I think I’ve always been driven, although towards what I can’t say. In elementary school I was the kid with straight-As (except for penmanship; my handwriting is still illegible) who preferred to spend more time in the library than on the playground. When I was 8 I did start a playground business though selling candies I bought at a local wholesale store, but I’m not sure that counts. As a Boy Scout I brought an old-fashioned typewriter with me into the woods so that I could capture my thoughts and in high school I played the tuba and was excited for a field trip to the UN. I am who I am and I’m finally comfortable in my skin after 37 years of effort. But looking back at my life so far I’ve noticed a trend and it’s one I don’t like and last year I finally decided to try to change it. I wanted to break the cycle of destructive productivity and in the process, confirmed my true passion.
So what is destructive productivity? I’ve gone through periods of finding something to be interested in, doing it extremely well and then growing bored after that excitement has been lost. Throughout my career you can see that as I hopped from one job to the next, developing whatever new program or campaign they wanted me to develop, then leaving after the intellectual excitement had been lost. That’s one reason why I started this web site, as a way to get my creative juices flowing and to keep me engaged mentally. I’ve finally found my passion after years of searching and I’m determined to not just maintain it as my new career, but to make sure it remains my passion.
My passion is probably easy to divine, it’s all things foreign. As a young kid I pored through encyclopedic entries on foreign cultures and countries, flags from around the world dotted my bedroom wall instead of posters for He-Man or WWF superstars. This love of other countries persisted throughout my life, it’s why I studied international relations in undergrad and grad schools and ultimately why I travel as much as I do. The act of travel for me isn’t ticking off countries or getting a passport stamp, it’s about the educational experience. It’s learning about a new people, a new culture and discerning what makes it all tick.
That being said I have done something I have not done since I entered the professional world at the tender age of 22; combine my profession with my passion. In an ideal world this is what everyone wants. The goal is supposed to be that we find what we love most and then intuit a way to make money from it so we can have food, shelter and three puppy dogs whom you love more than anything. (That last thing may be specific to me.) And I’ve done it for the most part, I’ve never worked harder but I’ve also never been happier. Still, in the back of my head is a nagging worry, a worry that at some point I’ll forget the joy that this passion can bring, that I’ll get too wrapped up in the business of being happy.
With all this in mind I’ve come up with some lessons and tips that I am using that may be helpful to you too.
1. Be specific with your passion – I’ve learned that it’s not enough to say “I like travel!” That’s like a chef saying he likes food. What about travel do you like? Do you like the actual practice of it, writing about it, taking photos of it, helping others plan their own trips, etc. This can be applied to any passion you may have and it’s important to spend a lot of time being introspective and to identify specifically what interests you most about it. Someone who is interested in medicine will usually be trained in a specialization that will consume their professional life, just as an example. This is important. If you’re not really sure what your passion is, then how can you possibly incorporate it into your life in any way that is meaningful?
2. Find a way to make it your profession, but not completely – Most of us yearn to combine what we love to do with how we make a living. That’s the dream, right? I agree, it should be an important goal but you need to balance what makes it your passion with how it makes you money. What do I mean? (And why am I asking so many questions?) Let’s take the life of a travel writer (which I’m not, I’m a travel blogger – big difference). Everyone thinks that this is the life, jetting from one beautiful location to the next seemingly on perpetual vacation. And while the travel is great, their lives are anything but a permanent holiday. The life of a travel writer is hard, no doubt about it. While in a new country they are constantly on the go, pressured to find new and interesting stories and to learn as much about a new destination as quickly as they can. While traveling, they’re also expected to write and file stories and maybe even photos, taking away any time for relaxation or sleep that may exist. If there’s a social media component, then nearly all of their time is gone. Their trips are hectic and tiring, anything but a vacation. A friend of mine who works for National Geographic is often asked where he goes on vacation and his response is always, “Home.” So with this passion, it’s important to keep part of it reserved for your own, personal enjoyment instead of giving it all to the profession.
3. Work to make it fun – As soon as you convert your passion into something that makes you money, some of the fun is inherently lost. Photographers do not enjoy sending invoices to clients for the third time and chefs probably don’t relish the physical toll their jobs take on their bodies. That’s why it’s important to actively find ways to continue making your passion exciting and new so that it stays your passion and doesn’t become yet another chore. For some, this may mean teaching others how to do what they do and still others may find new avenues to expand their professional skills, adding some diversity to their portfolios. Whatever it is that you do, you are the only one who can work to continue making it fun. Never lose sight of what drew you to it in the first place.
4. Never lose perspective – Don’t forget how lucky you are. Recent surveys show that up to three-quarters of American workers are not happy with their jobs. I hate that number, but I can also understand that number. I was there, I get it. I was in a profession I hated for 12 years and it finally took fate intervening before I realized how much I hated it. But I’m an extreme example; not everyone can leave a good paying job and take the risk of making little or no money for up to a year or longer. A better example is my own partner. He too found himself in a job that while he enjoyed it, the job was taking a tremendous physical and mental toll on him. It was just too much and we both worried that his body couldn’t keep up with the constant demands. What he did was to find another job in the same profession, which he really enjoys, but one that has better and more manageable hours and expectations. He left a job that afforded ZERO work/life balance and replaced it with one that allows him time to relax and enjoy life. We sacrificed a little to do this, but it was an important change. He’s following his passions, but not losing sight of what’s really important in life. This perspective is key. You have to be able to look at yourself objectively and tweak your situation in ways that allows you to be happy, productive and passionate about life. It’s not easy, and not everyone will take the time to do it, but it’s vital if you want to lead a happier, healthier life.
Finding and living your passion isn’t easy, but it’s also not the leap many may think it is. It doesn’t mean you have to sell your house and travel the world. Living a happier life may mean slight changes in your current life that make you more content. Regardless of what needs to be done, it’s important to take that first step and make it a reality. Life is brutally short, a fact that has been demonstrated to me in hard lessons recently and I know how important it is not to squander our time on this planet. Be selfish, find a way to start living a purposeful life and in the process I bet you’ll also improve the lives of those nearest and dearest to you as well.
What’s your passion and how have you made it an important part of your life?