When I was a kid I was in love with sports. I played pretty much every single one growing up. Baseball was my favourite. I watched a lot of games. I collected cards and wrote out all the stats of the best players in chronological order – just for fun. I was probably a little obsessive about it, okay extremely obsessive, but I loved it.
Catch in the backyard was my favourite activity. I’d throw the ball until my arm was about to fall off and I couldn’t see in the dark. I didn’t feel the pain in my arm, or care if I could hardly see the ball. I would badger my dad incessantly on the weekends to come play catcher so I could pitch to him in the backyard. He took a lot of curve balls to the shins. It’s not surprising that’s where I fell in love with the sound of the word “Fuck”.
Like a lot of kids, I wanted to be a professional baseball player one day. Clearly that didn’t pan out.
That’s because like a lot of kids, I fell in love with partying and out of love with the sport.
Then came acting. I performed in a play in grade eight and fell in love. The adrenaline of going on stage in front of all those people, the rush of performing, dissolving into whatever moment you were portraying, and the sound of the applause and cheers that followed gave me chills. I was addicted and it became a drug to me. I devoured every bit of information I could read about the craft, watched interviews with my favourite actors and studied the process they used to get into character. To this day, ‘Inside the Actor’s Studio’ is one of my favourite shows.
My next passion (addiction) that came was working out. I was all in, creatine and everything. I’d work out for two hours and chart my progress by taking off my shirt in the bathroom and posing in the mirror like I was Christian Bale in American Psycho. I loved it because the endorphins made me feel something. For a while, I was known as that “jacked” guy.
Then it was onto running. It started on a trip in Europe when I couldn’t lift weights. Like Forrest Gump, I started running one day and couldn’t stop. I ended up getting a hardcore case of heat stroke on that trip because I was so dehydrated from going for runs in the 30+-degree heat. That didn’t slow me down from losing 50 pounds and running a marathon.
I was passionate about all of these activities – I loved them and they made me feel alive. I worked hard and succeeded at all of them in a strange and obsessive way.
Yet in school, most people would have called me lazy, a slacker. I was unmotivated, lost, and didn’t know what I wanted to do. This persisted throughout high school and continued through my years in college. It was a continuous struggle always searching to try and find “my thing”.
I was known as that “party dude”, the social butterfly, that guy who threw all the awesome parties. It basically meant I was really good at having fun. But what does that even mean? The party has to stop one day. I definitely didn’t want to be thought of as the guy that didn’t care about anything.
So I travelled, explored, experimented and did as much and as many things I could. Nothing came to fruition.
But one drunken night while travelling and living in Australia, I sat down at the computer and started writing. Why? Was it boredom? Some unknown inspiration? Heartache?
I used to write short stories as a kid, but didn’t think anything of it. My English teacher in high school told me I was a good creative writer, but I was too focused on what I was going to do on my lunch break to give it any real thought. My mom tried to tell me I should study Journalism in college, but I was too lazy and blasé to think twice about it.
One particularly libatious evening brought a moment of precise and specific clarity. Through my drunken fog, I found my key.
I had unlocked my artist within.
In this moment, sitting down and putting words on a page, I had an important realization…I cared so much, had so much to offer, but I just hadn’t found the key to bring it out of me.
Growing up, I’d had one thing after another come and go, which meant they weren’t the right things. But as I grew up I got away from what made me successful in the past: loving what it was I was doing. That was my key to success. It took me sitting down and suddenly caring about what I was doing to remind myself that I was capable, daring to utter the words to myself, “I think I might have a talent for this”.
Like a lot of writers with a love for big moments in stories, I validate this experience as my reincarnation and awakening in my story. I credit this experience as the one that finally allowed me to admit to myself who I wanted to be, who I really was all along but hadn’t been able to clearly see.
I suddenly became motivated, obsessively motivated — to the point of annoyance to all of my family members and closest friends. That OCD-focused kid who would sketch every stat of every player in the MLB, that kid who continued to play catch into the dark, that kid who stepped on stage in grade eight and fed off the energy of the crowd, that kid who found the will and motivation to train every single evening to run a marathon just because he loved running, that kid who went to the gym to lift weights even when he had strep throat, had finally been released, or rather, been re-released.
I had re-connected myself with my key to success. Perhaps I knew it all along but just was too afraid to commit to it. Perhaps like a lot of people, I was afraid of failure, and surrendering to the path that was laid out for me. Maybe it all just meant that all these previous things I’d fallen in love with were part of a process of elimination I had to endure to land on the one thing I was sure about. I was born to be a writer.
Now I get paid to do the thing I used to do before we even knew what careers were, or cared about making money and being successful.
Growing up, I wasn’t a slacker, I wasn’t lazy, and I definitely wasn’t unmotivated. In fact, I was quite the opposite. I was burning with passion; fired up with motivation, yet with no direct channel to capitalize on all that obsessive energy I had swirling inside me. I had forgotten the formula I needed to work hard, to be successful at something. I needed to be passionate about it. I needed to do it because I wanted to do it, not because it was required of me or someone told me to do it or thought I would be good at it.
Now, I take pride in the fact that those who are closest to me would probably say that I’m one of the hardest working people they know.
The point of all this is a few things.
First off, what motivates you? Is it money? Is it passion? Is it community? Is it power?
It’s about understanding what is going to turn you on, what is going to energize you, what is going to get you excited to get up and do something. The quality of your work, all that you get out of everything you do, is an immediate effect of the amount of energy you put into something. If you don’t give energy to the things you do in your life, you’re not going to get much in return. That is true in your career, in your relationships, and everything you do in life.
In a career, if you can be lucky enough to find work you love, a job that actually makes you feel alive instead of slowly killing your soul a million deaths, you can take comfort knowing that no matter what happens, you will always have the feeling you get from your work. This is indispensable and more valuable than any paycheck you will receive in your lifetime.
Secondly, the key will be different for everyone. Some people don’t need a key, as they have the ability to motivate and preserve blindly. They do not need an emotional response to something to be motivated and work hard. But I promise you that will only get you so far. The people who will change industries, write game changing mission statements, start movements, and become legends at what they do, become that way because what they strive for is being led by a emotional desire, a vision that gets them excited. That is how you’re going to create legacy and quality work in your lifetime.
Thirdly, it’s cool to care about things. Growing up, we try so hard to fit in with our peers that we’re afraid to really care about things. So we adopt these carefree and “I don’t give a shit” attitudes in order to blend in and run with the crowd. But the ones who don’t fit in, the ones who stay deeply interested in things and carve out their passions and follow through with them are the ones who end up succeeding. Knowing this now, I wish I’d cared about things when I was younger the way I do now. I wish I knew then how to work as hard as I do now. Caring about your vocation and avocations is what life is all about, makes you successful, makes you rich, makes you great, fulfills and satisfies you. Caring makes you happy.
So what is your key?
For me, it was passion. Passion was my key. I wanted my job to embody who I was. I wanted to find something that would give me the will to do things when the average person would stop. I wanted something that would drive me mad and insane, but allow me to feel things. I wanted something that brought me back to how things made me feel when I was a kid, when everything was alive and exciting.
But finding your key is up to you to figure out. Perhaps you don’t need a magic key to unlock some secret side of yourself. Maybe you already know what you want to do. Maybe you like what you do and don’t need some definitive “calling” to rest your hat on. Perhaps your moment won’t be as dramatic as mine. I’m a writer after all — we tend to gravitate towards the dramatic.
Whatever it is, when you find your key, you will know. It will be clear. It will be powerful. And you will know exactly what to do with it.