity, relationships, financial security, etc. We do the things that are good for us, but the activities in themselves don’t instill feelings of delight or joy.

For example, I exercise because I want the heart health, muscle tone, and endorphins. But hitting the gym or taking a walk every day has become a habit.

Yes, there’s also a social element to my fitness regimen. I see people I like while exercising, and I never regret doing it, so that makes me happy. But does this really count as doing something I “like”?

Will I lie on my death bed and think, “I wish I’d worked out more (or less)?” Fitness is great, but over time it becomes nothing to write home about. It’s a part of the day that is enjoyable, but I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s something I like to do.

What if you look back and realize everything turned out OK?

What about you? Are you doing things you “really” like to do?

And what about doing those things you like to do, that you know aren’t really going to satisfy in the long run? E.g. eating a sugary donut is something I like to do, sort of. I like it and hate it at the exact same moment, so I’m not sure that counts either.

A lot of people have the best intentions of doing more things that make them happy, but they stop themselves out of fear.

1. What if I am being selfish pursuing this?

Hogging the resources.

Am I stealing resources from another person or project that needs my attention and resources? Women especially are hardwired to associate their enjoyment of activities with family members and friends. What if doing what I like causes you to peel off from the usual crowd of loved ones?

Proximity is one thing. And then there’s the money thing. Sometimes doing your thing also takes financial resources. When your kayak purchase or weekly manicure puts the squeeze on your son’s club baseball allowance, which one do you choose? A “good mom” would defer to the son’s activity, right? And if the activity, however small eats into friend or family time together (even passive time together, like spending a weekend day putzing around the house and neighborhood), feelings can get hurt.

The idea that we’re being selfish when we pursue things we like to do is a common fear.

2. What if I disrupt the flow of others around me?

Wonder what everyone else is doing/thinking?

We usually accommodate the way of the group because it’s easier to compromise than to assert what seems like your own selfish whims. If you’re committed to doing the things you really like to do, though, you might have to adjust to the fact that you can’t please everyone. In fact, doing what you want to do, or giving up on those things due to someone else’s expectations, will certainly cause some mutual annoyance at times.

Sometimes the thing that you really like to do is to refrain from doing what you don’t want to do. If you take a pass on attending a friend’s child’s destination wedding, would the world really end? Of course not. Your friend may be disappointed, but with enough notice, she’ll get over it. Communicate your intentions in advance, and you can usually curb any hurt feelings.

Ironically, it’s the small things that cause all the drama.

Have you ever been in a situation that starts with a minor conflict and explodes into a huge mess? As an example, you and your spouse are invited to a potluck over a holiday weekend. You hatch a plan. All you really want to do that Friday evening when you get off work is to bake a cake to bring. It’s a simple pleasure, a leisurely activity, and it’s all good, right? This qualifies as something you like to do — bake — and so you look forward to a couple of hours in the kitchen after a long work week. You stop by the store on the way home for ingredients and go home.

Just as you’re perusing your beloved, worn recipe books, your good-intentioned spouse arrives and informs you that he already assured the host you’d bring a salad, not a cake. So what do you do? You might feel stuck and frustrated. What started as and enjoyable activity becomes a chore you resent because it’s not what you intended. Instead of going ahead with plan A, and disrupting the flow of the others, you decide to accommodate them, rushing back to the store late at night and preparing a dish you don’t want to make.

Those who rely on us naturally come to expect certain behaviors and results from us. That’s just part and parcel to living in a community of any kind. If something is important to you, and you know you’re not the only player in the scene, speak up about your intentions as soon as they become clear to you.

You may feel like you have to meet another’s expectations simply because those expectations exist. (You don’t, actually.) Sounds like a small thing, but I’ve witnessed situations like the one above that start with a minor scuffle, and blow up into hurt feelings because of miscommunication. Expectations, both short term, or long-held, are always fair game for negotiation.

3. What if the daily pleasure becomes a chore from overuse and I don’t love it anymore?

May as well not even start.

The joy you hope to find in pursuing an activity can be a bar you set too high.

Truth is, you really should not overthink this exercise. Doing what you really like to do changes from day to day. A lot of goal-oriented, high achieving women and men jump into activities with an end game in mind. You don’t have to excel at this enjoyment thing. You just have to commit to doing things you like to do on a regular basis.

I have a friend who decided to gather some friends together and go bowling one night because he remembered how much he used to enjoy it in his college days. That very night at the bowling alley, he decided he would join a league and get his skills back. Before the night was over he was stressing about his schedule and how he’d find time to get across town for tournaments after work. This is not looking good, I thought.

Doing what you really like to do requires some sacrifice and lifestyle choices. It should never cause immediate stress when you think about it. If you start to taste blood when you imagine doing it, then it’s time to rethink the activity!

4. What if I think something’s going to make me happy but it doesn’t?

It feels like a gamble.

Well, do it anyway. The worst that can happen is you find you really don’t love hiking at sunset, or practicing your violin for an hour each day, or playing catch with your son. You try some things, you set aside a little time with the intention of enjoying them, and that in itself should feel like something positive.

You may find you don’t really like doing it, or you don’t like doing it every time. So many variables can shadow your enjoyment: weather, technical difficulty, user errors, a 14-year-old’s surly mood. That’s OK. Some things you do anyway — because in theory, you like to do them, and that’s good enough — and you snatch a happy moment inside the icky parts, or later on when you recoup.

5. What if my choice of activities mean I’m alone — a lot?

Alone in a crowd?

By the way, this is me in major FOMO mode. We are social animals; at least I am. Sometimes, if I am not doing an activity with another human being, it feels kinda weird. You may find that the things you like to do put you in public, but without knowing anyone while you’re there. Things you like to do are often enjoyed by others (Not necessarily those close to you, though!) The consequence is that you can either make friends while doing them, broaden your social circle to include a range of people to draw on, or be the contented lone wolf in the company of strangers.

People who take themselves on enjoyable field trips on their own are usually the types of people who make friends easily or are OK being alone in crowds. It’s OK being alone. You don’t have to collect friends every time you leave the house to pursue an activity on your own. You don’t have to come home with contacts and phone numbers and social media connections. Relax about the social part of this. Enjoy the friendships you make and your time by yourself.

People-people (you know who you are) leave this to chance. Enjoy the observation of yourself being one among many. If you’re naturally curious, and can’t imagine leaving the house without making a friend, learn to cultivate curiosity about yourself for once.

6. What if I run out of money?

Should have kept what I had.

It’s so cliché, but I’ll say it. The best moments don’t have to cost much.

Money is an interesting energy. You need a certain amount to feel security and abundance, which are requisite to enjoying even the simple things.

Yet the required amount is so variable among different people. Do you spend money on amazing experiences, decorations, travels and designer stuff? Maybe you invest in unseen pleasures, like costly tuition or donations to charity. Maybe you’re more like those happy-go-lucky ones who don’t have much money at all, yet always seem like they’re having a great time in life. Go figure.

Literally. Figure out what you need, what you need in order to enjoy freedom and snatch time to do what you really like to do. The money you make and have to spend may not have any correlation to what you like to do. That’s what’s so strange as we hustle to stay in abundance. You should at least take some time to figure out your equation.

I used to think I wanted a large house until I realized I can only live in one room at a time. That’s become a motto of mine. When my head starts going in circles about how I’m going to afford to live out my dreams and help my family reach theirs, and help all the causes I care about, and all the things I want and need, I remember this:

Yes, watching the lights glinting on the Seine from a balcony of a Paris apartment is exquisite. Find a way to experience all of your big dreams, including travel, and fast cars, and afternoons of reckless shoe shopping. I gotchu.

But there are other things that bring pleasure. There is starlight, there are fireflies, sparkly lights on the patio, and moonlight on the tub of melting ice. Sometimes that is enough. You be you.

7. What if I don’t get my work done?

There’s always more to do.

While we’re using overused meme quotes, let’s just go there. In a perfect world your work is a reflection of your natural abilities and passions. When you’re working on something you love, it’s not like you’re even working. We’re all looking for work that feels like flow and brings in the bacon. But what if you don’t have that yet?

If you’re holding yourself to some high degree of output before you allow yourself to do something you like to do every day, then you are losing the battle. Adjust your priorities so that you can squeeze in blocks of time for things you like. You have to do things you really like to do in between all the other stuff.

Some people have so much work to do that they have no energy left to pursue the good stuff. That means they’re either working at the wrong thing, or depleting and abusing their natural resources.

You have innate strengths and skills that should be helping you to get your true work done, not drawing out when the time comes for you to shine.

Don’t try to fit another’s idea of what you should be doing if your natural abilities lie elsewhere. Otherwise, you’re never going to find the time to do what you like because your energy will be so gone every single day. Productivity advice only works if you understand how you naturally operate.

One more things, if your life is already too full with activities and work and people you don’t really like, then you’re doing life all wrong. You shouldn’t have to totally escape your regular life to grab an enjoyable moment. (That’s my sobriety talking.)

8. What if my life becomes a series of completely disjointed, hedonistic activities?

If only I could focus.

This fear is legit. Chances are you have so many interests, ideas and friends that you find it difficult to piece together a coherent picture of who you are and where you’re going. But if you spend time doing things you like to do, shouldn’t there be a running theme? Otherwise, who are you, really?

What does it mean if you go to the opera one weekend, and try mountain biking the next? Does your sense of adventure or openness to new experiences make your head spin. Do you feel like you need something to show for all these escapades after a lifetime of unrelated pursuits?

I felt this so strongly in the year after my divorce. I had plenty of friends and people with whom I could strike out on any adventure or outing I pleased. My kids kept me busy, too. I said yes to a lot of activities I would have previously declined. I even took jobs I knew weren’t for me just for something new to do. It was a year of experimentation.

Without intention, I ended up doing a lot of fun things, but could only piece together enjoyment of things I liked to do after they happened. I did not set out to create space for anything I really wanted to do; instead, I just sort of fell into them. This way of life took up a shit-ton of time and energy. I’d do things differently if I’d have known what I know now.

Sometimes high activity like this is fine. Accidental happiness and all that. But for a certain kind of person, too much random experience gets old fast. Part of your enjoyment comes from the anticipation of doing whatever it is you put on your calendar. Even if you don’t have the wherewith-all to actually block out time for each and every thing you think is going to bring some enjoyment, at least you’re leaning in to things you have chosen.

You want to constructively choose things you like to do; not just fall into them. While it’s okay, even preferable, to open yourself to new experiences if you’re not sure what you want, plan to bring this season to a close at some point. You are a unique an amazing creature in this world. There’s no one like you. Your intention and creativity brings purpose and fulfillment to every one of your experiences. Don’t fritter your time and justify enjoyment of it.

You’re bound to find yourself in a place where trying new things is exactly what heals your soul and sets you on a new path. There are stations in life where you’re open to everything, and then there are times you’ll want to start saying no again. Know when to pivot from this time of your life. Trust your instinct and prune your activities when you feel it’s getting out of hand.

Boundaries and editing become important after your season of saying yes.

9. And what if I don’t know what really makes me happy?

People who are experts at “doing what they really like to do” probably know themselves pretty well.

When you’re trying too hard to “become” or enjoy something, you suck the life out of happiness.

Shouldn’t you gather all your interests, and practice becoming an expert or a real aficionado?

The more time I spend on the planet, the more I find that enjoyment comes from acknowledging that life is fluid and fleeting, too.

We place a lot of emphasis on having something to show for our time and treasure. We do things for all sorts of reasons; to leave a legacy, to let off steam, to appreciate beauty as we see it, and to push our limits. We have sliding scale of enjoyment of our activities. Some days are better than others. Sometimes we are fully engaged in doing what we like. And somehow, some days, we don’t like it much at all.

Doing what makes you happy need not require much money, much time, nor much energy. But it should be a specific activity, entered into with the intention of enjoyment of some aspect of it, and carved out of the usual humdrum of the day… and it should make your heart feel like it has wings.

You’ll probably miss the mark some days, but you’ll know it when you feel it. Keep trying. Do something you think will make you happy… TODAY!

Two essential oil blends that inspire and accompany the enjoyable activities in your life…

There’s always an oil for that! Here are two you can use for instant effect:

In Touch™: Typically used for emotional balance and harmonizing the nervous system, In Touch contains the essential oils of vetiver, Melissa, Royal Hawaiian Sandalwood, Cedarwood, and Idaho Blue Spruce. All of these oils aid in calming and grounding your emotions and relieving feelings of stress.

En-R-Gee™: This blend improves one’s energy in a natural way without overstimulating or creating problems that may be uncomfortable. It may also help with mental alertness. A pure boost of energy comes from the mixture of Rosemary Cineol, Juniper, Lemongrass, Nutmeg, Balsam Fir, Clove, and Black Pepper. You’ll get the empowerment you crave, and a feeling of anchoring as you experience those meaningful pastimes.

Contact me to order either of these blends, or to get started with a Premium Starter Kit of Essential Oils.

Your Turn:

I’m curious. How often do you get to do things you really like to do? How often is often enough? And what is that thing you like?

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Originally published at intooils.com on July 25, 2018.

Curious mom, writer, & lymphatic massage therapist. I teach a persuasive writing course, too. Start here: https://www.jenmcgahan.com/power-words

Curious mom, writer, & lymphatic massage therapist. I teach a persuasive writing course, too. Start here: https://www.jenmcgahan.com/power-words