The last few days have got me thinking about passion. And how the pursuit of passion can have costs, but also produce more rewards than one ever dreamed possible. In some cases, there’s a trade-off. Some of the most passionate people, be they educators, artists, or entertainers, struggle to make ends meet. It is the rare individual who is handsomely compensated for her passion. So do you pursue your dreams or abandon them for job security and a new house? Or can you have your cake and eat it too?
Let’s back up a bit. What if you don’t have any passions to pursue? Maybe you don’t have a particular passion now, but I’ll bet you did at one time. And I’ll be truthful here. I went through a lengthy period of unemployment and poverty that was accompanied by a deep depression. So if your life feels empty at the moment, I can relate. Sometimes the only goal of the day is to survive to the end of it. I am hoping you are not in that dark place today, and if you are, don’t give up just yet. Just know that passion WILL return.
If you think you don’t have a passion, try venturing outside of your comfort zone. Take advantage of the myriad opportunities that are available online or in person. And let’s acknowledge reality – it’s hard to think about pursuing passion when you are struggling to keep the roof over your head. But passion doesn’t always have to cost money. For example, J.K. Rowling’s passion for writing a series of books about a character named ‘Harry Potter’ gave her an escape from poverty and led to fame and fortune. So why not you?
Think back to your childhood. Did you have a passion then? Perhaps it was the dream to be the next big movie star or throw the winning touchdown pass in a Super Bowl. And your childhood dream might seem ridiculous today – I remember painting a picture of a clown and thinking it would be nice to bring happiness into a turbulent world. Nope, I never sought admission to Clown School (yes, there is such a thing!), but this blog still carries a bit of that dream.
Like many, I discovered my passion when I went to college. I was hooked when I took a Sociology course on Research Methods! I spent hours sitting in the library basement pouring through Census tract data and examining the relationship between hazardous waste sites and neighborhood demographics. Yes, even then I was a data geek! For whatever reason, when I discovered that I could apply scientific research methods to address major social problems I knew I HAD to be a Sociologist. Of course, that meant earning a PhD so it was a heck of an investment. I sure wasn’t ready for the poverty that followed! If you had asked me if it was worth pursuing my dream when I was in my early 30s, I would have said ABSOLUTELY NOT! Ask me the same question today and the answer is ABSOLUTELY YES! Today I am living the dream.
So why write about passion now? It’s simple – I just met a couple of interesting people. A few days ago, my friend and I drove to the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge. We used our Groupons to enjoy a strenuous paddle on a two-hour kayak tour with our guide. He owns the small kayaking company and while I’m sure he doesn’t bring in a whole lot of money, he’s on the water every chance he gets. He’s pursuing his passion. Then yesterday I spent the morning volunteering at York River State Park’s Estuaries Day. There I struck up a conversation with a “pirate” who was providing information at one of the booths. I asked him how he developed an interest in the pirate culture, and he told me about his love of history and then proceeded to share stories of Blackbeard‘s adventures in the Virginia and Carolina waters. In his real job, he’s the park’s law enforcement officer who is often atop a horse. Wow! He gets to practice two passions in one job!
There are many practical people out there who will work to quash your passions. I’m sure you’ve had the experience.
“Why do you want to major in sociology/philosophy/history, you’ll never get a job!”
“It’s time to grow up and forget about your dreams!”
Well, guess what friends? Let’s not frame this as an either-or proposition. Either get a “real job” and abandon your dreams….or live your dreams and forget about financial independence. In reality, there are lots of ways to pursue your passion at any time in your life!
I became a Sociologist because really, it was my calling. Many of my colleagues feel exactly the same way. And here’s my take on this: If your passion creeps into your dreams and keeps you awake at night, odds are high that you’ll be uber-motivated to do whatever it takes to live your dreams. But here’s where you have to seriously align your dreams with your talents and abilities. If you find that you just don’t have the “chops” to cut it in the acting business, perhaps that passion can be turned into becoming the greatest film director of all time? Or the knee that you blew out in college keeps you from the NFL as a player – then why not become the mastermind coach behind the Super Bowl victory? Passion can be transformed.
I have a neighbor who has a part-time gig as an Elvis impersonator. His “regular” job in the finance industry pays the bills. And while I’m sure he invests a bit in his rhinestone-studded jackets and glittery belt buckles, he brings in extra income from his paid performances. He can pursue his passion while meeting his financial goals. Another example are bloggers, myself included, who write on a part-time sporadic basis. Most of us started blogging because we were passionate about a particular issue. It’s a low-cost venture if you do most of the work yourself, and it can produce some extra income. In fact, some bloggers have quit their full-time jobs thanks to their popularity and dedication. If you think about it, you might be able to develop a practical part-time passion-based income. For example, I paint children’s rocking chairs primarily for my own enjoyment, but I have brought in a few dollars in the process. There’s very low risk in pursuing a part-time passion.
Finally, there’s always room to become passionate about a specific project. Perhaps you are dedicated to bringing fresh organic produce to your inner city neighborhood, helping a cancer-stricken friend, or restoring oyster beds? Even when you have a full-time job and a demanding home life, there’s room for a passion project. What do these projects have in common? They’re not about money. Rather, the projects contribute to the neighborhood, friends and family members, and the environment. You may not get a lot of “thank yous” for carrying out a project, but there are other rewards that are even more meaningful.
These days, I’m in awe of my 84 year-old mother, who last year launched her own passion project – restoring a nearly-abandoned rural cemetery. The church that had owned the cemetery was destroyed by fire in 1942, records were lost, the local church refused to take responsibility, and the cemetery association was in disarray. Gravestones were leaning and toppling and even grass-cutting funds were in short supply. My mom took it upon herself to raise funds (she made and sold beautiful little heart-shaped cakes), revamped the Cemetery Association (she’s now the Treasurer), and hired some experts to level and fix the gravestones. Her enthusiasm and dedication has spilled over to others. While there’s no personal monetary gain, mom can look across the road and take great pride in accomplishing a goal. Way to go, mom!
There’s no age limit on passion! In fact, the older you get the more time you’ll have and with some luck and planning, you’ll even have more money to spend on pursuing those passions. Whatever you do, build your passion around love for others and respect for the environment.