Don’t do what makes you happy. Do what makes you great.
Those who have yet to recognise greatness within themselves will find this statement perplexing. In fact, many who are on the road to tapping into this greatness will too. We’re taught to believe that the pursuit of greatness is the pursuit of happiness. That excelling at what makes us feel good is the definition of success.
The truly great will tell you this is simply not the case.
In 2014, actor, writer, and producer (Dr.) Charlie Day took the stage at his alma mater, Merrimack College, to deliver the commencement speech. As co-creator of hit comedy series It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Day might not be thought of as ‘great’ in the same way a Jobs, or a Sandberg, or even a Clooney might be, but his story is not one to be ignored. Always Sunny is one of the longest running TV comedies ever made, and it exists only because Day turned down the easier, more traditional route of starring on a network sitcom.
It could have proved a massive failure. Day could have ended up spending the rest of his life living in a crappy, roach-infested apartment, bussing tables for a living. Even if the sitcom had flopped, working on a network show would have given him the foot in the door that every actor dreams about. But that did not dissuade him.
“Everything I am truly proud of in this life has been a terrifying prospect to me…none of it comes easy. And people will tell you to do what makes you happy, but a lot of this is has been hard work, and I’m not always happy.
And I don’t think you should do just what makes you happy. I think you should do what makes you great. Do what’s uncomfortable, and scary, and hard, but pays off in the long run.
Because without this struggle, what is your success anyway?”
For all the comedy in Day’s speech, it’s these honest moments that make it worth watching in full. They remind us that a great life is not one lived without fear, but in defiance of it. Not one of contentment, but of opportunity. Not of perpetual happiness, but of perseverance.