I have been reading Sir Kenneth Robinson’s book The Element over the last couple of weeks. It is a great book about finding, and honoring, your true passion. Interestingly, I have seen the Aristotle quote above at least three times in the last week. I’m not necessarily one to assume fate or “things happen for a reason,” but I must admit that after the second or third sighting the meaning of the quote started to sink in. I have yet to figure my passion. I certainly don’t think, or want, what I currently, repeatedly, do to define me.
I work hard — repeatedly. However, I think that there’s a pretty bright line between doing something out of a sense of responsibility and doing something because of passion. Don’t get me wrong, I think that doing your best on your job is definitely something worth doing. It’s just not the same as working, even toiling, on something that is driven by love or an inner fire. Put plainly — passion. Perhaps I am writing this carefully so as not to lose my job (chortle); but, honestly, the more that I think about discovering my true passion, the less concerned I am with job security. I say this because I firmly believe that once I discover or realize what makes me tick, the pieces will come together. I will be off and running.
I have been slowly working my way through Robinson’s book because I feel like I have spent a lot of time daydreaming about becoming a full-time photographer. My interest has waned, rather significantly, over the past year, or so, though. I touched on this a bit in my Operation Twenty12 piece at the beginning of the year. A full nine months later, if I’m being honest with myself, I am probably even further away from than that daydream than I have been since first picking up a camera about eight years ago. The most telling sign is that I rarely pick up a camera any more just to shoot. I have tried to determine whether I am simply taking an easy exit. Is becoming a full-time photographer just too much work, and I’m being lazy? I don’t think so.
I truly believe that we will make, or put in, the effort for something we care about. I am unwilling to force myself to follow a particular path simply because I once thought it was “the thing.” I couldn’t care less about what others think about me changing my mind. Ok…that’s not true, but I’m getting there. You know how it is when you proclaim something? Everyone wants to hold you to that thing, and some are oddly intractable about your dream. The glass half full view is that people see something in you, or your work. They think that you’re skilled or proficient at that particular thing. Here’s the rub, though. If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing…why bother? An Elbert Hubbard quote came to mind.
I am pretty certain that what dogs me the most is the idea that I am 46 years old and haven’t discovered, realized, or acknowledged my true passion. It seems like so many things interest me, yet not singular thing repeatedly draws me back. This may not be true, and I may need to learn how to tune in into my heart.
One of thing that seems to be quite clear is that I am truly struggling to find my “thing.” I am not merely looking for an escape from something I don’t like or work, generally. It is as if I am hungry but don’t know what to eat. I know, at this point, that I don’t want filler. I want substance. It is very unnerving trying to figure out just what will fill this void. It is hard to say that I am stuck in a rut, because my destination is not defined. The path to discovering my true passion is pretty much free to explore. As the father of a high school senior, it probably goes without saying that I have responsibilities and concerns about my son’s next steps (college) and future. However, I don’t see being a good parent and unearthing what will satiate my creative spirit as being mutually exclusive. In fact, I would like to think that my son would benefit from seeing me follow my heart and not accept living a life of cramming square pegs into round holes.
Surprisingly, I don’t really suffer from the more routine fear of failure, because you can’t fail at something you never start. At this point, my biggest fear is just that — never starting. I have to figure this out! I have reached a point, though, where I no longer want to make announcements or Aha! proclamations. No, I would much rather go about honing in on something that I just can’t do without, quietly, and make a habit of doing that thing repeatedly — and excellently.
Last Thursday, I picked up lunch from the Whole Foods near my office and sat outside to eat. I was wedged between two tables with people actively engaged in conversation. I couldn’t help but overhear both conversations.
Sitting at the table to my left was a young woman speaking to a guy. From what I could gather, she was recently hired by Whole Foods (Whole Foods’ regional office is in the office next to mine). She was talking to the guy about her outlook on how to do her job, and gave her a lot of, what sounded like, constructive feedback and advice on how to execute. However, just before left the table, the guy dropped a few cautionary words about working with certain people. Oddly, the entire “zen thing” the guy had vaporized when he spoke about the culture of this woman’s new division. Quite a sour note to end a conversation.
Meanwhile, at the table to my right were two women who spent a lot of time talking about a new person in their office. In a nutshell, both seemed to like the woman who joined the office, but were in lock-step in thinking that the young woman needed to grow up and realize that work is not all fun and rosy. Both women said that this young woman needed to realize that the time for fun in the office was over, and she was going to start doing the crap work. One went on to say that this young woman needed to further understand and/or realize that as she moves up in the office, and takes on more responsibility, the crap work only increases.
I think just about everyone has heard the quote about discovering your passion.
Do what you love, and you never work a day in your life.
I wonder, though, how many people actually take that sentiment to heart. I firmly believe in the quote, but freely admit that I don’t love what I do for a living, and daydream, often, about what I’d really love to do. Sadly, this has been the story of my work life for the last 20 years. I think that I have fallen into, or moved around from, one job to another, never really taking a single stride toward finding my passion and making that what I do for a living.
With that said, aside from occasional “Oh my god…I hate my job!” moments, I don’t sit around thinking that I’ve pulled the shortest straw. I think about how to immerse myself in the job I’m, become more versed, and make the most of where I find myself.
While thinking about this post, the notion of “crap work,” an old adage came to mind.
When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade.
The objective read of this quote suggests that people should make the most of what they have. It challenges one to see beyond the obvious to get to a better place.
The subjective read of this little nugget (the “crap work” women) is that you’ve been given a bag full of crap, and that’s just life. Learn how to make the most out of the sour yellow ovals life has put in your hands. Keep your head down and squeeze.
Though I haven’t had my epiphany and realized my life’s passion, I have a real problem with viewing responsibilities associated with a job as crap work. That thinking immediately sours a person’s perspective and outlook on work. Honestly, I think if you view the tasks that come with your job, even those considered drudgery or mundane, as “crap” there’s a chance that your growth and advancement will be seriously limited. I couldn’t imagine working for someone who told me that I have to stop being happy and buckle down for the crap work. Talk about taking all of the wind out of my inspiration sail.
I am, in now way, suggesting that even if you pursue the thing you love that tedious, non-sexy, and cumbersome tasks won’t be par for the course. I merely think one’s view of these tasks will be tempered by their aspirational goals. If you love what you’re doing, it is more than likely that you will be willing to get your hands dirty early or often, if needed. Further, projecting your displeasure with encountering “the crap” on the road to something better, potentially robs the other person of his or her joy. I suspect that one of the leading causes of this perspective is a desire by some/many people to leapfrog the trenches and land on higher ground. So many people want the higher job, the higher pay, the higher stature in the office or organization, thinking that defines happiness.
I dare say that most people, and I include myself in that group, aren’t really on a path to pursuing our true passion. We make excuses and justify walking around like plugged in souls in the Matrix. I used to talk myself out of entertaining the idea of becoming a full-time photographer, writer, or anything else I’ve dreamed of becoming. Life’s in the way. Bills. Kids. Responsibilities. Life just gets in the way. There’s not time to daydream, let alone find time to bring a passion to fruition, right? Not so fast. Check out this video by my friend Gary Vaynerchuk.
The message? Stop making excuses. The first step, though, is discovering what really gets you going.
The conversations I over heard have been circulating in my head since last week. Interestingly, the negative energy emanating from that table inspired me. Those conversations, coupled with starting the book Alone Together, have really forced me start thinking about my outlook on my current job. I spent most of the weekend trying to see if I can put my finger my true passion, as well as focusing on engaging with people in a more meaningful, tangible and genuine way.
As for crap work, I’ll leave that to these guys.
If you listened to the talk, please share what you think.
Remember when we were little, and you would utter “When I grow up, I’m gonna be…?” Whether prompted by a teacher, parent or relative, we usually had an answer ready at the tip of our tongues. As I write this post, listening to some music and coming into a clear after a couple glasses of wine, it struck me that I feel like a big kid. I was thinking about the various turns my “when I grow up” pronouncements have taken. Some of those dreams, ironically, have come full circle.
Going back as far as I can remember, I seem to recall wanting to be an artist and writer when I grew up. I used to find a quiet space and write short stories. I would always leave opposing pages blank for illustrations. A lot of the stories were about traveling across the country in a tricked out conversion fan, exploring all the places I would read about in books. Funny, because the thought of riding around in a van sounds a little creepy. I digress.
At some point, the art would overtake the written part of the stories. I became consumed with all forms of art, and knew I wanted to be an artist of some sort when I grew up. I was rarely without colored pencils, crayons, chalks, water colors, brushes and paper. I never ventured into acrylic and oil painting, though I try my hand at them in art camp. YES, I said it. I went to art camp in the summers when I was a kid. I was serious!
Though I played my share of sports in junior high and high school, I never had dreams of becoming a professional athlete. I maintained my interest and love of art. In high school, I began to express my artistic voice through more technical representations—drafting. That’s it! I want to be an architect when I grow up. I took every drafting and rendering course offered. I went to a number of career fairs and would only apply to colleges with accredited architecture programs. I got to college and ran into a brick wall called calculus. Uh oh! It was time to reevaluate what I was going to be when I grew up because there was NO WAY I was getting through calculus. (Of course, in hindsight, I gave up too easily. However, there was a lot of sh*t going on with me at that time. But that is a topic for another time.)
I took some time off and eventually reentered college. I went majorless for a year, or so, until I stumbled upon English. Though I enjoyed the literature component of the major, I really loved the writing courses. There I was, back to writing. Eureka! I want to be a writer (again) when I grew up. Well, to be more accurate, I started to entertain the idea of teaching literature and writing scholarly papers. I began to romanticize to idea of roaming around a college with a tweed jacket and cords. I stopped short of a donning a beret, though.
For some reason, I drifted off the artistic course and got into politics and the law. I took on the almost cliché path of so many in DC. Work on the Hill. Go to the law school. Go downtown to become a lobbyist and ‘make that money.’ (Shameless reference to a previous blog piece.) Eventually, I made my way to where I am now–a regulatory counsel at a federal agency. Though these experiences have been good for professional growth and paying the bills, I’ve always felt a noticeable void of artistic expression. I’m sure colleagues from any of the jobs I’ve held over the nearly 20 years in DC would tell you that I’m always drawing or doodling–and not always at the right time. Through all this, I never once thought, “I want to be a lawyer, politician or lobbyist when I grow up.“
A number of yeas ago I was seeking an emotional and creative outlet to take my mind of some heavy things I was going through. I went through a number of fits-and-starts with artistic expression. First I entertained the idea of becoming a writer again. I started to read a number of books and magazines on developing my voice. Perhaps I hit a serious block, but I couldn’t find the focus to write. Frustrated, I strolled through art galleries almost daily. I went to the library and began to look through great photographic works. On a whim, I bought a film camera on eBay and started shooting. I took a couple of classes to learn the controls of the camera and how to develop film. Soon came another the purchase of another film camera, and then digital. I am convinced, at the tender age of 43, that I want to be a photographer when I grow up.
I am encouraged by my wife and countless numbers of other people who are career-changers. These are people who didn’t succumb to fear of casting off the expectations of family, friends, and common social convention to pursue a dream. Now, I am putting as much of my time into learning the craft and developing friends and networks within the community of photographers. I can’t help but see the thread of art and written word that has run through my life. I have begun to wonder, if life has simply come full circle and my photography is my art and maintaining a blog is my writing.
In the end, though, I think one of the key things to remember is that you don’t have to “grow up.” There’s absolutely nothing wrong with keeping that child-like excitement about, and interest in, becoming _____ in due time. I suspect most of us have something we want to do, but too often we suppress and get caught up in the thing we think we have to do. It’s never too late, though. Pursue your passion.
What do you want to be when you grow up?