The pinnacle of your life lies in the pursuit of what you want. But the hardest question in your life, and the most elusive answer that will take you the longest to find is this: “What do I want?” Most never discover it, because most never ask the question truly of themselves, though they already know the answer somewhere inside of them.
You are sitting on the beach of your private island and your helicopters have just flown all of your friends back to your yacht to get them home, and the party is over… and you have won… You take a deep breath and look out across the sparkling ocean, and with a long sigh say aloud to yourself: “God Damn it… You know what? Now I think I'm going to ___________.”
Fill in that blank.
Guess what: That's what you want.
That's your starting point. The funny thing about this exercise is this: Whatever you put in that blank… you can start doing that shit right now. I promise you. You do not have to wait for the island and the yacht and helicopters. Hell, you don’t even have to quit your job. You just have to start. Whatever that answer is, whether it is to be a writer, own a flower shop, be an inventor, a musician, be an entrepreneur, a Navy SEAL, climb Mt. Everest, or do something otherwise crazy, at which everyone you know may scoff… and if it is the right answer, they probably will. That thing… that is the right answer. In fact, unless they do scoff, it is likely the wrong one.
That answer is your art.
The reason they will scoff is that they know it is impossible for you. You may have no background in it, no knowledge of it, only a transparent and begrudged support from friends and family… it may depart from all that is expected of you… and it probably will. But that’s why it’s right. And it is the only thing worthy in your life of doing.
You will be going out too far. You must go out beyond where you can go. You must go out beyond where you can be helped. If you do not, you will die the slow death with the rest of them. When you go out that far you will look for others to validate what you are trying to accomplish. If you do find someone, other than that closest friend looking from the shore and yelling: “holy shit keep going, man!” If you find someone out there to help you and show you the way… you have not gone out far enough.
If you’ve gone out too far, you will find no one. When you scream for help, and hear no one coming to your aid, that’s where you begin. That is the thing in life you were meant for. That pursuit will make you into who you were always meant to be.
Do not wait until you have that one last thing that you need. There will always be that one more thing… Just fucking start. Do it now and with only everything that you have right now. Just start. That's the only way you will ever finish. And unless you do it. Unless you go out too far, unless you engage in that impossible pursuit… unless you do that you will never discover who you are.
“It is easy when you are beaten,” he said.
“I never knew how easy it was.
And what beat you?” he thought.
“Nothing”, he said.
“I went out too far.”
The Old Man and the Sea
For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed.
How simple the writing of literature would be if it were only necessary to write in another way what has been well written. It is because we have had such great writers in the past that a writer is driven far out past where he can go, out to where no one can help him.
1954 Nobel Prize Speech