I was talking to my sister (14) the other night when she asked me a very particular question:
“How do you really know when you’re passionate about something?”
In other words, where should you concentrate your efforts when not guided by a clear vision of where you want to go, what you want to become, or what you want to achieve?
Now in the moment I probably could have answered better than I did, but until that point, I hadn’t really taken great pains to figure out exactly how one actually goes about approaching this problem.
Yet when looking over my own experiences in parallel to others doing something they love, it seems as though there is a common underlying strategy to discovering, pursuing, and eventually, living a life that both excites us and provides the sense of fulfillment that we crave.
Now the easy answer is, that to a certain extent, you never really have to make any final decisions about the direction of your personal or professional life.
Let me reiterate. No decision is ever FINAL.
No matter if you just finished law school or have spent your entire life in any number of highly specialized fields, the option to change is omnipresent.
Yet almost all of us are brought up to believe that we must make the most important decisions of our lives before we ever even get to really experience the world. Not only to make a decision, but to commit to it, whether we’re ready or not we’re really ready.
The inspiring and open-ended questions of our youth “What do you want to be when you grow up?” quickly turns into seemingly permanent life decisions…
“What is your major?”
“What career are you going to choose?”
AKA: “How are you going to fit in?”
In a society that expects, no, demands, that “concrete” decisions be made regardless of whether we , it’s no wonder why so many people work jobs they hate; lack passion and fulfillment in their lives; and more than anything else, fear taking back those decisions that were often made many years prior—those that they have already invested so much time and effort in.
Yet, nothing could be farther from the truth.
It is fear, and fear alone, that drives these insecurities and emotions that keep us rooted where we are–maintaining the gap between where we stand and where we really want to be.
Do not take this to mean that you don’t have to make decisions. Creating the life you envision requires not only decisions, but quick and persistent action after those decisions have been made.
Nor is this a suggestion to become one of those people who never commit to anything for any substantial amount of time. Whether from jumping from job to job, project to project, or person to person every few months, most of these people are either looking for shortcuts (there are none) or are extremely insecure. My advice: Don’t involve yourself with them. Their subtle manipulative tendencies will cause nothing but stress and turmoil.
Instead take the middle ground. Pivoting or changing paths even as much as every 3-5 years has become normal, and is probably even healthy for your overall progress. Once again, the lesson is simple:
You can always quit. You can always change paths. No decision is FINAL.
If you’re already well along a path–”committed”–, who gives a fuck? Think of all the time you’ve already wasted. Do you really want to waste even more?
Are you really passionate about your work/life? Or have you just made a prior decision, and feel “committed” to following it through to the end?
Quitting after careful deliberation and really getting a “taste” of the life that is to come doesn’t make you a quitter, it makes you intelligent. There is no obligation to past decisions like this.
For further reference, check out Albert Einstein’s definition of “insanity” and relate it to your current situation, if need be.
When we realize the reality of the world we now live–along with the convertible nature of almost every experience we encounter–we quickly realize that this fear is not only trivial, but easily defeated and almost certainly more perceived doom than actual risk.
The best time to quit was yesterday, the second best time is right now.
Tomorrow is almost certainly too late.
The near limitless nature of modern communication and infrastructure now allows for an unprecedented amount of versatility and movement between passions and professions.
Unless you’re on your death-bed, the chances for making almost any kind of transition (sure, some changes are nearly impossible after a certain point. Think astronauts or professional athlete)
Yet even in cases of large transitions—while it is inevitable that you will have to forgo some of your expertise or domain knowledge—the probability that you’ll have to start from square one is just about zero.
The essence of almost all we do is based around core social and behavioral interactions that are present in almost any industry or profession or endeavor.
If you absolutely can’t find a parallel, you’re most certainly asking the wrong questions, in which case, the only option is to just do it. Movement is key to discovery.
Don’t know what direction to take yet? What passion to pursue? Tired of the reality that is your life?
Then take action. Get involved. Learn more.
The compass of passion and purpose is developed from a combination of experience and knowledge—often coming hand-in-hand.
The more you get involved, the more you learn about different endeavors and immerse yourself in the world you envision, the more you can accurately gauge the direction you’re headed.
On the same note, waiting for the opportunity to find you is a fool’s errand. Wait long enough, and you’ll be looking back on your life with a permanent taste of regret. Each and every day a wasted opportunity to take that initial step that could have changed everything.
Instead, take action today.
What you’re seeing is the difference between what’s IMPORTANT and what’s URGENT.
It’s always urgent to respond to that email, or to watch that TV show, or to do any of the 50 things we’re confronted with each day. But doing the important things is more difficult.
Cultivating a network, managing our finances, really discovering what we love — these are things that are more important than any email. Yet we don’t do them because we wait to “figure it out” later.
That’s why we put it off for one more day, then another and another. Pretty soon, 10 years have gone by and we’re in a similar job as yesterday. Or we’ve hopped from job to job, never really knowing what you want, how to find it, and how to connect it to a Dream Job.
Some of us are even making 6 figures, but still not where we want to be. So what do we do? Usually, nothing. We claim we need to “figure it out” some day.
For some of us, we get motivated like a sputtering engine — sending out 20 or 30 resumes in a month — but when we don’t hear back, we settle back down, resigned to our place in life.
Small, Quick Iterations
Now this doesn’t mean you should immediately go out and make huge commitments and dive blindly at anything that interests you.
Instead initially you should get involved with smaller, basic activities to “get your feet wet”, so to speak and really see if your “passion” is rooted in anything, or simply an aggrandized idea in your head. A Lean Startup approach to life, if you will.
How? There are more options than ever but here’s a few ideas to get you started
-Join a Meetup or group around your local area.
-Subscribe to blogs about the subject and industries that interest you.
-Start reaching out to thought leaders and communicating with peers, or professionals in the industry.
-Connect with those who are already in the positions you desire.
-Start a blog.
-Share your ideas with anyone and everyone
and countless others…
Your options in this regard are nearly endless. It doesn’t have to be complicated. People are often much more receptive than you could ever imagine. Even something as simple as sending out a few tweets or emails could be all you need to get started down the path towards your dreams and ultimate reality.
While these initial steps are surely important, don’t let these small steps become the final solution. Always be moving towards new experiences and more involvement. Just like the comforts of a steady paycheck from a job you hate, it is too easy to fall into the trap of false security that comes from these initial forms or action.
Which is why measuring your progress and being completely honest with yourself is vital to this entire process.
Where am I today?
Is my current state significantly different from where I was yesterday? Last week? Last year?
Am I actually progressing? Or simply treading water?
Am I rationalizing small actions or events to create an illusion of movement and hide the reality of irrelevance or lack of real achievement?
And finally, Where do I want to be tomorrow?
Pursuing progress and continued growth is the only way you’ll ultimately come to the realization that, yes, indeed, this is the correct life path for you or no, this isn’t the right path for me.
At that point you have a choice to make:
1- Pivot: Make a slight change of direction in the current field to better align with your vision or dream job.
2- Start down a new path: Drop uninspired pursuits and use your experiences to better define your next course of action.
Now it’s important to get far enough down your chosen path to know almost for certain whether it’s the right path or not. In other words, getting through the dip, or the period of middle ground of hardship and struggle, is a fundamental part of any worthwhile endeavor.
Every new project (or job, or hobby, or company) starts out exciting and fun.
Then it gets harder and less fun, until it hits a low point-really hard, and not much fun at all. And then you find yourself asking if the goal is even worth the hassle. Maybe you’re in a Dip-a temporary setback that will get better if you keep pushing. But maybe it’s really a Cul-de-Sac, which will never get better, no matter how hard you try.
What really sets superstars apart from everyone else is the ability to escape dead ends quickly, while staying focused and motivated when it really counts. Winners quit fast, quit often, and quit without guilt-until they commit to beating the right Dip for the right reasons.
Are you quitting/changing course because it’s too much work or you aren’t an instant success? Or have you uncovered something about yourself or this particular path that changes your fundamental outlook on your “passion”?
As an example: For the longest time I wanted to be a Navy Seal. I trained at an insane pace for many years of my life (training in sub-zero temps at 5am before school) and reading all I could about becoming one of the most relentless, elite warriors on the planet.
Yet, the more I immersed myself, the more people I talked with, and the more I aligned my life with this ultimate goal, the more I felt something was missing.
I found the passion that initially drove me towards this pursuit was slowly diminishing. It wasn’t the difficult work or the expected barriers, but rather, as the scope of my understanding and experiences increased, I found that following this path would ultimately leave me unfulfilled in other important aspects of my life.
Particularly, in the limited freedom of creativity and open expression that a military life entails.
So I pivoted. Taking the intense competitiveness and drive I had gained from this period of my life, and transferred it into the world of entrepreneurship. A world where the level of potential achievement and lifestyle was much better orientated towards what I truly passionate about: Unlimited level of personal achievement; extreme challenges; adventures and risk; the opportunity to go where no one has gone before; and the unlimited ability to create my own future as I saw fit.
In this way, I see my change as more of a pivot than a complete change in direction. A parallel transfer of intensity and focus to a path that was better suited to my passions and life vision.
Start with small steps. Test the water and begin moving in the direction of something that interests you. As you progress, it will become apparent whether the path you are on is the one that is meant for you.
The most important thing is being honest with yourself.
What is really driving you? Where do your passions and excitement for life really lie?
The second most important thing is to initiate.
Start new experiences. Just get out there and do it. Start, start, and start again.
Whether or not it turns out to be the right path, your experiences will almost certainly result in growth and greater clarity in one way or another.
So get out there and start already.
The undeferred life is waiting…
(Cover Photo) Without a doubt, there are a lot of shitty jobs out there. Yet for the most part, we...