I’m lucky. Growing up, there was only one thing that I truly cared about as I went about trying to build a life well-lived. I wanted to create something that was full of passion. Now, this passion I’m writing about has nothing to do with love affairs or heart beating trysts done in the still of the night. Those feelings have their place, for sure, but the way I felt back then as a young woman, discovering my passion went way deeper than that.
I wanted to do things that made me feel joyful and leap out of bed determined to get them done. Acts that connected me to others, allowed me to stretch myself and feel boundless and ignite my fire. And so I danced, modeled, led debate teams and poetry groups. I formed student bodies, produced documentaries, studied in the US without a scholarship and left without debt. I pursued love and made love, created award-winning films, started a PR firm, headed many a professional group and pivoted my career completely after the age of 40.
WE ALL HAVE A STIRRING TO FIND OUR PASSION
As disparate as all these acts seemed, they had one thing in common. They allowed me to create a life full of passion based on discipline and hard work but also on optimism and fearlessness. Not that I knew it then. Looking back I think I took for granted this insane ability I have to not accept boundaries set by fears and answer the callings stirring in my heart. We all have that stirring I believe; you and me.
However, the difference between the woman who lives a life full of passion and the woman who doesn’t is that the latter either doesn’t answer her call or does it with one eye open and the other closed. She allows unbridled fears to govern her decisions. She never challenges the validity of her fears and confines herself to a narrow range of possibilities and even narrower spaces in which to explore them. That woman is afraid of the dark and while frankly, we all are, she does not believe that she can find a light to make the pursuit of her passion possible.
I know where that thinking comes from. School taught us to conform, to not speak up. We were often told as young girls that we couldn’t be too loud or too ambitious or too much. We were lucky if we were raised by broad-minded parents who encouraged exploration. Many didn’t. So, in essence, we grew up silent and afraid, doing what was acceptable to those who raised us and others whose judgment we feared. We confined ourselves to the spaces that made us feel comfortable placing too much emphasis on being respected by folks who existed only inside our heads.
PASSION WAXES AND WANES
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t for a moment want you to think that discovering and living a life full of passion is easy. Like love, passion waxes and wanes. It burns bright and it burns out but you can find it again. It can always be found.
One of the best examples of kind of self-discovery and its connection to passion is explored by best selling author Elizabeth Gilbert, who famously wrote Eat, Pray, Love. Writing is Elizabeth’s singular passion. As Gilbert tells it, she had reached her deadline to hand in the manuscript of her new book but she knew in her heart it was no good. She was devastated, she felt that she had failed as a writer. Her chief concern was had she lost her ability to tell great stories? She expressed this dismay to her editor and friend, Sarah.
You wouldn’t guess what Sarah’s response was to her friend? “Take a break!” she said, “don’t worry about following your passion for a while. Just follow your curiosity instead.”
This was completely disorienting for Gilbert but what choice did she have with the deadline behind her and failing words in front of her. When Gilbert thought about it what she figured out was that Sarah was not suggesting that she ditch her passion forever. She was saying that her friend “could temporarily ease off the pressure by exploring something new, some completely unrelated creative endeavor—something that she could find interesting, but with much lower emotional stakes.”
When passion feels so out of reach, Sarah explained, curiosity can be a calming diversion.
So Gilbert turned ferociously to gardening, digging in the dirt as she calls it. She grew vegetables: luscious tomatoes and less than glorious bean sprouts. She kept at it. She enjoyed the acts of digging in the dirt and growing things which she wrote kept her modestly engaged through a difficult period.
Then the miracle happened. As the seasons changed to Fall, one day Gilbert was pulling up some tomato vines when suddenly, out of nowhere—she realized exactly how to fix her book. She washed her hands, returned to her desk, and within three months completed the final version of Committed—a book that she loved and was proud of
See what I mean about the spark that waxes and wanes but how it can be discovered again.
As adults, I don’t for a second think it’s too late to discover your passion. Curiosity often leads you to it. Taking breaks and doing something different can be revealing. I also think if you have not been one of the lucky ones to understand how to tap into your passion from a young age, there is a series of questions you can ask yourself that can lead to a path of awareness and intention.