Forget Finding Your Passions?

February 17, 2011

*Content warning: This post is rated PG-13 – or, depending on your neighborhood, community, or sub-culture, possibly PG-7.

I met Marianne Cantwell at The Joyfully Jobless Jamboree. She trains, consults, and coaches on custom-designed careers and small business development primarily for people who want portable work so they can explore the world. Her business, blog, and Twitter account are named “Free Range Humans.”

Imagine my surprise when I saw this tweet from Marianne’s Twitter account that said “Why you should say F-you to ‘finding your passions…’ ” WTF?? “Follow your passions” and “Work at what you love” and “Find your true calling” and “Live a life you love” are the steady mantras of lifestyle entrepreneurs and custom career designers. Was Marianne calling this approach all wrong?

Turns out in her blog post with that title she doesn’t oppose the idea of people finding what they love to do and incorporating it into their work lives. What she does oppose is the frozen resistance of contemplating your navel waiting for a nearby bush to burst into non-consuming flames and tell you what your one great life purpose is.

Marianne’s preferred approach is to focus on what you really love doing, and to discover that by paying attention within, instead of looking without for some clue to an undiscovered deep calling. This is probably in line with Barbara Sher’s point of view that finding your calling is just finding what you love to do. Sher says what you love to do is what you are gifted at, and your calling is to do what you are gifted at – to develop and express those talents to share them with the world.

Marianne is energetic and joyful and a bit unconventional so you’ll probably enjoy her article and be interested in looking at more of her material. Since she likes to be provocative you’ll probably find yourself questioning old thinking, even the recently established old thinking of a fairly new movement like custom designed careers.

Marianne’s post got me thinking, or actually forwarded my thinking. I’ve been talking with coaching colleagues lately about the unvoiced darker truths of “working at what you love.” It’s presented as a positive, liberating experience in blogs, newsletters, books, and training events. The difficulties tend to get whitewashed. But they are real, they are challenging, and there are many.

When you decide to follow your calling you are still a person living in a world touched by struggle and chaos. Mountains do not step aside and pathways do not smooth out to allow the guiding Shekinah cloud to lead you directly forward on an easy path. There are still other people, complicated people, and you have to deal with them. You still have to pay your bills and make decisions about saving for retirement. They will still have 36 lanes but only open 2 of them at the warehouse store. Cavities. Fender benders. Hailstorms. They still happen.

The helpful analogy for me was when I was in the upper years of my undergraduate degree in psychology. I really enjoyed classes on the history of psychology and on personality theories. Research design class? Not so much. Statistics? The text put me to sleep in 15 minutes almost every time. But I didn’t question my major and think This isn’t all happy and good so maybe this isn’t my calling. I thought Psychology is a broad field so I have to learn the big picture before I get to focus on clinical practice.

Even when I got into graduate school to study clinical child psychology I was in a program that also taught us to work in schools, so I was learning about educational assessments and program evaluations, which previously had not interested me at all. I didn’t think This program isn’t exactly what I had in mind so it’s wrong for me. I thought Other programs might have more of what I like and less of what doesn’t interest me, but this will get me where I’m going, it’s affordable, and it’s here where I live. I didn’t intentionally seek to learn program evaluation, but I wound up learning things about it that I use now as a business coach and would not have known otherwise. I even applied some of that knowledge when I co-owned a child care center and had primary responsibility for overseeing the early education programs and elementary activity programs we had.

Because the program wasn’t ideal I wound up taking courses outside my department. I learned play therapy from one of the most respected play therapists on the planet, Dr. Garry Landreth. I learned group counseling outside my department, and I learned about career counseling outside my department. Already I was custom designing my career by custom designing part of my degree plan. I found a way to make it work for me.

Thinking about my not-ideal-for-me-but-quite-good programs of study helps me see career design and business creation in a more realistic light. There are times when I am following a plan to try out a new communication platform, such as the Tapa Palapa podcast I produce with fellow coach Francie Cooper, or creating information products, like the Anything But Marketing! series, and I encounter obstacles. When the obstacles are small – or rather, when they seem small, because perception is the key – I step over or around and keep going. But when they seem pretty big, I stop moving and start questioning.

These are new products that aren’t really proven, aren’t generating a nice steady income, and aren’t receiving consistent accolades. What I am doing is taking ideas that formed in my imagination and translating them into reality, with the belief that they are probably good ideas. But until they are created fully in reality and experienced by a lot of other people I won’t know if they are good ideas. I don’t get a lot of feedback on them right now so what inspires me and motivates me to keep going is my own belief that they are probably – hopefully – good ideas. All that moves me forward is my vision of having a business that aligns with who I am, allows me to serve others in ways that matter deeply to me, and brings in a good income.

With the degrees, and then with my therapist roles, I expected there would be good and bad, rewards to enjoy and crap to endure. When I became a business owner I assumed the same. I actually realized early on as a business owner that I had a lot of control over what rewards I would experience and how, and a lot of control over what crap I had to endure. When the landlord “pressure steamed” the plastic PVC drain line and it melted and the sewers backed up, I really didn’t have a choice not to endure that crap, but there was definitely some crap I could avoid.

With my consulting and coaching business, I’ve boxed myself in. Very ironic, I know, since a huge theme of my business and an important mission of my life is freeing people from the boxes of false assumptions and outdated thinking and other people’s expectations. But since I focus on “working at what you love” I over-evaluate my business based on loving it. At times I have mistakenly interpreted the frustrations and nuisances as an indication that I might be pursuing the wrong goals, instead of realizing there is frustration and nuisance in all of life.

I had to figure this out: Enjoying every aspect of something is not the measure that it is the right goal or that it follows my calling. The measure of it being the right goal is that it ultimately moves me towards where I want to be and what I want to do. There will be struggles and obstacles. And crap. Their presence is not a red flag I am on the wrong path. But my level of willingness to endure them for the sake of the end goal is an indicator that my path is true. It tells me how committed I am, because commitment is the willingness to endure the crap because the overall package is worthwhile.

Empowering people to design and create fulfilling lives that bring them meaning, connection, and joy – that’s worthwhile to me.

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