Written by Sharon Lee
It seems like it's everyday I hear about this thing called "passion" and that you must find it and that it holds the key to your eternal happiness. Passion is the thing that will "set you free" and if you find it and follow it, you will create something so amazing that whatever you're doing won't feel like work anymore. Not that this is false - there are some amazing stories out there. But is anyone else seeing this on repeat? I'm admittedly guilty of saying and thinking this, and I suspect that I'll catch myself saying it many times over. But what does it mean to me?
Passion. It's so intense, so powerful, and so demanding. Do I know what I'm passionate about? I've wrestled with this for the last few years - I have things that I love deeply and that make me feel alive. I'd like to think of these things as more than just passions, especially since they are like a slow burn - long lasting, enlightening and strong. Strangely enough, when it comes to my career I've always resisted doing the thing that made me feel the most satisfied, fulfilled and in my element. I've always taken the more traditional and practical path and squashed down the thing that made me feel the most me because those things were usually creative, artistic and frankly, not very lucrative. The fear based survivor in me would scream "NO!" to such liberal paths but the hippie dippie free loving chick in me was throwing up peace signs and saying "Yes, follow me!" I remember the first time I really thought about what I wanted to do with my life. I was an enthusiastic reader from the age of 8 and one night my dad asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said "I want to be a writer." To which he said, "A doctor can be a writer but a writer can't be a doctor". Damn, that's a good one. Couldn't argue with him there. But still, I pressed on. I read books like they were going out of style, I won writing awards at school (albeit, elementary school), I was part of high level reading classes, I received As in English and the most influential teachers in my life were always English teachers who pressed me to pursue a career in books. Although I loved literature, the resistance down this liberal arts path really started in college. I tried to pursue practical majors like biology (epic fail), economics, or political science. I didn't enjoy any of them but kept at it until my English teacher pulled me aside after class and told me that this was what I was good at, and that I should just "try it". She was right, and I ended up majoring in English Literature, but BOY did I continue to resist it. During every one of my college summers I interned on the trading floor of a big bank (while dating a poet and attending his super cool poetry meet ups). When I graduated college I worked in finance and even passed various stock trading exams. And then of course, I went to law school and became a corporate lawyer. Became and still am. But all throughout, people tried to convince me that English was my calling, not finance or law. But, practical me did not heed the advice of many and marched onward toward a life in law. And you know what? I don't regret it. I did at times (badly), but right now, I can't say that I would have done things differently.
I tell you this not to pat my own back, although I can see how it may sound like that. In all sincerity, that's not the point of the story. I've never really considered myself to be a writer, I feel that I'm quite far from being even a good writer, my reading comprehension is awful (it was my absolute lowest score on my LSATs) and my grammar is horrible. So horrible that an attorney gave me a copy of The Elements of Style when I was a summer associate at a law firm and asked me to come back to the firm as a "decent writer". Writing is not my area of expertise, though I love it. It was stories, character analysis, cultural circumstances and trying to find intent and meaning behind the writing that made me feel like all the puzzle pieces in my life came together and everything just felt perfectly aligned. It's when I felt like everything was magical and beautiful and how words could create an entire WORLD with every sentence so heavily dipped in meaning. Yet. I walked away from it. Why? Because to me, literature was the great love of my life and we parted amicably with fond memories of each other, and that's just the way I like it. I didn't want to become co-dependent and demand that it fill my many needs. I didn't pursue the thing that one may categorize as my passion, and that's okay. Instead, I did the thing felt right for me at the time and it ended up being a good decision for me.
So I come back to this word "passion", and all that comes with it. I have definitely felt passionately about literature and about certain of my endeavors (I'm a feeling type of person), but I don't think it's the word that accurately describes the whole of my feelings. When I hear "follow your passion!" "find your passion!" I hesitate because I can't help but think, well that's a tall order. What a tremendous amount of pressure to put on yourself! I don't believe that you have to find or know your passion in order to do the thing that you love. It may be just semantics, but I think working towards the thing that you love, the thing that makes you feel alive, is a mixture of grit, interest, perseverance through the hard times, failures, successes, and a commitment to what you're building. It's a marathon. With spurts of sometimes passionate moments. Because people who love their jobs love it for many different reasons and the outcome may not be their "passion", but the act of doing it is what makes them thrive. Maybe I found my "passion", or not, but in any case, it didn't suddenly open the gates to bliss. I found it, I bid it farewell and I marched down a different path, filled with ups and downs, but I have no doubt that had I pursued a career in literature, I would have felt the same.
You can imagine how relieved I was to then to hear Elizabeth Gilbert talk about her most recent book, Big Magic via a podcast. She put my feelings into words because she's just that eloquent and articulate. I'm going to botch this up but she says, in summary, that passion almost never ends well. If you think of your last passionate romance, for example, it was probably a whirlwind and required all of you and took you away from your other relationships and responsibilities. And then perhaps, it all ended just as fiercely as it came. And you're left with the remains of what just happened. Like a tornado just tore through your bedroom. It's a wonderful feeling when you're in it, but boy do you pay for it when you come out of it. Passion, is just so demanding. It wants the totality of you, not just a little bit. In this very entrepreneurial day in age where people are leaving their practical 9-5 (if you should be so lucky) jobs to pursue their "passion", others are looking around and thinking, well what's my passion? What do I absolutely love to do, so much in fact that I'd be willing to leave behind all security to pursue it? If you should be so lucky enough to actually know and find your passion, by all means, have at it. Not all whirlwind romances end up failing. Some end up glorious and amazing. There are many who find this very thing and work at it so intensely that it's go big or go home. That works for some people. But if you happen to be one of the many who don't quite know what they are passionate about, I urge you to do what Elizabeth so wisely tells us to do. Follow your curiosity. Yes. Follow, your curiosity. Because curiosity is a beautiful thing. It's a question, wanting to be answered. A small thought that can lead to some big and deep thoughts. It's the thing that has led to great discoveries and new ideas that have radically changed the world. Maybe it will lead to finding something you feel passionately about, but maybe it'll also lead to finding the thing that you just love or enjoy doing. And doing what you love, enjoy, like or are interested in, is just good for the soul in general.
I love this website. I love the mission and I work very hard at it at all hours. I love the Women's Leadership training that I am currently enrolled in to become a women's leadership coach, because it's just something that I strongly believe in. And for right now, I feel that it's what I'm called to do. But calling and passion are two different things - with calling, I feel driven by purpose and compelled to do that thing (without having to give up my day job) whereas with passion, I think of it as something that is all consuming. I can love something deeply, work at it intensely and still not call it passion but a purpose, a mission, or even just a "try" at something that peaks my interest. It's simply the thing that "ignites me", as Elizabeth would say. I know some would disagree. And yes, the work I do on my website and in the training often doesn't feel like work, but it also often does. And maybe I'll ditch it after a bit. But this all started off as a curiosity, and has led to something much bigger, so I'll follow it for now. I urge you all, follow your curiosity. Because the beautiful thing about curiosity is that it's a constant pursuit to know more and what you discover during that pursuit may end up being the very thing you were looking for all along. I don't think you need to find your passion to take daring leaps of faith, but I do think there should be a commitment and a deep interest in it, for whatever reason. If finding your passion is what stops you from pursuing a life that you want, don't let that stop you. It's overrated. The entry to the life you want, whether that is a 9-5 desk job or as a nomad, does not require you to find your passion. Follow your curiosity, let it lead you down a path and see where that takes you.