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Why "Follow Your Passion" Isn't Always Great Advice

We’ve all heard the advice to “follow your passion.” But, sometimes it’s difficult to determine what our passions are. And to make matters even more challenging, the media often portrays the discovery of a passion as the uncovering of a surprising hidden talent. But I don’t believe that most of us discover our passions instantaneously like that. I believe most of us need to cultivate our passions.

The discovery piece is often a little more subtle than we are taught to believe, and becomes more challenging as we get older and accrue more responsibilities. Instead of instructing you to follow your passion, especially if you have NO clue what it is, I want to encourage you to explore your curiosities. But sometimes even that can be difficult due to time restraints, busy schedules, obligations, and … well, procrastination and excuses due to fear of the unknown, of discomfort, and of failure.

But think about it: if most people don’t discover a latent super talent the first time they try something new, then there’s room to start small and be OK with being a beginner - failures, set-backs, slip ups, plateaus and all.

Maybe you already have something that’s been lurking in the back of your mind that you’ve been wanting to try. Consider this your permission slip to give it a go! That curiosity is your “What.” What are you going to explore? If you can’t think of anything you want to explore further, here are some questions and prompts that might help:

  • What do you enjoy enough to do on your own, not because you feel obligated?

  • What do you like to “nerd out” on, or what could you talk about at length?

  • When do you find yourself feeling “flow,” a state of being where you lose track of time and feel absorbed or fully engaged in an activity?

  • What interests you enough to want to learn more and to be ok at "failing" in the process?

  • Is there a class you’ve been wanting to take but just haven’t "found" the time? Is it really because you haven't found the time, or are you afraid to make the time? Why?

  • What is something you’ve told yourself is impossible? Have you ever rationalized something as being possible for someone else given their circumstances, but not for you given yours?

  • Is there something you actually do know you want to try but are too afraid to admit it?

  • What seems like it could be fun to learn or practice?

  • If you had free time to DO anything, what would you DO? Think "active" entertainment where you are engaged in an activity or doing a thing, not "passive" entertainment where you aren't mentally, emotionally or physically involved in reality (i.e. TV).

  • Was there something you wanted to do or try as a kid that you still haven’t?

  • Is there anything for which you would be willing to make the time for if you felt like it weren’t so impossible, or scary, or hard?

  • Is there something you’re afraid to try because you’re worried about the opinions of others? Whose opinion of your life matters more: theirs or yours?

  • Is there a hobby that someone else has, whether you know them in real life or just through social media, that speaks to you but you don’t feel like you can do it? (Feelings of envy can be a powerful clue as to where you may feel unfulfilled by your own life or use of your time.)

Use these questions as prompts to get you thinking about your “what,” the curiosity you are ready and willing to explore. Please know that I am definitely not speaking from any sort of pedestal. I struggle with this as well! And for the folks out there like me who are insecure in their capabilities or fearful of failure, I'm trying to think of it like this: what have I got to lose? If I’m not willing to try, I’m definitely not going to get better, and I’ll continue to feel stuck, bored or unfulfilled. I have to do the thing even though I'm scared.

I’ve heard this feeling, the feeling of having something you want to pursue so badly but you’re afraid to try, described as “comfortably heartsick.” You are comfortable enough in your complacency that you are willing to accept the heartsickness, the unfulfillment, that comes with choosing safety and self-imposed limits over the possibility of what could go right. That really got me thinking hard about pursuing tougher goals. I don’t want to be comfortably heartsick. I don’t want to be complacent because I’m afraid. I don’t want to live my life and make decisions from a place of fear. Do you? I doubt it.

I want you to feel like you are capable and have permission to try the thing that sits in the depths of your heart but has been consistently pushed to the back-burner for whatever reason. Start small, take a class, talk to someone who has done or tried it, and most importantly believe that if others have done it, so can you! The worst that can happen is that you don't like it (oh well, now you know!) or you're terrible at it. But so what? Is finding a starting point from which to improve really worse than never starting at all? Which would leave you with more regrets?

In the next post in this series, we will go from "what," or exploration, to "why" and "how" to find meaning and purpose in developing a passion.

Stay tuned!

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