This time of year, we hear a lot about living our passions, setting intentions, and creating resolutions to turn our lives around. All of those sentiments are really positive and the new year is a great time to evaluate whether or not what we are doing is working for us. At the same time, it’s important to acknowledge that as much as that can be invigorating, it can also be scary or challenging. And this time of year, when everyone is doing it at the same time and our inboxes are flooded with talk of resolutions, we can feel more pressure.
More than once, when reading an article that talks about someone following their passion, it has occurred to me that if you don’t know what your passion is, or if you found it and it’s not what you thought it would be, or if you do know and practical life things are getting in the way of you living it, all of these stories might make you feel frustrated, disgruntled, or maybe even like there is something wrong with you that you haven’t figured things out yet. It seems that every article we read about someone who has completely changed their course or left their day job and is now living their passion makes it sound as if it were easy for them to do it. And there’s a good reason for that. It’s because we are reading about the culmination of something that may have been years in the making. We are looking at a particular moment in time in hindsight, encapsulated into 1200 or 12,000 organized, edited, and distilled words. So of course whatever we are reading is going to feel smooth and neat. Even in my own work I try to convey the reality of what I was feeling at the time of the experience but in going back and reading what I’ve written, I see that it sometimes reads in that same neat way. And that’s because I’m typically writing about something that I have had the opportunity to process. The truth is that making a change of any kind, particularly one that involves your career or a major cornerstone of your life is the farthest thing from easy. Everything is messy all the time when you are making changes on that level. I’ll say that again. Everything is messy. All. The. Time. Some moments are fantastic, you can distinctly feel the value of what you are doing, and it seems like everything will work out. Other moments you wonder what you were thinking, you wonder whether or not you have it in you, and wonder if you made the right choices. And some times you feel a combination of the two. Those issues are real. There isn’t one person who has taken the leap of making a significant change that hasn’t come up against these feelings. People generally write for public consumption when they get to the other side of an issue, when we have some insight, but there’s very little out there that accurately captures the sometimes messy reality of the middle.
So here’s what I’ve learned so far about “following your passion” and how to lessen the pressure whether you’ve found it, you’re looking for it, or trying to live it. I feel like I first have to say that as most difficult things, this is easier said than done and I am a work in progress.
If you are looking to make a change in your life or just enrich your experiences in some way and you aren’t sure where to start, follow your curiosity.
First, we need to throw out the phrase, “follow your passion.” That phrase needs to be banished like the word “should” and a few others I can think of. I can relate much more closely to Elizabeth Gilbert’s advice when she says, “follow your curiosity.” If you are looking to make a change in your life or just enrich your experiences in some way and you aren’t sure where to start, follow your curiosity. Notice what piques your interest. Follow it, explore it. Notice what makes you feel that sense of connectedness or whatever it is you are searching for. Maybe it’s that thing that lights up your being or the thing you feel like you could talk all day about. And then start to think about where you could fit more of that into your life. Start small. See what happens.
Next, surround yourself with a few people who understand or have done what you are trying to do, people who can offer you different perspectives. I feel like we need to talk more honestly to one another about the particulars of our struggles and how we achieved our successes. We need to share our questions and brainstorm solutions because the truth is that everyone who is in the midst of a career change or a major life shift has help. Maybe it’s from a partner, family, or friends but it literally takes a village whether that support is emotional or financial.
Finally, be open. This one can be a little difficult for me because in this instance what I mean by being open is letting go a little and allowing things to unfold. This can be really hard if you are used to being very linear or goal-oriented, or if you feel like the clock is ticking, or the rent needs to be paid, or you happen to be someone who is a little more on the Type A controlling side. Not that I’m speaking from experience here or anything (insert winking emoticon here). For me, I feel the pull between that side of me that is open, loves seeing how my path will unfold, and marveling at the opportunities that organically evolve and the side of me that is Type A, stereotypical New York, feeling that excitement and pull like I want to run with something but don’t know exactly what or to where. And I’m learning that sometimes you have to sit with that feeling, as uncomfortable as it is, until that thing comes to you, because as much as we may want it to, we can’t force it to come along before we’re ready.
I’m still working this out as I go along. Some days I feel like things are well in hand, others not so much, but overall I try to remember these three things and that every moment is an opportunity to make a choice that will set us on a different course and change something that hasn’t been working for us.
As always, thank you for reading and take care of you.