Following Your Passion in a Bad Economy
When I received this question from a reader, I knew it was time to address life purpose again, especially in the current economy. I’ve sanitized the question to protect the reader’s identity, but it may well apply to you, too.
I recently purchased your book, Give Your Life Direction. Chapter 2 advises to figure out your life prupose, based on what your passionate about. thing is I am passionate about a lot of different things – helping others, current affairs, reading etc. However I am at a loss at what direction to take my life. I am training to be a ————-, however my heart is not in it. The pay is good though and parents arent very well off themselves. However I am finding it hard to have the courage to pursue my passion and was wondering if you had any advice you could give me?
Yes, I have two things that might help.
In figuring out your life purpose and what you are passionate about–and I’ll give you life coaching exercise in abbreviated form–sit down with pen and paper or at your computer, alone and contemplative, and write down 5 to 10 different examples of times when you felt utter, complete joy. The first 1 or 2 will take a little thought, but usually by the third example, you’re on a roll. Write out the little stories or slices of life where you were totally exhilarated . These can be professional, romantic, with family, etc. Focus on the feeling and what exactly made you feel that way–sharing the experience, making a difference in someone’s life, helping another person, what? (Mine often had to do with blazing new trails or doing something very visionary and unusual.)
After several of these examples, you’ll start to see patterns emerge. If not, have a confidante read through the stories–it’s often easier for someone else to see our patterns. The older a person is, the more accurate this exercise is, but I’ve facilitated it with people as young as 18 who finished it with a good idea of their life path I was well into my 40’s before I discovered my life’s purpose/theme, and I really wish I’d known it at 18. It would have made life so much simpler and I would have beat myself up a whole lot less!
Once you understand your life purpose, it will become the theme song for your life. Try to fit every choice you make into that theme for maximum happiness.
It’s also useful to share your life purpose with friends and romantic partners and to know theirs. I’ve learned from friends who have tried to impose their life purposes on me that it’s not an insult if someone else’s life theme doesn’t match what you want them to do for you. I’ve also figured out how to make a relationship happier by allowing someone else to live a purpose I’m not personally comfortable with.
Example: when my bff did this exercise, it became quite clear that a big part of his purpose is to take care of other people and that he derives great joy from being a caretaker and emotional supporter. For me, it was uncomfortable to let someone take care of me (Little Miss Independent) or do anything for me, right down to bringing me a glass of water or giving me a ride to work. Because I understand his life purpose, I don’t turn down his offers of service or help because I know how much it means to him and what a subtle reiteration of his soul theme it is to do little things like that.
So the discovery of your life purpose and those around you can really make your friends and family network so much more supportive as well as bring personal happiness.
What to do in a bad economy
So what do you do if you find that your passion won’t pay the bills? Your life purpose may be to teach children in Africa (I’m thinking of someone in particular here who has tremendous passion for just that), but what if you can’t just uproot and follow your passion? What if you have bills, obligations, impending college classes, children, aging parents, etc?
Ideally, the job/career you choose fits into your life theme, your life purpose. Sometimes it doesn’t but you can still find aspects of it that do. I’ve been there before, where my career and my passion were polar opposites, but I infused my passions into my career and brought it under the life purpose umbrella. I’m now in a position that is solidly, ecstatically a fulfillment of my life purpose. It wasn’t that way a few years ago, but I took the things that I’m passionate about and began to apply them to my work, which got some attention and bumped me up into a new position where I could apply even more of my passions to the work. It would have been much better if after college, I’d gone straight into this particular career but I didn’t have all the building blocks in place then and took a job for the money. My heart has at times not been in this job–in one case for years–but I have turned that around.
Let’s say, for example that your life purpose exercise uncovers that you just lovelovelove research and figuring things out. You’d love to be a detective. But you’re not. Let’s say you’re an accountant instead. Can you focus on detective work within that field? In a particular job where you’re looking for mistakes or problems? Maybe forensic accounting?
What if you can’t fit your career under your life purpose umbrella? What if you feel stuck because of the bad economy? What if you’re not passionate about your income-producing work? What then?
That’s when you shift your way of thinking. If you want 1. a good income and 2. to enjoy your passions, those don’t have to come from the same source. If you’re in a job you don’t like but it’s necessary to pay rent, then it accomplishes your goal of income. Your passion may not even buy you a cup of coffee when it comes to income, but you can probably still do it. It’s a wondrous thing when your passion makes you wealthy, but it can be divorced from any income-producing and still delight you. I know artists, writers, musicians who all indulge in their passions after work hours and find it fulfilling. Some go one to follow their bliss on a full-time basis. I have friends who are doctors who can’t wait to get home to their garage bands, and I have friends who are engineers who spend their weekends making one-of-a-kind furniture that has no market. None of them are giving up their careers in the current economy, but they are all finding a place for their passions, even when there is very little time in their workweek. I also have friends who cashier and waitress, sometimes more than two jobs in a day, but their spare minutes–or minutes they somehow carve out of the day–go to writing stories. They find time for their passions, even if it means giving up TV at night or dictating a story on the commute to work.
They are also learning from their passions, getting into that happy mindset from spending time with their passions, and that spills over into their careers and other areas of their lives. Their fulfillment isn’t just where the big bucks are, though it’s sweet when that happens.
So to recap: Look to past exhilarations to discover your life purpose. If your current job/career path doesn’t fit well within your life’s theme, look at aspects of your job that match your life purpose and focus on those. If you have a passion that isn’t a big income producer (artist, writer, musician, etc), then separate your passion from the idea of wealth/income and fill the wealth/income slot with something else, hopefully a job that feels engaging or that you can style into something more exciting to you.