I was in fifth grade when I performed in my first musical. I shared the role of the narrator in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat with four of my fellow classmates for one night only. It was magical.
When it came time to take the final bow and head home, I started crying.
When my mom asked what was wrong, I replied, “This was the best night of my life and nothing will ever be as good.”
Days dancing in front of the television to the West Side Story movie evolved into voice lessons and acting classes. Afternoons practicing soccer and running to gymnastics workouts were replaced with rehearsals for plays and improv shows around town.
When it came time to apply for college, there was no doubt in my mind as to what I would study. Theater was my passion, and if I had learned anything, it was that pursuing your passion was the key to a lifetime of success and happiness.
Today, a little over ten years since graduating high school and heading out into the world to live my dreams, I no longer spend my days singing and dancing around stage. In fact, from an outside perspective, it might seem as though I’ve executed a full 180, having built a career around budgeting, credit, savings and other decidedly “passionless” subjects.
The truth is though, that I love what I do, and I’m extremely passionate about it.
It’s a funny thing – passion.
What I find most peculiar though are the narratives that exist around it.
In the process of living a life guided by passionate pursuit I’ve stumbled upon nuances and truths to following a dream that are sadly absent from the usual pursue your passion messaging.
In sharing my experience, I hope to offer a more comprehensive understanding of that narrative – the hard truths, the lessons learned and the pleasantly surprising places pursuing your passion can lead.
Passion Is Not a Starting Point
I didn’t dream up the idea that I wanted to be an actress out of nowhere. I was in a play and I liked it, so I sought out more performing opportunities and started taking classes to build and refine my skill set.
In other words, I discovered my passion through doing, not thinking.
I find that people who aren’t sure what they’re passionate about get stuck when they hear they should be “pursuing their passion”, not knowing what to do next.
But passion doesn’t arrive while waiting for inspiration to strike, it’s uncovered through action and work.
[tweetthis]Passion isn’t something you have, it’s something you develop.[/tweetthis]
Think of it like falling in love. You don’t just sit at home and decide you’re going to fall in love with a certain person, you go out and share different experiences with different people until you do.
So pay attention to your life. Surround yourself with people who inspire you to grow. And be mindful of the opportunities that present themselves. If you follow and explore those that pique your interest, you may find yourself stumbling upon passion in the process.
As my friend Terri Trespicio says in her fabulous TED talk,
“Passion is not a job, a sport or a hobby, it is the full force of your attention and energy that you give to whatever’s right in front of you. If you’re so busy looking for this passion, you could miss opportunities that change your life!”
Passion Is Not an End
Before falling in love with theater, I was a gymnastics junkie. I followed then superstars Kim Zmeskal and Dominique Dawes like grown men do their lineup on fantasy football draft day. I spent my afternoons at practice year round, pushing myself past the point of tears on multiple occasions, all before the age of 10.
As my love of musical theater grew and my impending transition to high school drew nearer, it dawned on me that I didn’t want to be a pro athlete or have a gymnastics-centric career. My passion had evolved and taken hold in something new, as it often does in those formative years.
While we freely grant ourselves permission for this kind evolution to happen in our childhood and adolescence, we struggle to allow for these same kinds of shifts in adulthood.
To change course has become mistakenly synonymous with failure. So to avoid this so-called failure, many stay the course of the original goal or dream, even when the passion has passed.
I have many friends and acquaintances who would gladly leave show business if they could complete one Broadway contract. That is not the pursuit of a passion – it is the avoidance of “failure”, and it prolongs pursuit long past the expiration of passion.
Ultimately, passion is a feeling and feelings change.
Think of how your interests changed from the time you were 10 to the time you were 20. Why should you expect them to stay the same between 20 and 30 or 30 and 40 or any other prolonged period of time?
As Stephen Colbert told the 2011 graduates of Northwestern University…
“Dreams can change. If we’d all stuck with our first dream the world would be overrun with cowboys and princesses.”
This not to say that passion has no lasting power, but it can and should evolve as we do.
[tweetthis]Passion is a feeling and feelings change. Our passions should evolve as we do. [/tweetthis]
Speaking of which…
Passion Doesn’t Dictate Form
Though I’ve transitioned from acting to finance, I find that my work is largely driven by the same passion – storytelling. It’s simply evolved into a new form.
Rather than limiting myself to traditional means of storytelling, like theater and television, I’ve applied my passion to new mediums – writing and speaking about finance – giving me access to opportunities I never knew existed.
I don’t need to be confined to a stage and a script to connect with people and tell meaningful stories, just like someone who loves kids doesn’t have to limit their career prospects to babysitting.
There are so many ways to manifest our passions, many of which we fail to explore when we get set in the idea of a singular approach.
Being open to new forms of manifesting of our passions is an important part of making sure our passions evolve as we do.
Pursuing Your Passion Isn’t Enough
Another unfortunate element of the pursue your passion narrative is the assumption that fulfillment, success and financial solvency will inevitably follow once passion is identified and the pursuit begins. While passion is most certainly a powerful force, alone, it doesn’t do anything.
[tweetthis]Passion is a feeling – it’s not a plan.[/tweetthis]
No matter how passionate you feel about something, nobody and nothing will be changed by it unless you take action and do something.
Invest in your passion by setting goals and putting systems in place to achieve each next step.
As Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes said in her 2014 commencement speech at Dartmouth….
“Dreams are lovely, but they are just dreams. Fleeting, ephemeral, pretty. But dreams do not come true just because you dream them. It’s hard work that makes things happen […] Don’t sit at home waiting for the magical opportunity. Get a job. Go to work. Do something until you can do something else.”