There is something so alluring about the concept of "pursuing your passion." We buy into the idea that the waiting in line, the stacks of bills and paperwork, the heating up leftovers, stressing over money, and last-call confessions can somehow all come together to manifest into our purpose. Human beings are surprisingly similar in their desire to find meaning in the mundane. We want to barter with fate, in hopes that if we make the right calls, we can end up with something authentic, or something valuable, or something that leaves our outline permanently etched in our wake. And sometimes we can. Sometimes we do.
By pursuing our passions, we dare to show up, to be vulnerable, to make waves. We dare to honor our purpose and live a life in accordance with it, no matter how messy, or silly, or reckless, or impossible it all may seem. When I envision a path to a passion-fueled life, I imagine a bunch of scribbles headed in every direction, twisting and knotting, eventually catching and forming a masterpiece. Choosing passion involves asking yourself the hard questions, being open enough to hear the response, and then brave enough to act on it.
You will recognize your passion as something that ignites you. Something you must do. Something you are drawn to on a soul level and something that aligns with your inherent gifts. Most people want to pursue their passion, yet never do, because they struggle with figuring out what exactly it is, and then, what to do about it. Here are a few reasons why "living your passion" may not be a reality for you, and what you can do about it.
1. You are settling for "good enough."
I used to walk to class every day from my apartment in college town and pass a busted window with a bold, red banner displayed in it. "Trade the so-so..." was all I could make out from afar. Day after day, I walked the same route and grew more and more curious about this sign because it looked so out of place. I decided I had to know what it said and after some minor trespassing, I did. "Trade the so-so for the swank."
Let me be clear. Living out your passion does not have to be radical. It does not have to be impressive or overwhelming. It does not have to scream. In fact, passion usually whispers. It keeps to itself, and it is best noticed in the individuals that are daily putting in the work, brick by brick, board by board. But passion simply cannot coexist with "good enough." At the end of the day, pursuing your passion is working towards something that just feels right. It's trading the so-so for your kind of swank, even when it isn't making headlines.
2. You are ignoring how you spend your free time.
For the majority of us, our passion is not something that we "just know" from the beginning stages of our lives. Chances are, as a child, you wanted to be a scientist or an NBA player or an astronaut or a cowboy, and somewhere along the way, as you became more in-tune to your own strengths and weaknesses, you changed directions. The funny truth is that the things we are most passionate about are usually steadily under our noses. We just overlook them. If you are having trouble identifying what you are passionate about, it is important to take a look at how you spend your free time. Are you painting, writing, making podcasts? Are you encouraging your friends or practicing guitar? Are you organizing parties or building a computer system? As for me, I found that the one constant throughout my entire life has been writing, so that is where I started.
3. You are running on empty and risking burn-out.
Our brains need energy to create, to formulate ideas, to discover things that excite us to our core. If you are over-working yourself, which most of us, unfortunately, are, that leaves very little time to do anything else. This can also result in further issues, such as poor health and depression. Do what you can with the schedule that you have. Set boundaries. Carve out time for yourself, even if it is when the toddler is sleeping, or at the coffee shop on your lunch break, or at a much-needed happy hour after work.
Most people cannot justify shirking off responsibilities and ample free time is an unattainable luxury. Remember, Robert Frost and Kurt Vonnegut worked as teachers during the day. Jack Kerouac was a dishwasher and a construction worker before publishing On the Road. J.K. Rowling was fired from Amnesty International for writing stories on her work computer and completed many of her best-selling novels while struggling as a young, single mother.
4. You have fallen hard for millennial idealism and it is consuming you.
We all love a good success story, especially one that seems moderately attainable from our own end. No one subscribes to these stories more than the fresh-out-of-college millennial who is flipping through Instagram and seeing hundreds of posts about entrepreneurs who "made it," and are traveling the world, after having paid off all of their debt and quitting their 9-to-5 occupation; they will be writing blog posts in the Greek Isles should you ever need to contact them. It is important to remember that this is the exception, not the rule, and the things we see on social media are only the carefully curated things that people want us to see.
5. You are surrounding yourself with negativity or stagnancy.
The Eastern philosophy of Law of Attraction, simply put, denotes that you will attract what you inherently are, or the energy you give off will draw like energy back to you. The idea is that our very own thoughts are powerful enough to create our reality. Therefore, if you are relentlessly pursuing your passion, you will attract other passionate and like-minded individuals into your life, and, if you are not, then you won't. The best way to have a source of inspiration and support is to surround yourself with movers and shakers, with soulmates, with people who have a mindset that is centered on growth and reflection.
6. You are comparing yourself to others and/or emulating those who appear to have it all figured out.
It can be an extremely useful tool to have a mentor or a figure that you admire and learn the ropes from. However, when you start seeing someone else as all-mighty, you begin to see yourself through the unfairly critical lens of "less than." This breeds competition, envy, anxiety, and feelings of failure and inadequacy which is rarely ever rooted in truth.
7. You are talking way too much.
Scientific studies show that the more you talk about doing something, the less likely you are to actually do it. It is how our brains are wired. According to W. Mahler's findings in the 1930s, once an intention has been said aloud, it becomes a "social reality." The speaker feels a sense of accomplishment, as if they had already completed the task, even though they have not actually done anything at all. Derek Sivers' TED talk on the subject, "Keep Your Goals to Yourself," will both expand your mind and make you shut your mouth.
8. You are expecting instant gratification and see every problem as a crisis.
With the dopamine rush from text messages and social shares embedded in our everyday communications, solving any dispute with a two-second Google search, and the ability to have items delivered to the door at the click of a button, it makes sense that we are living in a world where instant gratification is addicting and relatively easy to achieve. Still the things really worth having generally take time, hard work, and resilience, a trifecta not easily mastered, especially when the problems set in. And there will be problems, some that are looming and heavy and entirely out of your control. These are the ones you will suffer from and these are the ones you will grow from. As luck would have it, most problems are quite the opposite. They are useless scenarios that are entirely of our construction. The good news is that means we can choose how we deal with them, whether we overcome them, or whether we let them fester.
9. You are following the money, or the expectations, or a path that was never yours to begin with.
You can live a life that is not your own. In fact, people do it all the time. The dutiful son following in his father's footsteps in hopes that he will finally make him proud. The young woman working as a waitress drawing up her dream start-up company on stained napkins, yet never making it more than a doodle. Those living in denial every day, afraid to admit who they really are to the world, for fear of rejection, or misunderstanding, or love lost. If I have learned anything at all while pursuing my own passion, it is that if you are searching for it down a yellow-brick road that you did not construct yourself, it will never be found.
10. You are waiting until you are "ready," or financially stable, or ten years older, or finished with school, or until you just have _____.
In essence, you are choosing immobility and causing your passion to atrophy in the process. The "Do Something" Principle, a motivational tool developed by best-selling author, Mark Manson, suggests that acting will inspire you, causing you to then experience motivation, and not the other way around. Have you ever noticed that when you start doing one small task, before you know it, you've gotten into a groove and completed every item on your to-do list? If you wait until you are ready, fearless, or free of complications, you will never act at all. Do something right now, anything, inspire yourself from that action, then use that momentum to propel you to make bigger moves.
11. You are relying on other's opinions, not the sound of your own voice.
There are so many voices coming at us from every direction at any given time. There are opinions, there are influences, there are career questionnaires and aptitude tests, and your Aunt Christine who really believes you should have been a doctor. Perhaps you have forgotten what your own voice even sounds like. Learn to ask yourself the hard questions and to wait long enough to hear an answer. I am reminded of a game my older brothers and I used to play when swimming during the summertime. A player would close their eyes and have to find other players, by following verbal cues. If you heard "Cold," that meant you were very far away and likely wandering the shallow end of the pool while everyone else was mocking you from the deep end. "Hot," meant you were very close to tagging your target and you should go ahead and lunge. I have learned to listen for my own voice guiding me, "You're cold." "Still cold." "There you go. Warmer."
12 You are afraid of not knowing.
We will never be able to predict what is going to happen next. There is no crystal ball we can utilize to ensure a safe and trouble-free existence. There is no shield to protect us from the consequences of failure. Our only hope is to not hand our power over to fear, to trust that in the moment, and not a minute before, we will be equipped to handle anything.
Living a fulfilling life is intentional, and it involves choosing your passion over and over again, despite the “what if’s,” and regardless of whether or not you receive any credit at all. Choose this life because you feel like it is the only way, because there is a calling that exists within you that cannot be ignored forever, or because anything else would be a waste of everything you have to give. And you have so very much to give.