You Don’t Have to Make Lemonade

Photo of Lemons Piled Up on a Lemonade Stand
Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

My biggest goal in life is to deliver a college commencement speech.

I dream about this. I journal about it every morning. My daily affirmation is, “I will give a commencement speech before I die.” And I pray for it every night.

It’s gonna happen. In fact, I’ve already written the speech:

When life gives you lemons, you don’t have to make lemonade. You can make whatever the hell you want. You can throw them out and ask for something else – something less sour.

Don’t waste your only life doing something you don’t enjoy. Instead, find what you love – what keeps you up at night – and do more of that.

And don’t stop looking until you find it.

The whole delivery takes 27 seconds in my animated, engaging, monotone voice. I can do it in 21 seconds if I strip out the emotion.

The point isn’t to make anyone second-guess their major or career choice. I just want people to realize they don’t have to play it safe and stick to the script.

Instead, they can write their own script.

It’s your move

The “adult model” for the last 50-100 years looks like this:

Go to college -> Work for 45 years -> Retire

It looks simple. We show up to class for 4 years, meet the minimum requirements, and walk out with a degree and a career. We have the rest of our lives ahead of us. Go forth and conquer!

But what if we don’t get it right the first time? What if we spend 5 or 10 years working, then look back and wonder why the hell we chose that path? Why did we pick that major or this career path? Are we stuck doing the same thing for the next 30 years?

Of course not. We can go back to school. We can change companies, or start over in a new industry. Or we can veer off on a completely different path.

But it’s our responsibility. It’s your responsibility.

If you don’t like lemonade, quit making lemonade. If what you’re doing sucks the life out of you, quit doing it. You owe it to yourself and everyone in your life to stop doing something you don’t enjoy.

How do you figure out your next move? Answering a few questions is a good place to start.

What are you good at?

You know what you’re good at and you know what you suck at. So, do more of the things you’re good at and less of the things you suck at.

Easy-peasy, right? Here’s how it works:

Unless you have God-given talent, you have to do something over and over to get good at it. It takes deliberate practice. And unless you’re a complete masochist, you only practice things you enjoy doing.

There’s also forced practice – doing something that’s part of your job. Maybe it’s the only part you like. Maybe because you’re good at it.

So, what are you good at?

What do people say you’re good at?

I’ve mentioned this before. People don’t go out of their way to compliment mediocre work. You’re not a 4-year old. People compliment great work.

So listen to them. You may not recognize your own talents or skills, but other people do.

What have people asked you to do for them?

I’m not talking about helping your friend move into his 17th apartment in the last 3 years. I’m talking about when someone asks for your talents or skills to do something for them.

Can you make me one of those? Will you teach me how to do that? Can you do this for me? You’re good at that – can you help me with mine?

People only ask questions like this if they’ve seen your work and like it.

And we can take this one step further:

What have people paid you to do for them?

If someone is willing to pay you for something outside of your day job, you must be good at it.

Enough said.

What did you love doing as a kid?

I loved playing with Legos and Lincoln Logs as a child. When I got older, I would take apart remote control cars and bicycles and (try to) put them back together (sorry, Dad). And, I was a nerd who collected “Perfect Attendance” awards at the end of all but two school years.

I never found a job playing with Legos or breaking consumer products. And I never found anyone to pay me for having perfect attendance at work. But there are some parallels to what I like doing now.

I like building digital “things” like websites. I like creating blog posts to express the weird ideas running through my head.

And, 20 years removed from high school, I’m still obsessed with learning new things every day.

What can you NOT stop yourself from doing?

Whenever I see a crooked picture on anyone’s wall, I have to straighten it. But that’s not what I’m talking about here.

Most of us have tendencies we can’t seem to control. For example: if someone asks for my input on an idea or business, I can’t help myself. I have to write a 10,000-word dissertation.

I don’t do this because I’m self-absorbed or think I know everything (I don’t – ask my wife). I do it because I genuinely want to help people. I don’t want them to make some of the dumb mistakes I’ve made. I want them to take calculated risks and succeed.

And I can’t not write. Not anymore. I have a million other things going on, but I always find a way to squeeze in some writing. A lot of it never makes it to my blog, but that doesn’t matter.

So what do I do with my obsessions? How do I apply them to or integrate them with my work? To be honest, I don’t know yet. But I’ll keep writing about it until I figure it out.

Where to go from here

What about you? What are you good at that you also enjoy? What are you obsessed with? When there’s zero time to spare in your busy schedule, what do you still find time to do?

Your answers may not get you to your final destination, but they’re a start.

I want people to realize there’s a different way to “do life.” You don’t have to follow a playbook established decades ago. You don’t have to lock yourself into a single career at 18 and work your way up the ladder until retirement.

You can start over any time. And if you get it wrong again, you can start over again. And again and again, until you get it right.

You have to keep looking for that thing that lights you up – that makes you get out of bed every morning excited for a new day. Don’t spend your whole working life doing something you don’t enjoy.

If nothing else, you can use those lemons to make limoncello. Who likes lemons anyway?


P.S. – I’ve mentioned this book before, but I have to mention it again: So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love. This book had a huge impact on me. It flipped my entire view of “fulfilling work” on its head. Check it out.

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