Ask any sunset-gazing, flower-crowned young women with perfectly beach-waved flaxen hair what the secret to happiness is and she will tell you, regardless of in which social media viral meme she currently lounges, that you should follow your passion.
It’s exotic. It’s exciting. And it’s the world’s worst advice.
Follow your passion! That advice — the spoken-word illegitimate sister of the Live! Love! Laugh! Tattoo — sounds all well and good, and maybe it even looks pretty in a scrolly font. And, yet, it tantalizes with fleeting euphoria … before packing a wailing uppercut of disappointment.
Following your passion is a sure way to spend time doing something you love. Or is it? As anyone who has ever followed their passion will tell you, your passion will rough you up. It will disappoint you. It will play hard to get. It will gut you — and maybe your bank account, too.
Often we’re passionate about the things which elude us, which puzzle us, which intrigue our minds and challenge our bodies. Doing something about which you are passionate is the holy grail, and by all means, let’s get there. But the promise of bliss, however Instagrammable, is ephemeral and insufficient. While following your passion might get you on the road, it doesn’t provide a road map nor the bank account.
Invest in Your Passion
Rather than following your passion, you need to invest in your passion—by devoting your time, treasure, and talent to leaning into the goals that you set for your particular life plan. Investing in your passion requires an understanding of what gives you consonance, what puts you in alignment and flow, so that all of your energy is working towards fulfilling your calling, whatever that might be. And here’s the good part: determining your calling will look a lot like identifying your passion.
But, then, it’s time to take it one step farther. Once you’ve got that calling figured out, one you’ve come to grips with the fact that you want to cure cancer or save the baby seals, or build your own business, or follow that inspirational leader, or buy a beach house and a maserati — your calling doesn’t have to be a higher calling, it just has to be your calling — then you can get to work on your investment plan.
Make Deposits in the Future Bank of You
As you grow and evolve throughout your life, as you master tasks and solve puzzles, you will naturally seek out new challenges. Your passion and your calling will change. Having the guts to confront those challenges is part of investing in your passion. If you hold too tightly to one identity, the uncertainty of losing it—who am I if not an accountant (or lawyer, or teacher, or bricklayer)?—can be so unsettling that career recalibration feels overwhelming.
Plus, resting a career on a first love will become boring. The part of consonance that comes from acquiring new skills and being challenged will drop from the equation. Instead, think about what you love to do with a more aspirational mindset. That is, think about what you’d like to love to do in the future, not just what you have loved to do in the past.
Don’t be afraid of that divergence. Though it can be disconcerting, I’ve always been attracted to positions for which I have no seemingly obvious qualifications. The space in between what you are qualified to do and what you want to do is the credit advance you get on that passion investment; it is the nest egg of the skills and network and knowledge you’ll need to acquire.
And these are all deposits in the Future Bank of You.
Build Your Future Fund, Even If You Can’t Use It Today
And what if you can’t do anything about your current situation? Are you still stuck? Do you just have to wait until a time when you have more financial flexibility, or when the kids are grown, or whatever is at the end of your “I’ll be happy when” asymptotic curve? (Spoiler alert: that curve never ends.)
There are bills to pay, children to raise, classes to take. Whatever “it” is, it’s getting in your way. Dreaming gets back-burnered, vision-boarded, bucket-listed. But there are things you can and should do today — right now! — to start the process of figuring out your calling, and they all involve increasing your optionality.
My teenage son calls these side-quests, in his classic video game parlance. You don’t have the flexibility to go slay the dragon today, but you can tend the crops you eventually want to sell at the market to buy the sword that you will use to slay said dragon. Determine the side-quests you can do today to build that future fund, tend those crops, and come out slaying when the time is right.
Laura Gassner Otting is the author of Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life. Want to live a limitless life? Take her quick quiz at http://www.LimitlessAssessment.com/thrive to see what’s holding you back, and what you can do about it.