Follow your passion— ubiquitous advice, and not always good advice. Blindly chasing things that interest you doesn’t a career (or happiness) make. But with that caveat, I frequently recommend it anyway (mostly to myself). The key is learning to read yourself. Have you ever heard a little voice in your head that says “I want to do that!”? It’s not the same voice that says “oooh, chocolate!” This one is not always as loud, but it can be very persistent, and might even feel urgent.
A lot of people have learned to shut off that voice. It’s silly, we say, I can’t, it’s expensive, it’s dangerous, I don’t know how, people will make fun of me, I don’t have time, it’s complicated, it’s difficult, fill in your own response here. These all seem reasonable, when you do the math. Most of them are probably true on some level. Sometimes you really don’t have the complete freedom to do what you want. But for many of us, this is less than we probably think.
Last week, my mom, my sister and I went to an event to raise money and awareness for Planned Parenthood. The main attraction was Gloria Steinem (badass female alert). But before Gloria, the organizers took time to honor PP’s volunteer clinic escorts. They stood on stage in their bright vests. We watched a video about their work. I cried. Usually, I only cry spontaneously in public if there’s a lady in a big white dress carrying a bouquet, but hey. I was moved. I thought, for a second, I want to do that. But I also thought, No, I don’t. Not now, anyway. Interesting what you hear when you listen to yourself. I turned to my mom, and before I said anything, she said, “I’m going to do that.” She heard the same first part of the voice— but not the second. Oh, mom. You get it. You can do it. Please do it!
So here’s the other hard part: how do you go from telling yourself “yes” to DOING something? How do you do right by the voice that spoke up inside you, when you might feel busy, tired, unsure where to begin, or distracted? I have been working on this in recent years, starting with telling myself that it’s my life and the minutes will pass no matter what I do with them. So I get to work by:
- Telling someone what I want. This can take courage, but saying it out loud gives it presence. This can also create accountability, depending on who you tell and what you ask of them. (N.B.: Don’t ask someone to hold you accountable unless you’re willing to be held!)
- Writing down the goal— and then breaking it down, backwards, into steps. Until I have a small enough step that I know how to take it. There are lots of tools to help with this, if you want or need one— it’s essentially what the Passion Planner and other things in that category do. I’m also a fan of Getting Things Done. The key here is to be honest, methodical, and don’t give up when it seems hard at first. Just keep working backwards until there’s a part you can do.
- Taking the first step. Then the second. Reminding myself that I am following my heart, even if the phone call or google search or class or meeting or whatever it is doesn’t feel like it.
- Reflecting, deliberately and at regular intervals. This makes progress visible and prevents discouragement. I spend a little time on Sunday mornings looking back, and again at the beginning of a new month, and even more at the beginning of a new year. Otherwise, progress has a way of disappearing into the rest of the every day stuff that makes up life.
So, in summary, Tune in. Turn on. Drop In. This is my approach to living MY life, and not just coasting into the grooves that other people created. Try it?