Follow Your Passion, Or Just Enjoy Life

In each moment we’re writing the story of our life based on the decisions we make, and a big part of that story revolves around the career path we choose. On that point, the sage wisdom of the 21st century is to follow your passion. Which, by definition, implies that everyone has a passion to follow. But in my experience, that’s not always the case.

Over the years I’ve worked with hundreds of business leaders, entrepreneurs, professors, veterans and students, developing personal stories that include such career-based decisions, and the driving forces behind those choices.

The word passion does come up during these conversations, but not in the way one might expect. As it turns out, life decisions – both personal and career related – involve a complex medley of intellectual and emotional threads coursing through hearts and minds, often in a most confusing and perplexing pattern.

When the topic of passion does arise – I’ll overly simplify here for the sake of discussion – people tend to fall into one of three camps. They have too many passions, they have clarity on their one, true passion, or passion wasn’t a factor when determining their vocational path.

Breakingpic Black and White Headphones

Image by Breakingpic from Pexels

We’ve all met people who knew what they wanted to do from an early age. They fell in love with science while standing in the backyard watching the night sky, were captivated by art and carried a sketchpad everywhere they went, or they spent hours each evening incessantly practicing an instrument. Decades later they were still pursuing that one passion, as no other opportunity that crossed their path in the ensuing years had caused them to stray.

Alex Socha Doors Pixabay

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

For those with a handful of passions, life tends to be a blend of excitement and frustration. Too many pursuits with so few hours in each day. In some cases the choices are narrow in scope, such as which discipline to pursue within the field of neuroscience, but the options can also be quite diverse, such as whether to become a doctor or a ballerina.

Sometimes that journey leads to a major/minor relationship. A brilliant surgeon by day, and musician by night, a best-of-both-worlds sort of life, though it must be said this particular combination doesn’t work so well in reverse. Other times the choice is made, often for more practical reasons such as money, and there was no looking back.

Then we have the aimless souls without desire or direction, just stumbling through life. Or so the purpose pundits would have us believe. But when I ask these folks about passion, they smile, and say something like, “Don’t have one, have never needed one, I just enjoy my work.”

Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” – Mark Twain

And that mindset can result in a string of jobs that, in many cases, cover a number of career paths which overlap, intersect, or build upon each other. The graphic designer that shifted to building websites and, ultimately, toward creating content which took them into social media. It’s not a matter of reaching a skill-based pinnacle, but rather a quest to explore and stretch.

Truth be told, I’m a proud member of this cohort. Looking back, I would have to say that my career path wasn’t a result of following a passion, but rather a series of opportunities, each of which offered the promise of learning, which is one thing I enjoy above most everything else.

I’ve enjoyed my corporate adventures in operations, information systems, marketing, and a CEO stint. And my days organizing TEDx events – despite the trials, travails and tribulations – were most enjoyable. The team members I worked with were incredible (I learned a lot from each of them) and there was nothing more gratifying than seeing speakers (and performers) take the stage to share, illuminate and delight audiences.

Mark Lovett backstage at TEDxSanDiego 2015

Backstage at TEDxSanDiego 2015

The thought of having pursued one of these avocations has an appeal, to be world-class in a specific discipline. To be at the top of my game, complete with all the industry adulation. But I would have lost out on the diversity of learning that I’ve enjoyed. The viewing of life from so many perspectives.

So if you have a passion that drives you, then dive in, go deep, and master your craft. But if professional passion is not your cup of tea, it’s okay to just enjoy what you do, and let it feed your passion for life. In the end, it will still be a story well told.

Storytelling Newsletter

Stories Told and Stories Untold in Porto

The most appealing benefit of travel, in my opinion, is how each place visited has a story to tell, or in some cases, keeps a story untold. I’ve spent the past week in Portugal and have experienced a continuous stream of told and untold stories. A stroll down any street will reveal bits of a city’s history, art, and architecture, but never the full story. Such was the case with this azulejos tile mural on the exterior wall of the Carmo Church in Porto, Portugal.
Azulejos Tile Mural on The Carmo Church PortoThe Igreja do Carmo was built between 1756 and 1768 in the rococo or late Baroque, style by a disciple of Nicolau Nasoni, Jose de Figueiredo Seixas. The Igreja do Carmo has an outstanding azulejo-covered exterior with the azulejos added in 1912. The tiles were made locally in Vila Nova de Gaia and designed by the artist Silvestro Silvestri. They depict scenes of the founding of the Carmelite Order and Mount Carmel. by Portugal Visitor

The architect, the artist, the city where the tiles were fabricated – stories that intersected once upon a time to achieve permanence and grace as more than two centuries have passed, yet the conversations, the human details, have been lost and can only be surmised.

Hazul Street Art PortoIt wasn’t long after visiting the Carmo Church that I came across an example of Porto’s cool street art, and with a bit of research on the artist came to realize this was no random work of art. Hazul is somewhat famous in the city and beyond. Reading about Hazul reveled more of his work on Instagram. In the end I was able to discover more of the artist’s story, but still don’t know the story behind this mini-mural – what he was thinking – that remains a mystery.

Port Wine Shipping Boat in Porto, Portugal 2019Established as a protected wine region in 1756, the Douro Valley produces the renowned Port wines that are shipped down the river to be stored in Vila Nova de Gaia, across the river from Porto. While these shipments are now made by truck, in years past they were transported in rabelo boats.

In a strange twist of fate, the conflict between France and England, which deprived the Brits of their much loved French wine, led to their discovering Port wines, for which they developed an enduring passion.

From the vineyard workers, to the winemakers and those who navigated the river in boats stacked with barrels, they shared a common story based on their love of Port wine.

I’m blessed to hear stories from the clients that I coach and help them to uncover the hidden gems that they can share with the world. And when I’m traveling, there’s this feeling of appreciation for those who created the world I’m discovering, but at the same time, there’s a feeling of frustration due to the fact that I can’t speak to them directly and dig deeper into their story.

It’s a paradox, that no matter how much we know, there’s a measure of untold story that remains, so it’s up to all of us to be storytellers, to let the rest of the world share pieces of our magical life.

Storytelling Newsletter

The Secret that Almost Killed Me – Kirsten Johnson at TEDxSDSU

Students that enroll in my Storytelling with Impact course at UC San Diego Extension are generally looking to improve their storytelling and public speaking skills, but one of my students had been accepted to speak at TEDxSDSU 2018 (held at San Diego State University) and she had a specific goal in mind – crafting a narrative for her upcoming TEDx Talk.

Right up my alley, I thought, as my work with TEDxSanDiego and TEDxDonovanCorrectional involves coaching speakers for the TEDx stage, and other clients have given TEDx Talks.

But this was special, as Kirsten wanted to discuss a personal issue that is never easy in front of an audience – her experience with sexual assault, and the resulting trauma that negatively affected her life for years – all the more important as she was speaking on a college campus.

As she worked through each draft of her talk and rehearsed in class, the discussions varied between “how much to tell” and “which narrative to use”. To her credit, Kirsten wasn’t afraid to experiment, to see what felt right, and to revise accordingly. Not saying enough could come off as lacking in depth, glossing over important topics, while providing too much detail could turn off an audience. This is the reality of delivering a talk with an emotional core.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure which version of her talk would end up on the TEDxSDSU stage, as she was still revising after our class had ended, but I was pleased to see how she presented this difficult subject – with heartfelt passion and resolve – to an audience that needed to hear about her experience and the lessons she learned along the way.

Kirsten Johnson is a life coach, YouTuber and author of the upcoming book Elephant. Johnson makes videos on anxiety, addiction, shame, spirituality and living your life purpose. She is also the creator of The Elephant Heard, an online community composed of people rising up to their full potential after the trauma of childhood sexual abuse.

Kristen is passionate about teaching people how to transform their relationship with fear so that they can live an empowered life.

Storytelling Newsletter