Be a good person; Do what you love

November 10, 2011 — 37 Comments

I no longer remember who said it to me, but I can still hear the words. “Do what you love. Be a good person. Those are your only two jobs in life.”

In practice:

First, to be fair and honorable. To make mistakes and know it—and forgive them. Don’t slow down traffic or recline your seat on airplanes or any such other make-the-world-worse, externalizing nonsense. Know others and think of them often. Pick up the check whenever you can. And try to do these things with one word in mind: unconditional.

Being good at something is not sufficient reason to do it for the rest of your life. But loving it is. Work on the things that make you stare out car windows or not even hear someone say your name repeatedly. The things that make you forget what time it is. Be certain that what you do for hobbies and vacations are not the gasps of a suffocating man but your common breath. Learn how to love many things, simple things, and it’s even easier to do them all the time.

Frankl reframed the now cliche question of “What’s the meaning of life?” to one that we answer instead of ask. We’ve been asked this by life, he said, and we must answer with our actions. The way to do this, in my view, is simple: be a good person; do what you love.

Ryan Holiday

I'm a strategist for bestselling authors and billion dollar brands like American Apparel, Tucker Max and Robert Greene. My work has been used as case studies by Twitter, YouTube and Google and has been written about in AdAge, the New York Times, Gawker and Fast Company.

37 responses to Be a good person; Do what you love

  1. Word. Motherfuckin’ word.

  2. But what if what you love is selfish and makes you a bad person?

    • I would argue that this would be a false love. It may burn fast and hard but it ultimately blows up. Is it even possibly to love the hurt on the faces of people you care about, the guilt you might feel, the truth you have to obscure about the consequences of your selfishness? This is what I mean when I call it a false love. You may love part of it but by admitting that it is selfish and makes you a bad person, you are acknowledging that you don’t love all of it. I hope that clarifies.

    • The way I see it: is having bad taste in what you love.

      • Exactly. If you know its not good and you love it anyway, I think two things. A) You’re addicted to it
        B) You’re a sociopath.

        If its the latter, stop reading because none of this site is for you. If it is the former, see the comment below about Angry Birds. It is time to figure out how to wean yourself off of it.

  3. From an email:

    Can you LOVE playing Angry Birds? Or does it simply give you pleasure–pleasure that is ultimately fleeting and unsatisfactory? No one gets lost in deep thought recalling a moving game of Angry Birds or a snark Perez post about some celebrity.

    There is no question that such pleasures have a place in our lives. We are base humans after all. But what gives us purpose and meaning are the deep loves–our callings. I’m talking about the book that Frankl was compelled to rewrite in his head in the midst of horrible toil in the concentration camps. I’m talking about the love of people that generated visions as he was near death that brought comfort and consolation.

    I would argue that see things, which feel good, also DO good. It makes the world better. His book did and do. His dedicated and empathic love for his wife and family did good. By doing what we love, we produce things that provide aid, meaning, and inspiration to others. The balance is not difficult at all. It is a feedback loop.

    I have never found his concept of meaning to be simple. It’s multifaceted: finding meaning in suffering, in work and in love. That is life my friend. This three things cover just about all of it.

    On Nov 10, 2011, at 2:34 PM, Michael Janz wrote:

    Hello Ryan,

    Serendipitous timing of your email. I’m part of a book club here in Edmonton (Alberta, Canada) and last night we covered Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Much of our discussion centered around the points you mentioned in your post today about meaning.

    However one point of discussion that we conflicted over was, is it enough to just do what you love– what if that was just playing angry birds? What if it was just spending your life on Perez and ONTD?

    Ken, the teacher of the book club, suggests that purpose or fulfillment in life comes from finding that difficult balance between feeling good and doing good. 

    I think that Frankl too often simplified meaning as anything and Plato reminds us that there are “higher” and “lower” forms of meaning that will ultimately bring us closer to a fulfilled life.

    What do you think?

    Thanks for the provocative posts as always,

    Michael Janz

  4. ‘To make make mistakes and know it’

    Was the double use of the work ‘make’ an intentional mistake?

  5. Nice post. I’d probably add that even if you don’t “love” your job you have to respect yourself enough to do it as well as you can. Phoning it in is a horrible habit.

  6. You’re a wise fellow, Ryan. I will buy your book, make sure it is available for Kindle 🙂

  7. This is one of the most beautiful posts I have ever read. Period.

    I don’t think I can quite explain it, but it resonates with me deeply.

    Thank you.

  8. Dude… thank you. that’s all.

  9. One of your best posts in a long time, by far. Gracias.

  10. Picking up the check whenever you can is much better than the oft said ‘Pick it up for her, always’. Boy pays for girl is negative gender role reenforcing but picking it up when you can implies thoughtful, non-awkward timing. Some people don’t know how to avoid the free lunch as Mr. Greene put it…

  11. Two problems:

    1) Thinking that the thing you love must also be your job.

    2) The problem of distraction (basically the person that said “what if I love angry bird”).

    They seem like definition problem: what do we mean by “what you love”? Which can be reduced to “what do we mean by “love””?

    Now we can play a game of sort, which in this case would be trying to say the same thing without saying the word “love”.

    Be a good person, do what ——?

    is fullfilling?
    is passionating?



      It comes from this website although I cannot retrieve the text in which I found it.

      Don’t know how that spam filter is gonna treat me.

    • Honestly, I think it’s pretty clear what we mean by those things. If you want to talk about distraction, these kind of dialectical exercises seem like one to me. They are pointless, and serve little end but making us feel smart–and destroying the chance that we will get any meaning from the words in question. Love is obvious to people. It becomes not obvious when you stare at it crosseyed for too long.

      As for the first problem, it’s not that you must love your job. It’s that if you spend MOST of your day doing a job you do not love or even like, it’s hard to say you’re really that serious about doing what you love. There’s no other time.

  12. What a beautiful reflection. Such a nice summation. I feel like this alludes to and relates to most of my favorite poems and other writings, even though I doubt you’ve read them – you have your own favorites that brought you here.

    It seems like at some point we stop asking ourselves whether or not we’re happy, or fulfilled, or loving, and we’re just thankful for those times when we are – and then we do what we can to bring more of those times into our lives.

  13. I have a question. You wrote: “Know others and think of them often. Pick up the check whenever you can. And try to do these things with one word in mind: unconditional.” I agree with you on that 100% but how do you balance your needs and the other person’s needs? It’s easy to rationalize another person’s behavior (especially if they’re a loved one). But how do you prevent yourself from being taken advantage of or of ensuring that things are fair between you and the other person? (Not so much in the obvious example where the other person is contributing nothing and you’re contributing everything, but in the situation where the other person realizes they can get away with more or bring less to the table because you’re easy going.)

    • I know that for me, it’s much more likely that I will be too SELFISH rather than too generous. Of all the tendencies to guard against, and to discuss pre-emptively, taking care of others’ needs at the expense of your own does not seem so critical. That’s my option.

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