Do you dream of starting your own business doing something you feel passionate about? Are you doing a job you just about tolerate but you don’t know what you should be doing instead? Maybe you are ready to return to work after years of parenting. Well, don’t get too focused on following your passion because the real secret to success lies in finding your flow.
Below are 6 questions you need to consider before taking the big leap to a new career path. But first…
What is flow?
Do you know how it feels to be so lost in an activity that you forget to eat and hours pass like minutes? For some it’s painting or writing. For others it’s performing mechanical and repetitive tasks. This almost meditative state is called flow.
Psychologist Mihaly Csiksgentmihalyi coined the term in the 90s and when I first heard it I knew the feelings it describes because I get it when I am working both as a songwriter and writing articles. It’s my favourite state to be in and by recognising where I find it I have become better at focusing my time on the things that will reap the greatest rewards.
Whether you dream of success in working for yourself or just taking a completely different career path then you need to have determination, self-discipline and flow. But how do you find your flow? Ask yourself the following questions.
1. What could you easily spend 10 hours a day doing?
I love working on a computer. The blank canvas of an Apple Mac makes me feel completely at home. This is where I really find flow.
Can you spend all day in the garden and realise you haven’t stopped for lunch? Do you get so absorbed in writing that ideas rush out of you effortlessly? Maybe taking things apart and putting them back together again is your thing. Which activities do you get completely lost in?
2. What endeavour could get rejected and you still wouldn’t quit?
Being a songwriter is an endless echo of ‘thanks but no thanks,’ and you’re lucky if you even get that most of the time. I can’t tell you how many times I have sworn to quit it but here I am 20 something years after starting out and I am still at it.
You need to find the thing that you can’t not do. Even when you get no for an answer you still go back for more because you believe you can do better and you’ll enjoy the process of trying. It’s almost an obsession.
3. What activity do you undertake confidently but still seek out ways to improve?
You must know that you are never done learning. As long as you approach your craft with the same eagerness you started out with then you will keep improving. If you see every challenge to your art as an opportunity to get better then you cannot fail.
I regularly come across musicians and writers who believe their project is ready for market. So when they get a ‘no’ from the record labels they are devastated and either quit or they just keep pushing the same thing over and over. That’s not flow. That’s dogged attachment to an outcome and it can lead to mental illness.
If you are not constantly seeking ways to improve your skills then maybe you are too focused on the end game and not invested in the process.
4. What job would you have to stop yourself from doing on Sundays?
Do you want to sneak out and get back to your project like a naughty kid returning to a computer game? Are you so driven to the process that you feel completely yourself when you are in it? That’s what you’re looking for if you want to find your flow.
I love meeting people who are really into their work. I once met a pest control man who could talk for hours about wasps. He told me everything there is to know about wasps: wasp nests, wasp behaviour, how clever they are, the wasp population, blah, blah blah. Not sure I’d invite him to a dinner party but nonetheless he’s not going to be quitting his job any time soon. He LOVES it! That’s the depth of interest and drive you need.
5. What job would you do for no obvious benefit or outcome?
We can all get attached to outcomes. So we start a project with a view to achieving X. Let’s say it’s publishing a book or making partner. Aside from the obvious question of what happens when X doesn’t materialise, is your goal enough to sustain you through the inevitable problems you will encounter in your everyday task?
What about getting rejected, what if after a month it’s looking a bit shaky? 6 months in and still no upside? Would you quit? If the answer is yes then you’re barking up the wrong tree. When you undertake your task mindfully and with an enquiring mind you find you can go on regardless of outcome.
6. If people didn’t get what you were doing would you still do it?
When you start any project you will be met with opinions and not all of them will be positive. Hopefully our best mates will be 100% behind us but there are also those who would see us fail.
Know that you will be able to withstand the downward draft of doubt. It can easily creep into even the most determined mind so you have to be steadfast in your application. Success isn’t a popularity contest so if being liked is more important that following your flow then don’t even start.
A cautionary tale about following your passion
I was once working with a young musician, Jack, in London who was so determined to ‘make it’ as a rapper that he quit his job in a shop and moved into a garage. His mate who rented the garage from the council (it was beneath a high rise tower block in Hackney) said he could live in it for a couple of pounds a week. This meant that Jack didn’t have to work and could dedicate all his time to music.
It was January and it was freezing cold. I pleaded with him not to make this ridiculous move but he insisted. 3 months later he was back in my studio, ill, exhausted and completely broken. His romantic notion had not worked out. It was unsustainable and exposed his belief that his success would come within a few months and he would move from the garage to the penthouse.
There aren’t many people as
stupid passionate as Jack but metaphorically speaking it’s important not to throw everything up and move into a garage in January. When you follow your flow it should be with ease. Struggle will come, that’s for sure but you don’t need to create it in order to feel like an artist!
Jack turned out fine by the way but he isn’t a musician. He promotes other people’s music now. Funny how life works out.