Why You Should Listen to Yourself and Do What You Want to Do

Why You Should Listen to Yourself and Do What You Want to Do

Written by Emilie

Topics: Work

During our multipotentialite mixer the other day, someone asked me if I thought they needed to make videos for their website when they prefer writing blog posts. They had noticed that with their audience, videos perform better and get more traction than written content.

We chatted back and forth. I had some thoughts about how they could get their blog posts out to the world more effectively. But ultimately, my answer boiled down to this:

I’m a fan of doing what you want to do.

I’ve noticed again and again that I’m much happier and my efforts consequently succeed more, when I listen to myself and put my energy into the things I want to do over what’s popular or profitable in the short term.

A quick disclaimer here to acknowledge that the advice to “do what you want to do” doesn’t reign in all situations. If you’re a parent, you obviously can’t just drop everything to follow your bliss all the time. The desire to do your thing needs to be balanced with the needs of others, particularly those who are dependent on you.

However, when it comes to career, I believe that when we do the sort of work that lights us up, we end up being happier and that benefits everybody. Put simply, when you’re enjoying yourself, you’re more likely to do great work, keep at it, and improve, giving things time to take shape and grow. With blogging, in particular, it takes time to find your voice and grow an audience.

Of course, we want to listen to our audience and delight them by delivering what they’re asking for. There’s some compromise involved (one of my suggestions was to make a video every couple months but mostly stick to blog posts). And there will also always be stuff to do that doesn’t exactly light our heart on fire, but is necessary. Email and admin spring to mind…

It’s just that you don’t want to feel like you’re constantly responding to other people’s needs and ignoring your own. Feeling like you’re always in reaction mode, pushing your desires down to adhere to other people’s expectations…those are the things that create resentment.

But what if the things you want to do aren’t going to pay the bills?

When it comes to blogging, both video and written content can be an effective way to build an audience. But what happens if the things you yearn to spend your time on are more difficult to monetize? What if they’re things that don’t usually come with a big paycheck, like spending your days meandering in the woods or writing poetry (or both)?

In that case, you’ll need to figure out how to:

A) Monetize your passions (wilderness guide? haiku writing business?),

B) Pursue your passions as personal projects and support yourself with a good enough job or business, or

C) Monetize your passions and also develop a few other revenue streams (i.e. the Slash Approach). The cool thing about being a multipod is that you have a range of skills to draw from. Some are bound to be more profitable than others and it’s okay to lean on those to supplement your less profitable (but personally/socially significant) work.

It really boils down to this: when deciding where to put your efforts, listen to yourself. Your intuition is usually your best guide. Do the things you want to do but figure out how to do them sustainably. That might mean that you sometimes have to spend time on things you aren’t absolutely jazzed about but if you get the balance right, it shouldn’t matter.

Your Turn

How much do you listen to yourself when making business/career/life decisions? Do you ever have to balance your desires with other considerations? How do you navigate that?

Emilie Wapnick is the Founder and Creative Director at Puttylike and The Puttytribe, where she helps multipotentialites build lives and careers around ALL their interests. Unable to settle on one path herself, Emilie studied music, art, film production and law, graduating from the Law Faculty at McGill University. She is the author of How to Be Everything (HarperCollins). Learn more about Emilie here.


  1. Catherine says:

    This is so helpful. I seem to have spent my life trying to fit in and wondering why I didn’t. So I tried harder to do the things people thought I should do. So I still didn’t fit in, so tried harder etc. In a vicious circle.
    It only occurred to me recently aged 49, that I should instead be doing what I want to do. So what if it’s not the conventional life path that others do- setting out on a career and plugging away at it til I reach the highest paid role in that career.
    I just don’t function like that. I can’t. I do things for a while then lost interest. I am just made like that, sorry world! So it’s time to follow my own path.

    • Cara Randall says:

      Catherine, how amazing it is that today you wrote the above comments and you have such similar thoughts to my own. And I am 49 to boot! As I write I have just left yet another nursing home job because I hate being a registered nurse. I was being run over by bullies and do finally my depression and anxiety tore me up. So here I am on the couch, thinking about my future and being a multi-p.

      • Riza Castro says:

        It is so nice to hear to know that there are other people experiencing the same issue that I have. I am also a Registered Nurse. I have been working in a worst, imaginable hospital for 5 years where people have no passion for their work – most of them were just there to get their paycheck, and even worst, to take money from the company.

        By the way, I really loved this line on the article, “Feeling like you’re always in reaction mode, pushing your desires down to adhere to other people’s expectations…those are the things that create resentment,” because it explains up what I have been feeling for the past 10 years of my life.

        Currently, I feel lost. I don’t know If I should just quit and go back to my country (where going for what you want is difficult), or just go to another country where it will be easier to pursue a different career after a few years. I feel like I just can’t stand planning or processing any papers that relate to my Nursing career, but I am afraid to be stuck in my country.

        So, for now, I have been looking for anything that would inspire me or at least give me a clue on what to do, and found this amazing website after watching Emilie’s Ted talk.

        I can’t wait to read all the posts.

    • Emilie says:

      That’s awesome, Catherine. Good for you!

  2. Ron says:

    I’ll be 53 years old next month, and all my life I’ve jumped from job to job every 4-5 years. My resume (and life) looks suspiciously schizophrenic. There’ve been loads of reasons for the changes – boredom, conflict, new opportunities that seemed more exciting. So I’ve listened to myself fairly consistently. The result is that I’m not exactly what anyone would call a success at anything. I’ve longed to be a specialist, because that’s what everyone says I should be, but I just can’t figure out what one thing I’d love to do enough to ignore everything else. I love to write, and have started a dozen or so blogs devoted to different things, many with only one post. I believe I’m a true multipotentialite (I’ve always called myself a renaissance man), but figuring out how to live that way in a world that demands a specialty remains challenging, even more so as I round the final corner on middle-age. Thanks for the posts and the encouragement!

    • Lauren says:

      RON: You DO have a specialty, and that is being one of the few people in this world who can adapt to a multitude of different situations, to bring experience and knowledge from across a broad range of fields, in order to solve problems and to innovate.
      Hmmm…looks like my specialty might be writing in really long sentences ;)

    • Kirk says:

      I am in that same boat right now as you describe. I am 56 years young. I have job-hopped almost every 2-3 years, which makes me question whether I know who I am and what I want to do with my life. I have been in the IT field for the past 13 years and it is just a job, not a calling or my destiny. I want to try new things and reinvent myself but it is rough when you do not have full support from the home-front. I have also been working another job that I love and when I am in the zone, I loose track of time. How do you determine what you want to try and what is not for you? For me, it is trial and error and starting with baby steps. Lately it has been baking breads and muffins at home while attempting to determine my path. Good luck on your journey.

  3. Melissa B says:

    What a timely post!! I have just realized that the things I choose to do tend to have a “what will others think” spin on them. For example I have always wanted a university degree but lately I have wondered if that was because I really wanted it or because it would prove to others I was smart and could stick with something long enough to obtain it. I actually think now that i would like to get my diploma in library science and forget the university degree. Another example, I was looking at making some candles, as yet another hobby, and instead of just picking up some supplies and making what I wanted I had to go into this big plan of what would I make for Vegans, which is the best soy wax to buy, what fragrances should I make as some people really like this or that and so on. I almost turned myself off on the idea just trying to plan out all the details. It is interesting how quickly we can get caught up in what others expect of us.

    • Emilie says:

      Hey Melissa,

      I can totally relate to your candle story. I’ve been having so much fun writing my tv script but when I start thinking about what I’m going to DO with the script, whether or not it measures up to the writing on tv, etc. it sucks all the fun out of it and I just feel terrible about myself. Now I’m trying to refocus on the writing itself and not get ahead of myself. Right now, it’s about continuing to work on my script and enjoying the process. I can figure out the rest later.

  4. Paco Hadley says:

    For me, the Good Enough Job approach is perfect. My passions change very quickly — this weekend, I spend hours researching, drawing, and building labyrinths even though I’d barely known anything about them previously, and also went for a 7-mile unicycle ride. I used to think I had to find a way to make money from things like this. Now, I go to work, don’t worry about whether it is the most fulfilling thing in my life, then go home and pursue whatever I want to. I get paid, AND I follow my bliss. That’s a great combination for me!

  5. Denis Murphy says:

    Nice read Emilie and some very sound advice. I am currently in the B category pursuing my passions with The Happy Mindset yet having a stable monthly income from my full time job. I think it is helpful to see that there are many paths and working in a full time job doesn’t mean I don’t have the time to explore and do work that I find meaningful and more on purpose for me. When I read the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport this really hit home for me. Loving your website and your Ted Talk, before I came across you I wasn’t aware of the term multipotentialite :)

  6. Clare says:

    Paco, you’ve hit the nail on the head. I’ve spent years trying to think of a way to make money from a business of my own, but I’m much happier (for now at least ) realising that work is a way to make money to try lots of hobbies (although having a varied job helps if you’re a wage slave).

  7. K.C. says:

    Once again you Nailed it Emilie! I can totally relate to the above comments as I am 49 also, soon to be 50 and living back home after 25 years away, wondering how I got here and why isn’t my life coming together like I want it to. Having said that, I know what I want to do, continue volunteering and writing my fiction, create a small product line as well as multiple income streams through investing. But somehow I can never seem to find the right(now) opportunity that keeps me from continuing to be the world’s best receptionist, which is all people ever see on my resume when I try to get into another field that I believe I can do. So many people have suggested that I become a blogger but my creativity works better with fiction, plus I’m not really big on social media and don’t want to have to be on the time schedule of my readers in order to keep up the ‘likes’. I just don’t work like that, either. (shout out to Catherine) But as I continue to press on looking for that right(now) opportunity until I no longer have to work for someone else, you can best believe that I will continue to Believe that my joy can only come from ‘Doing what I Love”!

    Thanks again for all you do and to those brave enough to speak their truth as well. I’m proud to be a part of your Tribe!

  8. This is a great post Emilie, and it’s interesting to see the number of comments from people in their 40s and 50s. I’m in the latter group, and the older I get the less I care what other people think about how I live my life. A lesson for we multipods of any age is not to allow others’ ideas of what it is to be successful to define us. I favour the Einstein approach, and have a much better than ‘good enough’ job which I do part-time. My rationale for working part-time is that it costs money to earn money, and then the more we earn the more we spend. (Think about it!) So my lifestyle is financially viable, whilst allowing lots of time to indulge my varied interests and hobbies. One of my hobbies, scrapbooking, may become income-producing as I’ve recently launched a FB business page. But in the end I’m not emotionally invested in this happening nor dependent financially on its success. As with my other interests, the primary motivation is my love of it. This is my definition of a successful life.

  9. Lilia says:

    Thank you Emily! Happy to read this in such coherent form)) In my mind these thoughts are sooo unstructured and more likely to be spontaneous feelings. I have a lot of problems with balance. When I am ok with my passions I easily fail financially and vice versa. But I think it is more about timing and practice.
    I believe that “do-what-you-really-want” approach is the only right way for any person and the best strategy not only for multipods, but for any community, as it makes collective work more meaningful and harmonious and less bureaucratic.
    Some circumstances can really affect our intentions, but we can adjust the level of ambition to the reality. For example, not the super art center in the middle of Sahara, but tiny gallery on the corner next to school) as a first step)

  10. Robin says:

    I’m also in my 50s (must be something in the air! lol) I’m starting over after ending a lengthy, emotionally abusive marriage. Now that I’m free to do what I want, though, everyone is telling me not to because I’ll “never make any money at it”. I’m an artist and a writer at heart. I know that I am good at both, and I can spend hours getting lost in either one. Sadly, I’m emotionally vulnerable and unsure of myself, so I’ve been giving in to what other people think. People are also pushing me to get a job, which seems logical, but my last employment was almost 30 years ago and I have no marketable skills. I’ve always hated working for other people, and at this point, just the thought of it triggers anxiety. If I didn’t know better, I might think people want to see me working at a fast food place as punishment for being arrogant enough to get a divorce. I’ve spent so long being miserable that I would love to do what makes me happy for a change, but I don’t know if I have what it takes to go against what people are telling me to do. :( My advice to others would be, don’t end up like me – do what you love.

    • Robin I’m sure that ‘everyone’ was pleased when you finally left the abusive relationship. But the interesting thing is that they are replicating the emotional abuse you got away from – by saying you’ll never make any money doing what you love, pushing you to get a job, and generally being discouraging and all-knowing. I wonder if they realise this? You deserve some space to think and be, to work out the direction that is right for you, and to be surrounded by supportive people. Wishing you the best!

      • Robin says:

        Thank you, Jo. You’re very perceptive! My friends and children (both adults) think they have my best interests at heart, trying to get me to be “realistic”, which seems to be code for “play it safe, step in line, don’t do anything out of the ordinary”. I spent most of my childhood like that, and all of my marriage, with only a brief time in between when I was in control of my life. I wasn’t prepared for it, so it didn’t go well, but I loved it. Now I’m scared to try to reclaim that vibrancy; I’m confused, and angry, and tired. What’s so great about a “normal” life, anyway?

        • Robin may you find the support you need to ‘bust out’ of the constrains of the ordinary within this online community and also with a face to face one!

        • Rosie says:

          Hey Robin,

          NOTHING is so great about a ‘normal life’, whatever that is, unless it’s making you happy. There comes a time (I’m 63, though I have done what I wanted since my late 20s) when you have to choose who is going to dominate your life. If it’s not YOU, there’s going to be trouble coming somewhere. We women, especially us older women, have always been encouraged to put our desires last. Find your strength, your gritty determination, and like your average 2-year-old, practice saying No. Loudly. No one will give you permission to be yourself unless you do. Then everybody else will adjust to you. Wishing you well, it’s a brave step; but only for a little while. Then it’s your new normal life.

    • Jennifer says:

      Robin you have made the hardest leap already. You have been brave enough to take the chance of a life on your terms. Don’t undo that wonderful, courageous decision by buckling to anyone else’s ideas of what is right for you. Only you know what is right for you. I rely on the thought – what will I look back on my life and be proud of? You’ve already got several moments, your children and your decision to be true to yourself as a start. Don’t give up now when you’ve only just begun.

  11. José Gabriel says:

    I really liked this article because it’s true about your passions and what do you need to do in order to succeed in that thing that you like and how important is it, like how to live with it and how to use my time with my passions.

  12. Lizbeth says:

    I totally identify, I just start my life where i have to choose ” what suits me best” for my future but of total help, i have to choose what im passionate about and when i read this great text, i was born to do the activities that i like the most to makr a good decisión.

  13. Simón Duarte says:

    It’s true that we have to listen to ourselves when we are about to make a decision and most of the time when that decision will be your financial support. I agree on what you said about “what if what makes you happy doesn’t pay your bills?” I know people who have problems doing what they really want because of money. Also that’s pretty valid to think of your future because you’re human, you eat, you have necessities… and for most of the necessities you need money.
    What I’m trying to say is that in some particular cases you have to see about your future in front of what you love, for example: you love to dance but that doesn’t mean you have to study dance. You can take it as a hobby and study other thing you like.

  14. Michel Marron says:

    I liked to read this blog, I think it helped me to know me better and to listen to myself and know what I want to do with my life. I think Emilie is very foot at these topic because she really helps you.
    I’m young, so I’m trying to “find” myself and know what I really want, who I want to be. I have a lot of doubts about me and feels like this article is made for me. Thanks Emelie! :D

  15. Alexis Durazo says:

    I have always liked to listen to myself and work for my own account. I like to learn a lot of things and not depend on the other people. I like to work on things i like and i generate good income. Sometimes i don’t have a job and i have to work doing other things. Since a very young age i’ved stared working and solving my own problems and it worked well.
    But i have a question, is it good to always do all by yourself?

  16. Joana Tamayo says:

    Hey Emilie, how are you?
    I agree that we hear criticism both good and bad, but when the Time comes to say that not matter what others think their own success increases, it has happened to me recently that my family doesn’t agree with what I want to study and one way of filing the situation was to talk to the person who would give me their unconditional support and apparently it turned our successful.

  17. Joana Tamayo says:

    Hey Emilie, how are you?
    I agree that we hear criticsim both good and bad, but when the time comes to say that not matter what others think their own success increases, it has happened to me recently that my family doesn`t agree with that I want to study and one way of filing the situation was to talk to the person who would give me their unconditional it turned our successful.

  18. Shira says:

    Hi Emilie,
    Saw your TED talk several years ago, and it really resonated with me. I just went looking for it as I find myself (again) growing restless. I’m definitely more on the sequential approach, but hoping someday I can conceive of something that pulls it all together. I find that I always fall back on some type of self deprecating joke about myself when someone asks me “what I’m doing now”. It’s a hard shell to break out of. Happy to find you all here and look forward to reading along. With best regards from NYC.

  19. Dave says:

    Alas, one of the toughest scenarios is when you work best intensely focused on one thing at a time, but that thing isn’t “sustainable” (at least, in our for-profit society) yet! Making that transition from “day job to pay the bills” to “my time to do my thing” can be exceedingly difficult, especially in an age when many jobs demand we be “on call” all the time.

    The one thing I wish I’d known when I was much younger is that it’s easier to switch fields and professions if you’ve been “successful” in one first. If you simply show switching around from job to job, area to area, people get increasingly wary of hiring you (or working with you on a project).

    On the other hand, if you have some nice “pin” you can put at the end of each job, you can make a much better case. Whether that’s completing some major project, developing a new system, making a big presentation, or earning a qualification, I find that gives you the ability to say “Well, I accomplished *this* much doing that, and frankly, I’m ready for a different kind of challenge…”

    I have a number of friends who have switched fields like that — and though it’s easier in academia, I’ve also seen diagonal moves from politics to medicine, real estate to teaching, and real estate to politics!

  20. Riley says:

    Dear Emily,
    I have recently come across your TED talk and you touched me deeply. I recognised myself in your words and for the first time could put a name on “it” – the way that I am and apparently a lot of us are. Not focussed on one specific area but having a lot of interests, strengths and potentials, that in our society unfortunately often do not get recognised. I often felt guilty and not good enough, but I start realising that actually nothing is wrong with me!
    I do have a strong inner voice which never let me down on big life decisions. However, as I am getting older I feel like “society’s” expectations are much louder than my own voice and that it gets drowned in the loud rumble of ‘have a career! get married! buy a house! become a mom! Earn money for your safe retirement!’ . And also, ‘be good at your one job’ – but not at your real passions and strengths, because they are not valued by our job market.
    So, this is what happened to me in the last few years of my life after graduating from university and at the beginning of my “career”. And now I am starting to listen to my instincts again and am hopeful, and anxious, that they will lead me somewhere good.
    Thank you for your work and I am looking forward to hearing other people’s stories on this website. It is so inspiring.

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