The day I got laid off from my job at Martha Stewart, I was relieved. I loved the job, I really did. But the relationship was over and I didn’t know how to end it and then it broke up with me. Don’t you love it when that happens? At the time I’ve been also hosting a radio show for the Martha Stewart brand on Sirius XM. And then not long after that got cancelled, too. On the day of my last show I got onto the elevator at the 36th floor and as it started to drop, I started to cry. Every floor took me further and further from what I had been: a magazine editor, a radio host, the person with the cool job to talk about at parties. You know. And honestly I had no idea what I was going to do.
And quite frankly no one was looking for me. So, I did what anyone would do in that situation. I was making some phone calls: ‘Hey, what are you up to? Did I mention I’m available?’ I needed to get paid to do something, right. I mean I live in New York City. If you’re not pad to do something, you’re not going to be there very long. But this idea that I had to know what I suppose to do now, right. I’m supposed to pursue this passion. It’s just bugged me. It always had. And that’s because it’s a dangerously limiting idea at the heart of everything we believe about success and life in general.
And it’s that you have one singular passion and your job is to find it and to pursue it to the exclusion of all else. And if you do that everything will fall into place and if you don’t you failed. The pressure starts really young and it goes your whole life, but it’s perhaps most pronounced when you’re graduating from school, right. After this, ‘Wow, the world’s at your feet! What are you going to do now?’
And it’s so intimidating, it’s like picking a major for life. You know, I had a hard enough time picking a major for four years and I changed that once, if not twice. I mean it was like just intimidating, right? And this compelling I mean this really, you know, forceful cultural imperative to choose your passion, it’s stressful to me, but it’s not just me, it’s everyone I talk to agrees with me.
The woman who sold me this dress. I told her what I needed the dress for, what I was talking about and she said, ‘Oh my gosh, I really need to hear this talk, because I just graduate from school. My friends and I we don’t know what we’re passionate about, we don’t know what we supposed to do.’ I’m leery of passion for a few reasons. But one of them is that passion is not a plan, it’s a feeling. And feelings change.
\They do. You can be passionate about a person one day, a job, and then not passionate the next. We know this and yet we continue to use passion as the yardstick to judge everything by, instead of seeing passion for what it really is: the fire that ignites when you start rubbing sticks together. Anyway, I was such a mess when I was in my twenties, such a mess. I was anxious and depressed and had no life to speak of, I was temping to keep my options open, and I was sitting around at night in my underwear watching Seinfeld reruns.
Actually I still do that, that’s not the worst thing in the world to do. It’s fine. But I called my mother every night crying and I was turning away perfectly good full-time jobs. Why? Because I was afraid. I was sure that I would pick the wrong one and get on the wrong train headed to the wrong future. My mother begged me, she said, ‘Please, take a job, any job. You’re not going to be stuck, you’re stuck now! You don’t create your life first, and then live it. You create it by living it, not agonizing about it.’ She’s right, she’s always right.
And so I took a full-time job as an assistant at a management consulting firm, where I knew nothing about nothing. Okay. Zero. Except I knew I had a reason to get up in the morning, get showered, leave the house, people who were waiting for me when I got there and I got a paycheck every two weeks. And that is as good a reason to take a job as any. Did I know that I want to be an office administrator for the rest of my life? No! I had no idea! Truly!
But this idea that everything you’re supposed to do should fit into this passion vertical is unrealistic. And I’ll say it – elitist. You show me someone who washes windows for a living and I will bet you a million dollars it’s not because he has a passion for clean glass. One of my favourite columns is a piece by Dilbert creator Scott Adams. He wrote a piece in The Wall Street Journal a few years ago, about how we failed his way to success. And one of his jobs was a commercial loan officer.
And he was taught specifically: “Do not loan money to someone following their passion.” No, loan it to someone who wants to start a business, the more boring, the better. Adam says that in his life success fueled passion more than passion fueled success. When I got my first job as a magazine editor, in publishing, I was thrilled. But I had to take pretty big pay cut, because at the time I’d been a catalogue copywriter at a wig company. Laugh if you will, clearly you are and many, many people did. But wigs paid.
So I had to figure out a way to make some money. A friend of mine invited me to a jewelry party I said, “What is a jewelry party?” She said, ‘It’s like Tupperware but with bracelets.’ I said, ‘Okay, got it, got it.’ I went and I had the best time. I was there hanging out, trying on jewelry, the salespersons having a great time and I was like, “That’s a job. I could… I could do that.” I mean, really, she seems to be having a great time. Now, I had no background in sales, unless you count Girl Scouts, and I was terrible. And I had no passion for jewelry. I mean, honestly, my earrings cost 20 $. Combined, all of them.
And yet I was like, “I think I can sling silver jewelry to suburban moms drinking daiquiris. Yes, I could do that.” And so I did it, I signed up, I became a Silpada Designs rep. And I’¦ Listen to me, I was not setting a world on fire right away. Really. I was so awkward and afraid of selling. And then I got better, I got better, I started making some money, I started getting really passionate about it. Not just because of the money, but because what I realized was people wanted the stuff. They were happy to pay for it. I sold so much jewelry that year I won a free trip to Saint Thomas. It’s true. I eventually let my jewelry business go, because my career path shifted. But I was so glad that I did that.
Because it planted an entrepreneurial seed I didn’t know was there. And that bears fruit to this day. Now as you know an entire cottage industry has sprung up around helping people find their passions, right. Books, coaching, webinars, whatever. And their hearts in the right place, it’s great, I’m all about self-discovery. Okay. But when you ask someone, or you’re asked like, “What’s your passion?” It’s triggering. It’s like, “Oh my god, I have to came out with a good answer for this.” One of my friends in her mid-forties and she’s looking what’s her life going to be now. And she’s like, ‘I don’t know what I’m passionate about.’
And she’s legitimately concerned about this. She’s ready to hire a team of people. It’s like, why are we worrying about this? You know why, because she thinks something wrong with her. I thought something was wrong with me when I was in the seventh grade and everyone was really into like the rock-bands and their actors and they would carve the names of those bands in a tables in a library. And I never carved anything, because I couldn’t think of anything to carve. I mean I liked Bon Jovi as much as the next girl, but not enough to deface school propriety, you know. It’s probably why I don’t have any tattoos either.
I’m assuming that’s why. I was really boring, I thought something was wrong with me. But that’s the fear, isn’t it? That when someone asks you at a party, on a date, at a job interview, “What are you passionate about?” That you’re not going to have this wow compelling answer. And that’s mean that you’re not interesting, or ambitious, or that you don’t have a singular obsession or scary talent that you hiding. And that your life isn’t worth living. And it’s not true. Passion is not a job, a sport, or a hobby. It is the full force of your attention and energy that you give to whatever is right in front of you.
And if you’re so busy looking for this passion, you could miss opportunities that change your life. You could also miss out on a great love. Because that’s what happens when you have tunnel vision, trying to find the One. We all think we know the kind of person we are and the kind of person we could love. But sometimes we’re wrong. Blissfully wrong. And sometimes you don’t know what you’re going to do next, right? I mean, I don’t. I love not knowing what I’m going to be doing five years from now or I will be into. And that’s okay, it’s okay not to know. You know why? Because the most fulfilling relationships, the most fulfilling careers are those that still have the power to surprise you.
And as for the things you know you want to do. You want to write a book, you want to start a business, you want to change careers. Great! But if you’re sitting around waiting for passion to show up and take it, you’re going to be waiting a long time. So don’t wait. Instead, spend your time and attention solving your favourite problems. Look for problems that need solving. Be useful, generous.
People will thank you, and hug you and pay you for it and that’s where passion is. Where your energy and effort meets someone else’s need. That’s when you realize: passion lives, and realizing what you have to contribute. Why do you think when we’re asking people what they’re passionate about, they say, “Helping other people.”? So don’t wait. Listen to my mother. Just start doing. Because to live a life full of meaning and value you don’t follow you passion, your passion follows you.