Are you someone who experiences cycles of high excitement and then flatlines with confusion and exhaustion? Perhaps you’re interested in many things – you’ve had a dozen college majors – but in the end you still don’t know what to do with your life and the struggle has left you feeling frustrated, numb, and ready to give up.
You’ve probably heard that all you need to do is find your one true passion and you’ll be happy forever.
If it were really that easy, wouldn’t we all be rich and happy by now? This is where many coaches, career counselors, and self-help books have failed us in a big way. Their marketing is creating false expectations, spreading misinformation about human nature, and confusing the hell out of us. We’re lead to believe that other people are finding success with some secret formula so why aren’t we?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a pessimist on this topic. I believe we can always be exploring new things that bring us happiness and well being. I believe we each have to define what “rich” means to us and then put in the effort to achieve it. But I also believe our culture puts too much emphasis on finding this mythical ultimate happiness, creating mounds of financial wealth, and, to my first point, finding that one true passion.
Save for some of the creative geniuses and prodigies, many of us don’t have this so-called one true passion hiding in the depths of our unconscious. And if we don’t possess such a creature, we’re going to wind up frustrated and broke trying to find it. We are constantly reinventing ourselves. We are fluid. We get bored easily and we get fascinated easily. We are in a new era of entrepreneurialism and creativity. We live in an age where our vocations aren’t assigned by our parent’s association with the blacksmith. Most of us won’t inherit the family farm. We now put our individual selves first because we don’t have to spend the day hunting meat for our village. We have a lot of freedom and that can be as frightening as it is exhilarating. It’s a new phenomenon to humans and we aren’t quite sure how to navigate it.
When you come across the latest snake-oil salesman hawking his happiness roadmap and passion compass, don’t buy the ticket to ride until your initial impulses have settled down. You are a passionate person and he is a savvy salesperson. He knows how to trigger the emotional responses that mash your finger onto the “Buy It Now” button.
Here’s what we can do:
- Sit with people who truly listen and ask really good questions. Look for a supporter who is more curious about you as a person than he is about trying to squeeze you through his particular program or solution. He doesn’t have the answers, you do. He just happens to have put together what he thinks is good- and maybe it is. But the good ones will help support you in finding those answers within yourself. Seriously, THEY DO NOT HAVE THE ANSWERS- YOU DO!
- Know that there are a lot of genuinely awesome counselors, coaches, therapists, and friends out there who truly want to help you find what you’re looking for. They will help you explore your options, learn more about yourself, work through roadblocks, and support your plan. Shop around and don’t be afraid to return the ones that don’t fit. Tell them what you need in your life, not vice versa.
- Be wary of your inner red flags that pop up when something is surrounded by a lot of hype. Cultivate your instinct. A best-seller might indicate little more than savvy marketing and someone who knows how to target our emotional impulses. Just because everyone’s buying it doesn’t mean it’s actually good. Sleep on it and see if it’s still makes sense in the morning.
- Don’t walk on hot coals to prove your devotion to a guru. The heat on your feet only indicates that you’ve just been burned. Gimmicks and shortcuts are tempting, but once people start getting hurt physically or emotionally, these stunts appear foolish. Stupid human tricks have been peddled for centuries. But living the good life is a process that requires a lifetime of working at it and it shouldn’t land you in the hospital.
- If you are feeling overwhelmed by your many passions and options, start by getting them out of your head. Create a file folder or bankers box for each of your interests and give them a real home in your home. Your thoughts deserve to be shown respect. Once each of your passions or interests is given a place, you are less likely to feel you’ll have to give any one of them up. You can come back to them anytime and add random thoughts to the files as they arise. This helps clear your mind and embrace your possibilities rather than sacrificing 10 things so you can have 1. Who said we only have to have 1?
- Know that your job doesn’t necessarily have to be passion driven. And your passions don’t necessarily have to turn into a vocation. When you’re able to spend time with your interests and your people – when you connect with what’s meaningful – you are more likely to have happiness than if you struggle endlessly to achieve the American myth of “I have to be doing what I love at all times otherwise blah, blah blah.” Who said money and meaning have to be tied together? You get to decide. First discover what’s meaningful to you, then find ways to incorporate it. There are some very happy people doing some very crappy jobs but they go home to some very wonderful people and have very rich meaningful lives. What’s their secret?
- It’s okay to feel passionate about many things, that doesn’t mean you’re non-committal or wishy-washy or flakey or whatever people have called you. It’s okay to not feel particularly passionate about anything, that doesn’t make you aloof or dull or lazy or whatever people have called you. We are in a time when every single action we take is scrutinized for approval or disapproval.
Start with a foundation of knowing that you’re enough just as you are and then build up from there.