“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” –Albert Einstein
More and more I find myself in conversation with people diligently searching for their passion, their purpose—that elusive thing that will make their heart race or sing or whatever it’s supposed to do when you know you’ve found “it.” In fact, finding your passion is often presented as something innate, a calling, something you just “know” you should be doing. Others liken it to finding a spouse: instant connection, love at first sight…you’ll know it when you see or feel it.
And it’s no wonder so many of us feel pressured to find it. Everywhere we turn, there’s a meme or inspirational quote telling us to follow our bliss, or that the only things worth doing are the ones we’re truly passionate about. Talk about pressure! I just don’t think life always works that way. Besides, to truly accomplish anything of value, there’s usually a lot of time, sacrifice, sweat and maybe even a few tears involved—and that’s a lot tougher sell than simply telling someone to “be epic.”
But oh my goodness, what an incredible feeling it is to get so caught up in something, anything, to the point where you lose track of time and it becomes all you can think about. Some researchers call it being in “flow.” This is when that falling-in-love analogy actually rings true for me—those blissful first months when new love is all shiny and romantic and exciting. Finding and pursuing a new hobby, project or cause can definitely make us distracted and maybe even a little crazy (but in a good way), especially when that project turns into an obsession. I’m sure it’s pretty obvious by now, but photography has been my obsession for quite some time now.
Have you ever watched a child become obsessed with something, such as a toy or an activity? Last year, our then-five-year-old became consumed by gymnastics, which meant every chair seat was an opportunity to do a handstand and every curb or wall was a balance beam. Her first request every afternoon when she got home from school (after she had donned her leotards, of course) was for one of us to do gymnastics with her, which usually meant practicing handstands against the wall or front door. In just a few short weeks, she made incredible progress, moving from barely getting her legs up high enough to touch the wall to being able to balance for a few seconds without any support. And now her sisters—being the competitive bunch that we are—have gotten in on the act, too.
Of course, most grown-up pursuits are a little more complicated than mastering handstands. But do you suppose that somewhere along the way, perhaps while we’ve been trying to earn a living or nurture our children’s interests and passions, we forgot to make room for our own? After all, there are only so many hours in a day, and pursuing activities and projects that are truly meaningful to us can feel a little selfish, given all of our other responsibilities. So, as consolation and to pass the time (even though there is never enough of it), we distract ourselves with things like binge-watching shows, social media and shopping (I’m writing from experience here). It may not be a very exciting existence, but it’s a comfortable one.
So here’s my plea: Don’t do it! Yes, encourage your children’s passions and interests, but don’t forget about your own. Life is way too short and offers way too many possibilities to settle for an existence that’s merely comfortable. Besides, it’s not as if you suddenly became a fully formed human being the moment you chose a career, got married or became a parent. Consider, for a moment, the reasons you are so intent on helping your children develop their interests and talents, and ask yourself why you don’t apply that same standard or intent to yourself.
If you’re unsure where to start or don’t know exactly what you want to do, try this: Instead of hoping a bolt of lightening will strike and your greatest passions will magically be revealed, start by opening yourself up to new ideas and experiences by simply being more curious. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic, likens being curious to being on a scavenger hunt that may ultimately lead you to finding your passion. “If you can let go of passion and follow your curiosity,” Gilbert writes, “your curiosity just might lead you to your passion.”
But even if it doesn’t, you’ll still enjoy the benefits of learning something new and getting out of the habit of doing the same things, day in and day out. Oh, and don’t you dare use the excuse that you’re too old to learn ______________, or to try ____________ [fill in your own blanks]. My grandfather was 90 years old when he bought a 1960s Willy’s-Overland Jeepster Commando to restore in his garage, a project that would likely have taken years to complete. He taught me that age is a lousy excuse not to try most things.
Maybe you don’t think you’ll never be really good at something, so why even bother? Gilbert tells the story of a friend who gave up figure skating as a teenager because she was told she’d never be good enough to compete in the Olympics. Years later, at age 40, she donned her skates again, hired a coach and hit the ice, simply for the sheer joy it brought her. Was she the best, or even really good? Nope. In fact, she was by far the oldest skater out there practicing every morning. But it made her happy and had an unexpected domino effect in that it gave her the courage to make other life changes as well.
Were you ever discouraged from pursuing something because you were told you wouldn’t be the best or even very good? Were there things you quit or were too afraid to try for fear of embarrassment? Here’s mine: I wish I had pursued singing—I used to sing in church all the time, but somewhere along the line I got fearful (or realistic) and stopped, even though I love to sing. But I’ve promised myself that at some point I’m going to take lessons or start singing in church again. And I will continue to sing my heart out in the shower and in the car (despite my youngest’s pleas for me to stop) because it brings me joy.
What brings you joy or makes you want to learn more, try more? Tennis? Astronomy? Travel? Fishing? Community theater? Think back to those times in your life when you felt interested and engaged in something. Could there be a long-dormant interest or project that is worth reviving? Has a book or documentary piqued your interest lately, but you didn’t take the time to look into it further? Go do it.
I remember my father telling me that he was never ever bored. And I believe it—his interests included everything from gardening and history to photography and fitness. And despite a very full life that included nine children and a job that took him all over the world, he nurtured that curiosity for as long as he could. I wish the same for my children—boring is not a word they are allowed to use—and for each of us, regardless of our age or season of life.
In the same way that you look at your children and see so much promise and potential, don’t forget that there is just as much talent inside you, just waiting to be unleashed. Don’t worry so much about finding your passion or purpose and just enjoy the pursuit of fun, interesting, meaningful things. Passions may or may not be uncovered, but I guarantee the journey—especially if it takes you outside of your comfort zone—will be a lot more interesting.