Six years ago, I found myself with more flexibility than I’d had in a long time.
I had left my full time job to do consulting. I still had young children. I still had to do a lot of networking and pitching for business. But I didn’t have a stable roster of clients yet. And I had the ability to control my schedule in a way that I hadn’t been able to since college.
I was excited about the opportunity to include other things into my life. Things that would be fulfilling to me. Outside of work and family. My goal was to find a side passion; an engaging hobby. But what? What would I enjoy? What was I even looking for?
So I looked around me. To see what other people were doing. People with hobbies. With passions. I had one friend who was passionate about tennis. She was a lawyer who worked 4 days a week and played tennis every Friday. It was the highlight of her week. She took vacations to see tennis matches and spent time online researching the best gear. Another friend was heavily involved in our kids’ school parent association. She ran things like the Book Fair and the Sock Hop. She was an event planner for a large corporation. It gave her great pleasure to use her skills to put together school events. She loved spending time with her kids and their friends at these parties.
These two women seemed happy and fulfilled. They threw themselves into their chosen interest. And built a community for themselves around it.
That sounded great to me.
So, I tried the same things.
Tennis was horrible from the start. It felt like a torturous combination of sprinting and boredom. I couldn’t get into it.
I also became the Treasurer of the school parent association. I found myself spending many hours telling people like my friend the event planner that they couldn’t spend $900 on helium balloons for the Sock Hop. We didn’t have the budget. I hated to be the one to tell them ‘no.’
I was very busy. I was running around doing all these different things. I had filled every extra minute.
And I was still trying to pitch clients, spend time with my family, and take care of my health.
I thought I would be happier. I wasn’t.
I was now running around in more directions than ever before. Without feeling any more fulfilled.
I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. I thought that trying all these new things would make me happier.
Over time, I realized that I did two things wrong:
1. I tried to do things that were fulfilling to other people. Without taking the time to see what would feel fulfilling to me
2. I tried to do it all at the same time.
The juggle is real. We all want a rich and fulfilling life. We want, and feel like we should, incorporate a passion project into our life. Or do something for our physical or emotional health. Or finally find the career of our dreams. So we look to our left. We look to our right. We see what other people are doing. And we try that.
Stop setting goals that sound good to other people
If you are heading in a direction that doesn’t feel true to you, you will struggle to keep motivation. And make quick pivots every time you spy another shiny object.
So don’t do what I did. Don’t look to your left and your right. What’s happening over there, frankly, doesn’t matter. The only place you need to look is within.
It’s fantastic that my friends love tennis and school event planning. I am so happy that they have found passions that matter to them. But that doesn’t mean those things are right for me.
But if you look inside and know what your real goal, passion project, or dream career is. But you’re worried that other people will judge. Realize that they will. People do that. But does it matter? People will think whatever they want of you. What they think won’t make you more or less happy, in the end. It’s what you think of yourself that makes the difference.
So instead of thinking about what other people do. Or what other people think. Or what you will think of yourself if you don’t look or sound or execute perfectly. Ask yourself this: what would you do if no one was looking?
What did you love as an 11 year old?
Remember a time when you less concerned about what other people thought of you? When making money or supporting a family were not on the radar. Practical matters were not a priority. What did you love then? Drawing or football? Coding or gymnastics?
From early elementary school, I loved to read and write. I have always been a voracious reader. And I wrote lengthy journal entries about mean girls and cute boys. My hopes and dreams filled enough journal books to fill a moving box. I took a playwriting class in middle school. I loved it all.
As I got older, I didn’t think reading and writing were practical. I knew that I was good at science and math. And those were more financially stable. There was a path toward outward achievement. I kept reading, but I gave up writing.
I know my experience is common. I can tell you as the mother of 11 and 8 year old boys. Their passions at this age are obvious. My older son is passionate about sports — especially football. And my younger son is obsessed with animals, horses in particular. Will these passions play out into their adult life? Who knows? (Not football, according to this nervous mother). But they will always hold a special place in their hearts. No matter where their lives go.
So think back. What did you love when nothing else mattered?
Figure out your “Why”
Simon Sinek has two whole books about this topic — Start With Why and Find Your Why.
He has a three step process to figure out your “why.” Because his belief is that once you know your why, it will direct your choices and your goals. It will resonate with you and others. And it will make the path forward that much more clear.
His philosophy is that everyone’s “why” is to contribute something that makes an impact.
What impact do you want to make?
If you can figure out your “Why”, then working toward your goal won’t have that same level of confusion and stress. Yes, it might get bumpy. Yes, you might not know what to do every step along the way. But as Simon Sinek says:
Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress: Working hard for something we love is called passion.
Pick one goal and get started
It can take some time to look inside and find your own passion, your own “Why.” I’m in my mid-40’s and my thoughts are still evolving. But you’ll never find out without trying things. I know that tennis and parent associations are not my passion. They do not fulfill me. But I don’t regret trying them. How would I know until I tried?
Look inside. Take some time. But don’t freeze up trying to pick the perfect thing either. Pick one. One thing. Just to start. Something that has plucked one heartstring. It doesn’t have to be your life’s work. Something that could be interesting. That resonates for you. And start there.
Because there is no perfect, lifelong, never changing goal, either.
So, don’t run around trying 5 different things. Things that sound good or look shiny. Commit to one thing. Get started. And understand that nothing in life is set in stone.
Once I got through the things that were right for other people, I stumbled my way into a local writing workshop. I was so self conscious. I didn’t know anyone else who wrote. I almost didn’t tell my husband about the class.
When I walked in, the room was filled with people from age 19 to 75. Some had a little writing experience. Most had none. What did we all have in common? We all had a reason why we couldn’t/shouldn’t write. Too old, too young. Not experienced enough. My writing is terrible. I’m dyslexic. We all struggled with the same thing. What will people think?
But after that 6 week class I had the confidence. I realized that so many of us hold back from what we love out of fear. And I realized that this was my goal, my passion. I haven’t looked left or right since.
You might think to yourself that it’s too hard to figure out what you, personally want. What resonates for you. It will take too much time. But taking the time to figure it out will actually save you time. Because once you start on that right road, the goal will be much clearer. Nothing will be able to hold you back. You’ll feel the click. Everything moving into place. The pieces aligned where they need to be.
And once you feel the click. It’s hard to go back to fumbling around in the dark.
What will give you the click?