One of the hardest things I had to learn about relationships was love is not enough. Like many other lessons this one seems painfully obvious once learned, but not at all otherwise. After all, “Love is all you need” sounds much more romantic. I still remember the way I struggled with “defining” love as a teenager and in my early 20s. At the height of each new relationship I was convinced that I had finally figured out what love really was, only to find myself back at square 1 when it ended. After a few rounds I finally gave up on the notion of “one true meaning of love” and settled for the belief that it will probably keep evolving as I kept learning. Underlying my search for the “true meaning of love”, I think, was this mistaken belief that true love meant forever, that love was both necessary and sufficient for a relationship to work out. It took more than a decade and a handful of break-ups for me to realize how misleading that belief was.
Love is not complicated, but relationships are. Love, at its core, is caring deeply about someone. Romantic love is the caring in addition to strong attraction, which is often a combination of admiration and appreciation. Successful relationships require love, but also so much more: timing, compatibility, circumstances, to name a few. The world of fiction and fairytales like to tell us “love conquers all”, but that’s just wishful thinking. I’m not suggesting that love can’t overcome many obstacles or that it doesn’t require a great deal of work and sacrifice; it can and it does. The road traveled by any romantic couple inevitably has its twists and turns, complete with all kinds of ups and downs and stumbling blocks. Love can conquer some of these, but not all of them. Availability of resources (such as time, energy, and money) and external support (friends, family, and community) is like a life raft in those trying times, and love is just not enough to keep every couple afloat through every storm.
I often find direct parallels between the romantic and professional pursuits. Just like how love is not enough for a successful relationship, interest is not enough for a successful career. Just like its romantic counterpart, interest is necessary but not sufficient. Interest can carry one pretty far, but not far enough. The road to career success can be as winding and challenging as the road to successful relationships. When the path becomes incredibly uncertain or altogether disappears, or when one suffers a particularly painful fall or even a series of falls, interest will not be enough to make you get up again and again. People often ask how I ended up going to law school and why I chose tax law. My answer was usually about how intellectually stimulating law school was and how much I liked the tax law classes. Imagine my utter shock and disappointment when I entered the working world and found not even a trace of the aforementioned intellectual stimulation. Granted my experience might be on the extreme end of the spectrum. Many people do end up in jobs that they find somewhat interesting and intellectually stimulating, but I suspect that alone does not produce greatness or long term success. What I’ve found in my personal observations agrees with what Angela Duckworth said about grit, which is passion and perseverance are both necessary for success and passion is more than just interest. Passion, as Angela Duckworth defines it, is enduring interest that ultimately serves some purpose beyond oneself.
In the world of romantic relationships, you need love and work. And in the world of professional endeavors, you need grit, the combination of passion and perseverance. But here’s the thing: you can’t make it work with everyone no matter how hard you try (or how much you love them), and you can’t get gritty no matter how much you persevere if you are not truly passionate about what you are pursuing. The hard part is most of us will end up in one or more of those relationships with someone we really like, or even love, but with whom we just can’t make it work. But we tell ourselves that because we love them (and they love us back), we should stick it out and keep trying. Similarly, many of us have had jobs, or even careers that are interesting, pay well, and look good on the resume, but perhaps still leave us wondering if that’s all there is to work life. These are the hard cases because the people and the jobs offer a lot: love, status, security, etc. They are not trivial by any means, and that’s why it can be so hard to walk away. But if you’re not really happy, with the relationship or the job, are you staying because you truly believe this is the best option for you or are you staying out of the fear there is nothing better? If you have been unsatisfied with how things are, do you have convincing evidence that it will improve, or are you resigning yourself to settling for less than what you want and deserve? I’m not not advocating for quitting when things get hard or walking away prematurely; but it’s important to know the difference between persevering through challenges versus settling out of fear, because fear never resulted in good decisions.