A few months ago I was watching a YouTube video in which Dave Grohl, former drummer of Nirvana, now front man of the Foo Fighters, and overall Rockstar Badass, gave a speech where he said: “The reward for playing music should be playing music.” Simple, right? I immediately agreed with him and throughout the following months this simple notion stuck with me and slowly grew into something that I now consider a firm belief in my life.
The most important reward for X should be X.
The main reason and the main reward for doing something should be the “something” itself. Everything else that comes with it, the good and bad, is respectively either a bonus or an obstacle. And as Ryan Holiday would say: “The obstacle is the way.”
For example I love writing, thus the main reward should be, and is, the act of writing itself. So when I write, I already get my most important reward. Sure, if my writing, when published, gets great feedback and many people read, share and like it, then that it is also a great reward, but it’s not the most important reward. It’s a bonus. And on the flipside if my writing gets trashed and people hate it, then yes, for a period of time I naturally feel disappointed, discouraged, and maybe misunderstood, but again, it is not the most important thing concerning my creative work. It’s only a little obstacle, a little bump on my road. The work itself is already my biggest reward. The fact that I improve, nurture and live my creative freedom as a writer makes my life a little happier and a little more fulfilled.
Another personal example would be that up until recently I wasn’t mainly reading for the sake of the joy of reading, but for the sake of making progress with my Goodreads book challenge, where I challenged myself to read 50 books by the end of this year. I still read all the books I want to read, but I realized that I would read a little faster and a little less attentive just so that I can reach the end of the book and then immediately start with the next one. And that’s not the way I used to read books and not the way I should ever read books. The joy of reading should be my most important reward, and not a challenge or anything else.
If someone loves traveling, then one should travel mainly for the sake of traveling with all the good things and the not so good things that come with it. Not for bragging rights (don’t we all love the people, who try to make their friends back home jealous with filtered sunset photos?), not for checking off countries of a bucket list, because it doesn’t say anything about one’s travels, and certainly not for being a dick in other countries, because you don’t care about the different cultures.
You love acting? Then acting itself is the most important reward. Critics love your performance? Fantastic! That maybe means you get more acting gigs, where you can hone your craft in different roles. Critics hate your performance and the audience boos you offstage? Sucks, I know, and you might get discouraged, disappointed and frustrated for a while, but if the simple act of performing on stage or in front of a camera, makes you the person that you were born to be, then again, that already is your most important reward.
I think this is also the main source of persistence, if we want to be successful in whatever it is we are pursuing. We all know that we will fail many, many times so if we, in spite of every single failure life can possibly throw at us, continue doing what we are doing, because we already got our most important reward from the process itself, then we will persevere until we eventually succeed.
But if we give up and throw in the towel, because we didn’t reach those heights, then to me it simply means that our X was bound to a Y. Our “something” was bound to “something else”. It could be fame, fortune, recognition or a challenge for example. Those are the wrong reasons to do something, because we have no control over them. We should not try to bind our happiness on outside sources like materialistic things or even other people. It is totally fine to want a big house, a car and all of those things, but by all means we shouldn’t get stuck in this rat race and make ourselves “happy” by having the fastest car, the biggest house or the latest smart phone. Immediate gratification and real happiness are two very different things.
And we shouldn’t expect other people to make us happy as well. Our closest friends and families can help and support us on our way, just as we help and support them, but in Germany there is a saying that goes: “Jeder ist seines Glückes Schmied.”, which often gets translated as: “Every man is the architect of his own fortune.”
Also very important to remember is that no one can take this internal reward away from us. No one can stop someone from acting, just as no one can prevent me from writing. Even if all my literary heroes, from Hemingway to Coelho, would collectively tell me to stop writing, because I suck and I have no future, I would still continue writing.
Cars can be taken away, houses can be taken away, relationships can end, but no one can take away the joy and happiness we receive from the act itself.
So, just think about for a moment or two if the most important reward for your X is X. It can happen sometimes that we lose sight of our main goal or reward. That’s why I believe it’s important to reflect on the things that are important to us, so we can recalibrate our course if necessary and return to the most important rewards that bring so much joy, happiness and fulfillment into our lives.