Passion. We convince ourselves that only a couple of types of people are allowed to have this in their lives. And I'm talking about passion in your career, not the “Romeo and Juliet”-type stuff. We convince ourselves that being passionate is reserved for the following people: the naive, people who aren't in student-loan debt, people who are unrealistic and so on. Passion for a logical, hard-working person is seemingly out of the realm of possibility. Or is it?
Could it be that you haven't given passion a chance? Has the pessimistic side of you been holding you back? Let's tackle this. Like, right now. Because life is too short to sit on the sidelines, watching other people go after their dreams.
You are the captain of your own life. There are no rules for how this whole passion thing is supposed to work. A lot of the time, the problem isn't actually that we don't know what our passion is. It’s that we are terrified to go for it, because there’s a negative voice dwelling in our head that tells us day in and day out that our dreams are out of reach. Soon enough, we not only convince ourselves that we have no passions, but we truly believe that we are not better than the mundane life we are leading. Yes, I said it. Mundane. If you are living your life without passion day in and day out, it is, by default, mundane. And if you have convinced yourself that your life should be nothing but paying bills and meeting adult deadlines, then you yourself are being mundane.
“But Erika!” You say. “I am a grown-up, and you are clearly an immature child who probably has money thrown at you or something like that so that you can live your dreams. Don't tell me what to do.”
Believe it or not, I'm an extremely responsible grown up — most of the time. My bills are mapped out on a meticulous calendar. I have a full-time job with benefits that leaves me exhausted at the end of the day. I pay rent on time. I read the news. I'm an adult, okay? But there's a little voice in my head 24/7. And I listen to this voice every day.
Have you ever seen The Little Mermaid? You know the part when Ariel opens up her heart and is singing "I want more" to the heavens? The part where she literally is the princess to a sea king and seemingly has everything, but there is still something missing in her life? The essence of that moment dwells in my heart every single day. There is more to living our lives than showing up to work, paying bills, and washing, rinsing, repeating. I know this. And the best part is? You know this, too. You know that deep down, even on your worst day, there is something in your life you have dreamed of accomplishing. And you deserve that. You deserve that crazy rush of adrenaline. You deserve to bash the mundane and kick the wall down and re-build something powerful. You have always deserved this.
The truth is that there are absolutely no rules as to how your life should look. We tend to think that you either have to have a 9-5 job with full benefits, or you have to rebel away from the system and live the gig-life and travel often. But the reality is, you get to live your life as you choose. You don't have to follow a set career path to live up to your family's expectations. You don't have to do what you think you're supposed to do. And half the time, we are doing what we think we're supposed to be doing. We are told to not be selfish. To focus on our partner. To be there for our family. And then we crumple by the wayside because we have put the world first. The truth is, happy people are successful people, and you can’t have happiness without a little bit of selfishness. So I'm telling you to be selfish right now. Because if you figure this passion thing out, you're about to inspire every single person in your life. Let's get started.
When seeking your true passion or trying to figure out the route to pursue one, it's easy to find every excuse in the book to prolong the journey.
I don't know what I want.
I don't know what I want.
I don't know what I want.
I'm calling your bluff. You do know what you want. You are an intelligent person. You have thoughts. And therefore, you know what you want. It feels like you don't because you have been burying down what you want so deeply, you wouldn't recognize it even if it knocked on your door and watched an afternoon of HGTV with you. You know what you want. We all have an inner voice. Something that slowly and carefully whispers what we love in life. My inner voice tells me lots of exciting stuff. There's actually a lot of stuff that I love. So how do you make sense of all of it when you're going through life being a responsible human? Keep a notebook nearby. Start jotting down the blurbs of happy ideas that come your way. It may make zero sense to you at first. My list reads the following: Disney, Halloween, Fall, Theatre, storytelling, theme parks, circus, carnival.
It's a weird list, but a specific one if you think about it. I clearly have a theme going. When I've pieced together all of the elements that my inner voice has been telling me, it's helped me push myself into the direction that I want to pursue. I've worked in theme parks. I've written plays. I'm finally starting to find ways to push my passions together to understand what jobs are out there for people like me. I just had to persistently listen to my inner voice.
If this process is still a massive struggle, let's think back to a truly innocent moment of our childhood. That moment when a teacher or parent asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. If you think about this as a grown up, it actually seems silly that we ask kids what we want to be as a grown up. As a kid, you have very little life experience and zero work experience to base our decision-making on. What this truly means, then, is that when you are asking a child what they want to be when they grow up, you are asking them to make a decision based on their gut instinct. We could all learn a lesson from kids. Gut instincts are our best instincts, and yet we let that stuff drift off into oblivion and write it off as irresponsible.
Think back to when you were a kid. What were your dreams? What did you say that you wanted out of life when you wrote your college application essays? How did you envision your future? Your answer might inform the true passion you've been looking for. The passion that you've probably told yourself time and time again, “Well, I was clueless back then. You can't just pursue that route.” Sure you can — or, you can remain unhappy, if that is what is fulfilling you.
Focus back on the child version of yourself for a moment. Let's say that you had wanted to be a cook. What things about being a cook were interesting to you as a child? Did you like to try different foods? Did you like the activity of helping your parents cook? Maybe your destiny isn't necessarily to become a cook. Think about the different ways that this passion can branch out. Food Blogger. Food Instagrammer. Cooking Instructor. Personal Shopper. Trying a new dish at home every week while watching a scary movie (my favorite personal passion). Step outside of your head for a minute and you might find your answer.
If you could start over tomorrow, what would you do? What would your new purpose be? I know it's an unrealistic scenario, but maybe that's what you need to get the gears moving. I'm not saying quit your job without a plan. Please don't do that. But let's wander into the unknown for a second and let our imagination have a little fun.
If you could quit your job today and start a dream job or path tomorrow, what does that path look like? Ask yourself a few questions:
• Do you want to work from home, for a major company, or for yourself?
• Do you want the freedom to travel, or are you more of a homebody?
• Do you want to be surrounded by people every day or go at it alone?
• Which industry excites you?
• What are your strengths? How could those skills be applied to a career, any career?
• Do you want to create something (photography, theatre, art, etc.)?
Now that you’ve started asking yourself the important questions, let’s move on to the next common roadblock…
Literally no one has experience — until they do. They get the experience little by little, accomplishing the difficult task of jumping in. Not having enough experience is an excuse. You're better than that. Think of the passion that's in your heart. Let's say you want to be an artist, but you studied business in school and have only had office jobs. That's okay! That's great! It's all life experience.
And life experience informs the art that you create. Some of the coolest people I know work office jobs and dabble in the arts because they are listening to their heart. They play different instruments. They sketch. They build stuff. They film stuff. They are creators. You don't even need to change your job. Keep it if you want to. But you can definitely discover new interests and pursue something on the side in a proactive way if that's what you want.
Let's go back to the art example. Let's say you work a 9-5. Take an evening to go to a “Paint and Sip” event in your community. These events are awesome because they are intended for recreation, not for serious artists. We just need to break the ice. Go paint and drink wine for an evening. Make a couple of new friends. Then, try finding an art class in your area. One that requires a schedule. Buy art supplies. Create at home in front of the TV to unwind. Just start taking baby steps any way you can. Your actions will inform what art means to you. Maybe it's a great cooldown from work for you to relieve stress. Maybe it will make you more hungry to incorporate art into your life. You won't know how you feel about it until you start climbing.
Find the go-getter in your friend circle. If there isn't one, start finding acquaintances who have a go-getter friend that you can meet. Find a person who has jumped out of their day job to start their own business. Find the person who traded the 9-5 pattern for a greater purpose. Find the person who works a full-time job and pursues their passion day in and day out to build it into a career.
These people exist. And being around them will not only inspire you, but it will show you that what you want is possible. You will start to realize that the people you are meeting are sane, responsible grownups who have found a way to make stuff happen. You will start to actually see how baby steps can play out in the big picture. Most of all, you need these people more than anything. These people are stronger than the most negative voice in your head. Because these people are real. And your negative thoughts can be defeated by them.
If you literally don't know which step to take next or honestly have no clue what a potential passion could be for you, it's time to start trying new things. An open mind is key here. Start a garden on your patio. Starting a garden requires time, effort, and a little bit of knowledge. I started a patio garden recently and it required me to take a trip to the local gardening store. There, I got distracted and saw a bunch of awesome house plants. I've been stuck in a rut and have been wanting to redecorate my apartment, and magically, this store had ignited a vision of what my home could look like.
Get involved with something in your community. Volunteer at the museum or in another capacity that lets you help people. Get a night gig of working as a stage manager or stagehand for the local theatre. Take a specialty class at the gym. Step outside your comfort zone a little bit and allow your creativity to be sparked. Your world will get bigger because of it.
Travel changes your perspective on your life. Plain and simple. For some, travel can be life-changing. You don't have to necessarily travel to another country or plan a luxurious vacation. Just get out of your house. Now. Get in the car. Pack an ice cooler. Take a weekend trip to a town you haven't visited. While you're in this new town, chat with shop owners. Go to a restaurant. Take pictures. Buy a silly souvenir. While you’re out, bring a journal with you.
What does your life look like when you're looking at it from the outside? What are the parts of your life that you're struggling with? Are you in a toxic work environment and need a major career change pronto? Are you okay with your job but want to crawl out of your comfort zone a little bit more? Taking a step away will help you see your life clearly and make a better game plan. Half of the problem with pursuing your passion in life is that we’re afraid that by doing so, we will have to be poor and make terrible decisions. That couldn't be further from the truth. Pursuing a passion actually means making extremely careful and thoughtful decisions with your life. It is less about making extreme decisions, and more about listening to your heart, pursuing your interests and living your life with care.
Maybe you're a person working a full-time job and already know what your passion is. Maybe you already pursue it late into the evenings after work. Maybe you have a plan. If you're in this situation, it can be equally frustrating. You feel like you are killing yourself working all the time and scraping together every second of free time to make stuff happen, then someone will go and call your passion this fun “hobby” that you have.
I hate the word “hobby.” It takes away all of the hard work that is poured into the passion project that you are trying to build for yourself. It belittles the care you are putting into your life. A hobby is a side thing that you enjoy, but wouldn't be wrecked if it was removed from your life. My hobby is reading magazines cover to cover. Wait, I might be wrecked if you took that away from me . . . moving on.
When other people call your passion a “hobby,” they are getting into your head and allowing you to doubt yourself. Suddenly, all that hard work that you are putting into your passion is a waste of time, because other people don't understand the hard work that it takes for a passion to become a reality.
Don't let those trolls get to you. And that's what they are. Trolls. Dream stompers. They can't fathom a world in which happiness can be a career. Don't let them get you down.
I don't care if you are in your 40s, have a family, have a mortgage or have committed to a completely different area of study. It's never too late to pursue your passion. I was once in an acting class in Hollywood. Most of the students in the class were people in their early 20s who had just gotten out of college, had a B.A. in acting under their belt and were taking this class for the networking and to polish up on new skills.
There was one woman in our class who hadn't taken acting since she was in high school. She was at least a decade older than the youngest person in the class. It would be easy to think, “It's too late to start pursuing acting.” Guys, she was the best person in the whole class. She had something that no one in that room had — life experience. And that life experience poured into her work. She had experienced more in life than the kids who just got out of college, and that card catalog of knowledge gave her a more nuanced performance time and time again. Never be afraid of the life experience that you have. It could quite possibly be the best thing that you have to bring to the table.
To all my dreamers out there, I wish you the most exciting pursuit of your passions. Start next week. Start tomorrow. Start right now after you read this. I want you to be excited about your life. Most of all, I want you to inspire others. Because trust me, others need it. I promise you, there is someone standing in the wings excited for you to just go for it. Because they need you and your life experience as an inspiration.
Erika Jenko is a playwright and theme park junkie trying to navigate the magical world of adulting. Also, a YouTuber and blogger at www.subwaymouse.com.