Since I can remember, I have always experienced things in emotional Technicolor ™. I feel feelings in the way Formula One drivers careen along a race car track – 200 mph of wind, noise and adrenaline.
One of the side effects of having this kind of temperament is that I always followed my passion. I lived for the moment, I embraced the now, I danced in the rain – whatever you want to call it, I was a YOLO cliché.
The problem with pursuing your passion is that what it looks like in your mind is different than what it looks like in real life.
It’s the same thing with careers. I needed to connect with my work and I wanted to help people. Combine that idea with this emotional intensity:
And I was pretty much destined to go into Social Work.
As it turns out, it was a good decision for me even though I feel like I’ve somehow joined a circus without realizing what I signed up for.
In my professional life, I’ve done everything from running preschool programs for “under-privileged” children; to helping young women overcome their eating disorders; to working with forensic patients with schizophrenia. I love what I do.
I also get paid quite well to do what I do and that will only increase as I finish getting my credentials. By the time I get my Masters in four years, I will easily be able to make a very comfortable salary between working with the government health region and private practice.
But this is the beginning of the story – not the end. This is backwards, isn’t it? If I’m already living the dream, what’s the problem?
There were things I needed to learn to survive “living my dream”.
Dreams matter. And because they matter, you can soar really high. You are breathless and full of wonder. You can’t wait until you can get back to working on your passion or dream project as soon as possible. Each victory and success is like the first day of spring every day: new and full of promise.
But dreams matter. Because they matter, you can crash hard. You take a big risk and invest, you open yourself up and you feel it when it goes badly. Because this is your heart, your mind, and everything in between that you’ve put on the line to make this happen. It’s personal when it’s your dream – even if it’s a business or some other money-making venture. Anyone who says otherwise is not following their dream, they’re following something else.
The fact is – there is no avoiding this fact. It’s life, it’s work, it’s business. You’ll have highs and you’ll have lows. Facing this fact and making the choice every day to pursue your dream – even when it’s super shitty – is what makes it meaningful. Here’s how:
Survival Tips for Pursuing Your Passion
1) Celebrate your victories – I can’t stress this enough. Measure your success in inches. And celebrate every single one of those friggin’ inches. It might seem too small and insignificant at the time but it’s really important. Long roads with many signposts and pit stops will keep you on track way better than twisty little path up a steep mountain with no end in sight. First one will help you when you need a cheering section and the last one is only good for sherpas.
2) You need to have a full life – not just one with your all-consuming passion. I worked with a nineteen year old girl who wanted to recover from Anorexia. She worked hard to feel whole, to overcome her fears, and to challenge her eating disorder. It was like watching someone come to life again – talking, laughing and feeling comfortable with herself. She finished the program and we sent her on her way. Within the year, she had relapsed and died from a heart attack due to complications from her eating disorder.
What saved me wasn’t becoming hard and cynical about people. It wasn’t about building walls or pretending I didn’t care. That would have been totally pointless if I’m pursuing my passion. You don’t defend yourself against your dream.
It was my friend’s stupid story about locking herself out of her car one day. It was that really great crime story I was reading at the time. It was the feeling of being out on the water, with a paddle in my hand, and nothing else but wind and sun. That’s what saved me. You need other things to get you through the hard times. Whatever that happens to be.
3) You have to get good at saying “NO”. The truth is that every “Yes” that takes away from what’s important to you compromises your well-being. It’s the death of a thousand papercuts. It’s the millionth straw that broke the camel’s back. It’s the longest walk off the shortest cliff.
You could easily draw the conclusion that I’m being dramatic but just talk to anyone that burned themselves out on a relationship, career, or hobby.
How to say no is a completely different topic that can’t be covered adequately here. What’s important is that you start thinking about where you want your boundaries to be. Kenny Nguyen talks about this in his TedTalk on the “Art of Saying No”:
4. Keep your sense of humour – If you can’t stand back and laugh at yourself or your situation once in a while, you’re going to land yourself in the loony bin. I work at a loony bin so take it from me; there are way better things to do with your time than driving yourself crazy with the All Serious, All the Time network.
I was three days late for a job once. Yes, that’s right. Three. Days. I had been hired on as a summer student with the Government of Canada as a Research Assistant. It was my first professional-type job and it was on the other side of the country. I got the offer letter, booked my flight, and happily went about finishing up my semester.
I got a call a day before my flight from my slightly bemused supervisor asking if I was still alive as I had not shown up for the first day orientation. Or the second day…
I had misread the stupid offer letter and booked my flight for three days later after my intended start date. To say I was mortified would be a tragic understatement. In short, it turned out well and I was the only student they called back to come work for them the following summer.
Because pursuing your passion is important, sometimes it can be hard to step back and take a breath when something goes sideways. Make sure you take the time to do this!
These are just some of the things I’ve learned from following my dreams in life. They’ve helped me become a better person – and a better professional – over the years. Even though I feel pretty solid in managing my career, there’s still a lot more I will learn.
How about you? Are you following your passion?
The Power of a Positive No *Reframes your ‘No’ into a positive thing
The Assertiveness Workbook *Randy Paterson is a genius
What Colour is Your Parachute? *Good ‘find your dream career’ book