The Most Important Thing

Being happy is the most important thing we should be striving for, and it’s the topic that is ignored most by career advisors and educators.

By Squirrel Logic on Aug 10, 2020

This article is part of a series on advice for freelance artists.

I want to share some parting wisdom to conclude this series. It’s the stuff they don’t teach you in art classes, but I think it is the most critical life advice above all else.

You Do Not Have to Be Exceptional

I know you’ve heard YouTuber’s, influencers, and growth-hacking gurus tell you that you have to be the absolute best to succeed, and that the only way you can succeed is to work 80-hour weeks and be hustling 100% of the time.

I promise you that they don’t follow their own advice. If you followed their advice you would be miserable. You would burn out quickly and your career trajectory would take a dive.

We grow up with this idea that in order to be happy we have to be better than average. Why would you want your happiness to be dependent on if you are at the top of the bell curve? Shouldn’t everyone be entitled to happiness no matter how skilled they are?

The reality is that you don’t have to be the best at your craft to have a good career. You just have to be good enough to do the work, and be someone that people like to work with. That’s it. Some of the most skilled people lose job opportunities because they are horrible to work with. So you don’t have to be the best; there’s a lot more to the equation.

Have Sane Expectations

You need to have sane expectations about what you income, status, and education goals are. Unrealistic expectations is one of the key reasons why people are unhappy. We are often unhappy because we are comparing ourselves to other people.

You can be perfectly happy with very little. If you can learn to be be happy with nothing, then you’ll be happy for the rest of your life.

If I had to pick one issue I have with social media—and the internet in general—is that we are repeatedly being exposed to curated and perfected feeds of people’s life’s. We think that those social media feeds are the norm. The truth is that we are not seeing into people’s real lives on a regular basis anymore, except our own. So we think that our lives are the ones that suck.

With the internet we are seeing hundreds of the best creators in the world every day. We begin to think that we have to be like that in order to compete in this world. The reality is that you don’t have to be that good. The internet is showing you nothing but unicorns. You don’t have to be a unicorn to be successful. It’s okay to be a horse. The world is wide enough for everyone to have their own success.

Finding Joy In the Journey, Not the Destination

The most rewarding things in life take time. It often takes several years or even decades.

Because of the amount of time it takes to achieve certain goals, it is important to have joy in the journey and not in the destination. The hit of joy you get by achieving a goal is very brief. If you get that job, you may feel good for a week or two. But then your happiness will return to the baseline it had before. This is a well-understood phenomenon in psychology known as the hedonic treadmill.

It is very important to not put your joy and your self-worth on achieving those goals. If those are the only events that will make you happy, then you’ll only be happy 1% of the time. You need to figure out how to be happy for the other 99% of your life.

That means having realistic expectations about what your life can and should be. In other words, you need to learn to be happy without being successful.

Happiness First. Success Second.

Why am I bringing up the the idea of happiness in a series of articles about freelancing and career advice? Because ultimately, that’s why you want to be a freelance artist, isn’t it? Maybe you want the freedom that comes with freelancing. Maybe you want to do work in an area that interests you. Or maybe, like me, you got into it because you needed to freelance in order to survive.

Whatever it is, happiness is the reason why we do everything. So make the act of happiness be your focus first. Don’t let achieving your goals dictate your happiness.

Happy People Become Successful

The happiest people are the ones that become the most successful. You may think that the Law of Attraction is some woo-woo New Age nonsense. It’s not; it’s psychology.

People want to associate with happy people. Happy people look like they already got their act together. Happy people are safer to be around. They create less drama. They attract less drama. Smart people want to start businesses with people that are already happy because they’ll be easy to work and they appear to already be successful. That is one of the reasons why success seems to follow happy people around, and why failure always seems to follow unhappy people.

Opportunities are brought about by other people providing those opportunities to others. Happy people are more attractive to people that want to provide those opportunities to others. It’s as simple as that.

That sounds like a messed-up positive reinforcement loop. And it is. But solving it is not a a chicken an egg problem.

I know there are some of you that feel like forcing yourself to be happy is impossible. You may feel that there are holes in your life that are making you unhappy.

Some holes in your life can be pretty serious: food scarcity, poor health, debt, and so on. Those definitely need to be dealt with. It takes more than a positive attitude to address those problems. The best advice I can give (due to my inexperience with those issues) is to find support through government, community and religious programs. Swallow any pride that you have an seek out those assistance programs. Squirrel Logic is interested in getting more information on how creatives deal with these very serious problems. If this is something you have struggled with in the past and overcame it, please contact us about your story.)

Once your basic needs are met, do the following to grow happier with your current lifestyle:

  • Be thankful for what you have. Don’t worry about the things you don’t.
  • Have realistic expectations about your life goals.
  • Only worry about the things you can control.
  • Don’t make goals that require other people’s cooperation.

That last one is pretty big. I can’t control if my business is successful or not, because that is based on if other people want what I can give. If my business is not working out, it is because I need to change, not my customers. For those reasons I do not put my happiness in the success of my business, because I can’t control if it is successful or not. I can control if I put the work in to see if my ideas and services are validated. If they are not, I try something else.

I find happiness at Squirrel Logic because I’m helping creatives that are down on their luck. I take joy in knowing that I’m doing what I can to provide the guidance, design, web development, and video skills to help other people get their business going.

What about my measurable goals? If I can work on my projects for a set number of hours each week, then I’m happy. I’m happy knowing that I was able to do what I could do. How much time I spend working on my projects is something I can control—for the most part. Sometimes life just happens and I just accept that there were more important things for me to be doing that week. If something happens outside of my control, I don’t beat myself up over it.

It wasn’t until I was in my mid-thirties when I stopped envying other people’s success. Around that time I also stopped worrying about being single. I realized I had everything I needed, and if I had nothing more, I was okay with it. Finally.

Once my expectations about life became more realistic, and I stopped feeling bad about my income, my lack of prestige, or my single status, that’s when I started to be happy. I was more confident because it was okay if people said no. I stopped being afraid. The paradox was that because I didn’t care if people said yes or not, I took more risks and actually started doing the things necessary so that I would gain those successes. And that’s when employers—and the ladies—started to take more interest in me. A couple years later after that change in attitude I got a better job, then my dream job, and my dream spouse. The key was that happiness came first. The success came later.

You really do have to find that peace and happiness comes from within. You may have to talk to friends and family about it. It’ll take time for that change to happen in you. Be patient. All good things happen slowly.

In Closing

Again, be thankful. Have realistic expectations about your life and what your goals are. Only worry about the things that you can control.

Work at a steady pace. Don’t burn yourself out. Use the scientific method to discover your ideal routine through recording data and experimenting. Record how long it takes for you to do things and keep a mood journal to find out what balance of activities work best for you.

Learn to be happy now. Success will follow you more after you are happy.

Good luck.