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.

We were all humans until…

It had been awhile since this anonymous quote crossed my path, but I recently noticed it on a friend’s social timeline and realized it had achieved a newfound sense of resonance with me.

We were all humans until race disconnected us, religion separated us, politics divided us, and wealth classified us.

From a storytelling perspective it felt as though we had somehow stopped telling our story of connection, commonalty, a shared human heredity, and most importantly, a united future.

Hate and discrimination had somehow become acceptable, with divisiveness and rancor the norm. Religious travel bans, violence against people of color, and the continued verbal and physical abuse of women have defiled what America was striving to become – a land of open arms and caring hearts, a land that opted for hope over fear, that embraced love over hate.

“We are a nation not only of dreamers, but also of fixers. We have looked at our land and people, and said, time and time again, “This is not good enough; we can be better.” – Dan Rather, What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism

Multi-Ethnic Hands in Peace

As I continue to work with a wide array of speakers, from universities, research institutes, major corporations, prison inmates, and special forces, I’m reminded that our stories have the power to heal all wounds, bridge all chasms, and unite all humans.

On a daily basis, we have the choice to stand up and say, “This is not good enough; we can be better.” In doing so we can change this sadly fractured American narrative. But it requires our stories to be told, our voices to be heard, and our compassion to be felt.

A Remarkable Life Story – Tess Vigeland at World Domination Summit 2013

I think it’s safe to say that deep down, we all want to live a remarkable life. One that is both rewarding on the inside, and garners respect on the outside. But what happens when our life story takes us to that place, and we’re living the dream, yet know that it’s time to move on, time to sever the ties that have served us so well, and take a brave leap into the unknown?

Tess Vigeland was at the peak of her career, and so well known as the host of Marketplace Money that people on the street would recognize her voice. But as you’ll hear in her talk at the 2013 World Domination Summit, Tess had been unhappy for a while, having become bored with the repetition of reporting on the world of finance. As much as she loved the people and position, in the end she had to go because she had too much self-respect to stay.

Have you ever been in a similar situation, when you knew it was time to jump without a net? Did it feel like you needed to close one chapter in order to being writing the next one? I’ve been feeling that way lately, and am contemplating a big leap, one that would take me across an ocean. I’m not sure when or where, or even how, but I’ve been gaining clarity on the why. (more on that in due time, once I’ve figured out a few more things and feel I’m ready to leap)

Tess Vigeland on stage at World Domination Summit 2013

There’s a point in Tess’ story where it seems that everything is going to work out fine, a classic storybook ending, but her journey takes a turn onto a rocky, and uncertain road. To her credit, and what’s makes this talk so powerful, is her vulnerability, her facing up to self doubt and uncertainty, to admitting that she was no longer feeling remarkable.

Tess Vigeland in the audience at World Domination Summit 2013

At one point she states, “It has been terrifying, it has been awful, it has been heartbreaking.” Not the sort of thing that one usually admits to on stage, but in doing so Tess provides the audience with a stark dose of reality. Sometimes taking a leap of faith is not the rewarding experience that we hoped for, but if our desire is to lead a remarkable life, a few bumps and bruises may come our way in the process. And in the end, it’s worth it.