I shared this pithy little quote from entrepreneur and social media super user Gary Vaynerchuk yesterday.

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I’m fairly resistant to cat posters and motivational image-quotes online.  But this single sentence caught my eye.  It’s something I constantly preach as a better alternative to trying to find and do what you love.

In fact, I think this simple sentence contains one of the most powerful truths in the universe for unlocking your own potential and fulfillment.

Here comes the resistance…

It was Facebook so of course this couldn’t go without objections.  A commenter quickly claimed that (paraphrasing):

This idea is laughable to anyone who has ever had to pay bills.

A tragic response.

Charitable interpretation

Perhaps the most important skill if you want to gain maximum value from the stream of ideas in the world is the principle of charitable interpretation.  It’s simple, but really hard and really rare.

Assume people aren’t idiots who have never thought of objections.  Assume the best possible interpretation of their words.

In this case one could uncharitably assume that Gary V means to immediately cease doing anything uncomfortable, even if necessary for survival.  I hate preparing food and eating is often an annoyance.  Is Gary telling me to die?

It doesn’t take much charity to move beyond such a silly interpretation.  The source must know that a single sentence can never cover every context.  He chose to share it anyway because he must believe there is still some nugget of truth in it.  If you set yourself to finding that, instead of pointing to the obvious ways it might be misunderstood, you just might get some value.

Who doesn’t have to pay bills?

Everyone has to pay bills.  Scarcity exists everywhere for everyone.  Sure, the tradeoffs change.  For some it’s a ham sandwich or a bus ticket.  For others it’s a private jet or a Caribbean island.  Everyone needs stuff to maintain what they see as an acceptable lifestyle, and stuff is not free.

If by pointing out that the acquisition of material needs and comforts requires work you think you’ve revealed that no one should attempt to avoid stuff they hate doing, you’ve already refuted yourself.  A large part of the reason to do things that aren’t fun is because it enables you to do more things that are.  The quote is a reminder of the why behind the process of doing crappy stuff.  So you can do less of it.

It’s a process

Even if in the present you feel compelled to do things you hate in order to pay bills, this quote provides an inspirational challenge and reminder.  It nudges you to ask yourself what things you do that you hate.  It pushes you to plot a path to escaping them.

Even if at this snapshot in time you have to do something you hate the message here is that your life extends through time.  You have tomorrow and the next day and the next.

Do you want to do stuff you hate forever?  Can you put together a plan of action or some tests to see how you might exit those activities?

Do you hate your bills?

If paying bills keeps you from doing things you enjoy, maybe the bills themselves are the problem.  If you hate paying bills, can you conceive of a way to do a lot less of it?

A great many people are lifestyle slaves.  You keep doing work you hate because you have to to pay for a car you think is necessary because the neighbors in the place you chose to live would be leery of someone driving a beater.  And so it goes, on and on.

If you really love these things and gain value over and above the suffering you endure to obtain them, fine.  If not, Gary’s quote is a good reminder.  If you hate paying for the car and cable bill, quit.  Build a new lifestyle in a cheaper house or city.  Create a new standard that doesn’t appeal to those around you but only the things you really value.

What’s the alternative?

If the commenter’s objection is an inescapable truth, what’s the implication?  If it’s impossible to quit doing things you hate because of bills then life must be an inescapable cycle of hated activities.  Yet a great many people don’t seem to hate every minute of their life.

To deny the value of this quote is to say that you have already eliminated every possible hated thing from your life.  There is no improvement you could make.  Has this ever been true of anyone?

The number of things you do that you hate – whether going to a soul-sucking job or attending a boring social event or family reunion – is higher than you suspect.  When you begin to examine your life you realize you spend tons of time and inordinate mental energy on things that make you unhappy.  Many of these you can shed right now with minimal consequences.  Others require planning and an escape process.

What’s really holding you back?

If you admit that it’s possible to do fewer things you hate you become vulnerable.  Now the burden shifts on to you to make it happen.  If you embrace this philosophy the pressure is on to implement it.  But what if you fail?  What if you say you want to quit doing what you hate and go pursue something you like and it doesn’t work out?  Better play it safe and not try.

Fear of failure and embarrassment is the major roadblock.

You will fail.  So what?  It’s a process of experimentation.

It’s comfy and has some rewards to be a martyr or a critic (I’ve written about these roles and why they keep us from exiting a bad situation in more detail here).  It’s also dangerous.

The other truth is that doing things you hate or merely tolerate is easier than doing things you love.  You might imagine doing what you love is easy.  A lucky life for the fortunate.  It’s not.  It’s a shitton of work.  Sometimes you don’t quit because you don’t want to work that hard.

This is not to say you need to do work you love.  It all depends on what work means to you and what your other values are.  Doing work you love and being happy are not necessarily the same thing.  It does mean you need a great deal of self-knowledge and self-honesty to find your values and the courage to move ever closer to living them.

It’s not just about work

Don’t limit your notion of things you hate to work.  You probably have habits and relationships and other things you hate.  Quit those too.

There are a million reasons to laugh at the advice.  I doubt any of them will improve your life after the short-lived glow of the clever dismissal.

Things can always suck less.  See if you can figure out how.