In Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, he remarks “People who love what they do wear themselves down doing it, they even forget to wash and eat.” Although this is a somewhat ambitious goal, and possibly not even a desirable one, the spirit of this message is hugely important. It’s a matter of becoming so intellectually and emotionally involved in your “work” (in this case defined as “what you do”, not necessarily a “Job”) to the point that distractions cease having a hold on you.
Looking at my peers and myself, it saddens me how rarely this ideal is achieved in school setting. Those in school seem to be there as a stepping stone for bigger things (their future “Job”) and schoolwork is often viewed as an unpleasant labor that must be taken care of before one can do “something they love”. Even worse, many students don’t even have a thing they love to do, at least not to the level described by Aurelius. We leave a very big gap in our potential as people when labors of love are not present in our lives, for several reasons. The first is physiological. Human cognition and performance functions best when attention is in “flow” state, the phrase popularly use to describe complete immersion in an activity, and it’s only in this “flow” state where distractions are able to be ignored completely.
The second reason is ideological, and perhaps the more important of the two. Excelling at any work requires extended periods of high level focus (Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours), which can only be achieved in three ways: survival, ambition, or love of what you do. Farmers of agricultural societies may not have considered designing irrigation systems their “life calling”, but they were damn good at what they did because they had to in order to survive. I’d imagine many of the investment bankers and stock brokers of the world don’t “love” their professions, but they do them at an extremely high level because they do *love* money, and the power and status that comes with it. For the majority of us, survival is assured, and we don’t possess the burning desire for riches required to give our lives to a job we don’t particularly like. That leaves only the classic advice to “do what you love” (and get paid well to do it), advice so easy to issue but seemingly so hard to actualize.
Sadly, I would consider myself one of the lacking individuals. What I love are stories, via reading, writing, visualization, or other modern mediums like television or movies. A book is one of the few scenarios in which I will sit down to read, and get up 6 hours later lightheaded from hunger and cross-eyed from intense focus. The tangible steps to make a career out of a love for stories other than jump into the rat’s nest of starving writers? No idea. But at least I know there’s something out there I’d forget to eat for.