Sometimes we feel like we’re the object in our lives, rather than the subject. We feel as though the forces in life act upon us, leaving us with little or no agency. My friend has an interesting way of putting this; he said he sometimes feels as though he’s a plinking about in a pinball machine. Combine this with the common phrases “life is short”, “time flies”, and “where did the years go?” and we are left with the impression that we’re rapidly falling through time, trying to clutch at anything that might give us meaning. Of course, another way of going about this is to create meaning for ourselves. It might not slow down the ride, but it will give us the agency to clear our own path. And when we look back, we’ll see a series of accomplishments (and setbacks) rather than the arbitrary, blinding momentum of a pinball. So how do we do this?
1. Know Thyself
All of those visionaries, like Charles Darwin, Michelangelo, and J.K. Rowling (let’s be honest) seem to have one thing in common: passion. But how does one know what one’s passionate about? For some, it’s an obvious inclination towards a particular subject, but for others, it may be harder to know. What if one likes a little bit of everything? The best way to go about knowing for sure might be to interview oneself, like a journalist would. It is important to note that we are never too old to try this exercise, as it is never to late to discover our passion. To interview oneself, one requires a little bit of time alone, and a notebook or a sound or video recorder. Simply jot down the questions or answers, or record them to listen to later on. The following are some of the questions I asked myself to figure out: just what does this meat-bag want out of life?
- What activities bring me the most joy?
- What do I value most?
- What are my feelings about family and money?
- What’s possible for me to accomplish in my life?
- What will my legacy be, and what do I want it to be?
- Do I trust myself? Why or why not?
These questions help bring some of our deeper assumptions about life to the forefront. Hopefully, by thinking about the things that bring us joy — those things we do even when we don’t always feel like it — we can pinpoint the thing we want to focus on. And this can be anything. It could be a creative endeavour, but it can just as well be to start or take care of a family, to learn about a certain subject, to be a business mogul. There are no wrong answers during this activity.
2. Don’t Judge
After asking these questions, one might be skeptical about the answers. Suppose you find out that you’re the most passionate and happiest while making dog sweaters (that’s adorable). This may not be what you wanted to find out. We’re often cornered by societal pressures and told to aspire to amass money and, if possible, power. Society tends to reward certain ambitions and disregard others. Combine this with the pressure one often feels from family “we just want the best for you, really,” and we’ve got a recipe ripe for ignoring our passion and striving for something that ultimately doesn’t suit us. The end result is that we may satisfy our most basic needs, but we will remain strangely empty, or unfulfilled. The solution is filter out this influence, and we do this by starting with ourselves. No matter what our passion might be, if it makes us happy then we should trust it. Of course, we will still have restraints and responsibilities that may require us to do a little bit of juggling, and in some scenarios we may feel like we’re taking a bit of a risk. But, as they say, “life is short.”
3. Let go of Excuses
Those pesky things that stand in our way are more often than not excuses of our own creation. We can be very good at limiting our potential by posing barriers. This happens for a variety of reasons; chief among them is usually fear of failure. What if you give it your all and you’re actually terrible at it? The thing is, following one’s passion is not a one shot deal. It’s a practice; something you get to come back to and explore and perfect. Other common excuses are lack of time and lack of resources. In most cases, some clever brainstorming will solve these issues. The truth is, we will never have time unless we juggle and shift our lives around to create it. There are, of course, some legitimate reasons that could stand in our way, and these may include illness and unforeseen tragedies. Usually, we can determine whether a reason is legitimate or an self-made excuse by demanding an honest answer from ourselves.
4. Embrace Setbacks
Speed bumps are inevitable. Some of our setbacks will be devastating, and others will simply leave a bad taste. The only sure thing is that they will happen. It is tempting to put a positive spin on this, to try desperately to claw for a silver lining, somewhere. It’s often said, after all, that one door closes and another opens. But this often leaves us wondering where that damn other door could possible be. Sometimes these things just suck. Where there’s a lesson, we can try to learn it, and if not, the trick is to get up and move on. There may not be another open door, but we can kick down a wall.
5. Stay the course
Once we’ve bulldozed our way through a setback, we need to adopt an attitude that will ensure that we get up and do it again. And again. Some may be tempted to call this motivation, and inspiration, but those twins are fickle, fair-weather friends that will only show up on certain special occasions (such as upcoming deadlines, for instance). We need tenacity and determination. These are vague concepts, but they can come in the shape of reminders such as repeating the question “what do I want my legacy to be?” They could be brief glances in a rearview mirror: look how far we’ve already come. Or, it may be a case of just gritting our teeth and getting through the day. Usually, once we start the task, we feel a sense of fulfilment and relief, which encourages us to get through the next day, and the day after that.
6. Create Accountability
This is an optional step, but it can be very helpful to create a venue for oneself in which we can showcase our efforts and our progress. For many people, myself included, blogs can be a useful tool. Not only do they give us the opportunity to display a multitude of different talents, from cooking and art, to business advice, they also allow us to create deadlines that help keep us on track. Furthermore, it gives people an opportunity to give us feedback, which can be useful when we hone our skills.
Hopefully these steps will provide a bit of guidance and a boost of courage. Following ones’ passion takes a bit of guts, but that bit of apprehension might be well worth it once you look back and see the path you’ve forged for yourself.