Find What You Love And Let It Kill You

There’s a beautiful piece of writing, by the pianist James Rhodes, which after reading several times I’m only now beginning to truly appreciate.

It’s a heartfelt request to forego at least some of the trite habitual activities that inhabit part of our days. He reminds us to recall our childhood dreams or adult aspirations, kick aside the inertia (fear) of getting started and steadfastly carve out the time to pursue, struggle and suffer for a goal.

James Rhodes writes, “We seem to have evolved into a society of mourned and misplaced creativity. A world where people have simply surrendered to (or been beaten into submission by) the sleepwalk of work, domesticity, mortgage repayments, junk food, junk TV, junk everything, angry ex-wives, ADHD kids and the lure of eating chicken from a bucket while emailing clients at 8 pm on a weekend.”

Later in his thoughtful article, Rhodes makes an argument for us to consider going after our dreams.

And then he tells us that the pursuit will likely be ridiculously difficult and time-consuming. Will be exceedingly frustrating and in the end, may only result in the internal satisfaction of doing something you couldn’t do before. And yet, he suggests that alone is often a sufficiently small miracle and satisfaction enough.

In the case of James Rhodes, when after ten years of not playing the piano, he left his corporate job and spent the next five years with no income, practicing six hours a day; and in the process lost his wife, 35 pounds and spent nine months in a mental institution.

Was it worth it? He says it was for him. Have a listen to him playing the piano.

A caveat. By no means am I advocating anyone committing herself or himself to a life of ruin? But at the same time, the article at least for me is a reminder that we should embolden ourselves to at least consider chasing down and running to ground an abandoned dream.

There’s something romantic and appealing in that quest.

You can read the article by James Rhodes here. Print it out like I did and keep it in your wallet or posted on your bathroom mirror. Let it be a great reminder to reach further towards what calls us – whether our loves, our work, our art. Whether that’s family, career or something else.

It’s easy to lose yourself in the day-to-day. The mind-numbing, never ceasing focus of “keeping the wheels” on a job. Doing more with less. Going with the flow. Grinding through uninspired.

Maybe we need to take some inspiration from the unorthodox. The unreasonable ones. The ones like James Rhodes wrenching themselves into a new form. The people described by in the Apple ad “Here’s to the Crazy Ones.

And that’s what I think is meant by the term, “Find what you love and let it kill you.” Commit to doing great work, and invest your life force.

Lots of people have done it, and given us these lessons along the way.

a) The Benefit of Doing

George Bernard Shaw wrote, “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” Good advice from a Nobel prize winner who plays continue to be performed more than 100 years after having been written.

Comedian and author Ruby Wax wasn’t afraid of doing. She put together a comedy show called Losing It, which she started out performing for small audiences within mental institutions. Eventually, she took it on the road and then invited doctors to attend so they could help audience members who needed mental help.

Ruby Wax suffered from severe depression herself and wanted to better understand why. A doctor told her it’d be too difficult for her to understand, so Ms. Wax enrolled in Oxford University and got a Master’s on the topic of neuroplasticity. It was this knowledge that she humorously credits with helping her manage her life.

b) Get Comfortable With Discomfort

No explanation needed.

c) Art for Art’s Sake

Some people are overly focused on an end result. Vincent van Gogh painted over 800 paintings in his lifetime, and although he tried to sell sell sell… he only sold a SINGLE painting during his lifetime.

His work was so underappreciated, that a painting van Gogh gave to a physician in lieu of payment, was used by the doctor to cover a hole in the roof of a chicken coop. Even the work of children typically makes it to exhibit on the refrigerator.

d) Borrow & Steal

John Cleese, the beloved British writer, comedian, and producer encourages those involved in creative pursuits (each of us) to start out by imitating those you admire. Cleese says it’s how to best learn your craft, and how to find your own unique voice.

e) Believe in Yourself

Despite his intense passion, van Gogh wrote forlornly to his brother Theo, “A great fire burns within me, but no one stops to warm themselves at it, and passers-by only see a wisp of smoke.

f) Creative Work Doesn’t Require Great Funding

The artist Robert Rauschenberg lived in New York City on Fulton Street in 1953 and obsessed himself with making art. Some days he lived on fifteen to twenty-five cents a day. There was no money to buy art supplies, so Rauschenberg would walk the neighborhood streets searching for whatever trash he could utilize as art.

One day, without money to buy a blank canvas, Rauschenberg found an old quilt that had been thrown-out. He not only used it as a canvas but also decided to utilize other materials. That led to his practice of combining a variety of found objects and materials into works he called “Combines,” and a new form of art evolved.

I wanted something other than what I could make myself and I wanted to use the surprise and the collectiveness and the generosity of finding surprises. And if it wasn’t a surprise at first, by the time I got through with it, it was. ” – Robert Rauschenberg

g) Creativity Takes Courage

Henri Matisse said exactly that, “Creativity takes courage.

h) Persistence Matters

From what I can tell, pretty much everyone who’s succeeded has overcome “failure.”

Walt Disney was fired at 22 for not being creative enough and one of his first ventures went bankrupt.

Elon Musk invested his entire $200 million fortune and was on the very edge of bankruptcy before SpaceX and Tesla Motors began to slowly get traction and turn-around.

Henry Ford failed at the first three automotive companies he’d founded, before starting a fourth time with Ford Motor Company.

You almost can fill in the blanks with any successful person. <insert name> failed at <insert failure> before succeeding with <insert success>.

i) Reinvent

Creative people form themselves through the cauldron of passion and practice, and once successful, they typically continue to reinvent out of bravery or lunacy or both.

Although Robert Rauschenberg lived for a time on fifteen cents a day, eventually his work was critically recognized and his work was highly sought (and highly valued). Yet in 1964, when Rauschenberg won the Gran Premio award in Venice, he called his assistant back in New York and said to destroy all of his silkscreens so that he wouldn’t repeat himself. Such was his commitment to continually search for new artistic frontiers.

“To be an artist you have to give up everything, including the desire to be a good artist.” -Jasper Johns

j) Enjoy The Journey

It’s a Taoist saying. It’s a Chinese proverb. And Steve Jobs popularized the phrase in our time.

We’re here for the briefest of time. We’re each going from our own point A to point Z – with peaks and valleys, stops and starts – along the way.

Create. Be kind. Be courageous. Love. Enjoy. It’s what makes us human.

I love you.


Thomas Triumph
Thomas Triumph
TOM is a hands-on technology executive who helps large organizations act more nimbly in the market and small companies scale. Leading marketing and business development, he has launched numerous technology products and led cross-functional teams – including participating in two technology revolutions – less invasive medical devices and the Internet/software. Tom has been a part of some remarkable technology and business growth success stories (as well as some misfires). Building submarines out of 55-gallon drums in grade school, he eventually fulfilled a childhood dream of living aboard a research ship (Jacques Cousteau was on the Board of Directors) and tending to the mini-sub. Tom has also wrestled in the Olympic Trials, founded a consumer electronic company, and worked for leading companies to help launch and lead: medical device products, software, SaaS, Internet companies, professional consulting services, and 25 ton hovercraft built entirely from composite materials. This broad background has resulted in two unique characteristics - the depth of skill that allows Tom to contribute to the technical, business and creative process; and the disposition for collaboration across disciplines. He's an enthusiastic and collaborative team player who maintains a good sense of humor.

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  1. I’m not sure that finding what you love and letting it kill you is necessarily the only way. I think you can find what you love and let it inspire you to a fuller, richer life. Life can be like a sine wave – some people have waves of significant amplitude, while others have a less fluctuating life. And a rare few seem to leap from top to top of the waves. It seems to me it depends on how much excitement and drama one likes, as opposed to a calmer more peaceful life. But it’s good for everyone to have periods of creativity doing what you love.

    • Dear Christine, Thank you for the thoughts! I would completely agree… and believe “letting it kill you” to mean allowing yourself to fully embrace that which calls to you and ignites your soul (but NOT actually allowing the obsession/love/calling to wreck your life). I LOVE your explanation of life being like a sine wave. Certainly we’ve all experienced the “ups and downs.” What I’m trying to do (and this is just something I’m trying for myself, and not admonishing others to do) is to commit to putting in the time and energy to make progress on those areas that are important to me (finding what I love.. and letting it (somewhat) kill me! Thanks again Christin.

  2. Tom, from the list of creative people you note, and those I’ve known, it seems that often they lean to the extreme. I’m not particularly creative and perhaps that is for the best. I never had an urge to chop of one of my ears, destroy something I crated, or spend a few months in a mental institution.

    It is also worth noting that for every entrepreneur that made it big, the gutter is littered with those that failed. Of course that is no reason to not try.

    Perhaps passion is a needed ingredient for success, though that alone will simply get you a good place in the gutter.

    • Hi Ken, Thank you for the thoughtful comment. You’re right that passion alone is likely not the only thing needed to succeed. And (I believe) creativity is something innate to all of us as humans and something that can be developed and improved.

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