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.

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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.

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Find Your Bliss, Your Passion, Your Ikigai

“Follow your bliss,” said Joseph Campbell
“Follow your passion,” said everybody else on the planet

I’ve heard these phrases mentioned since I was born, or at least it feels like it’s been that long. So I find it interesting that millennials are, to a large degree, pushing back on this approach to life, and they have a point.

The point being, “how do I know what my bliss/passion is? and if I don’t know, how the hell can I follow it?”. Well said, and I know what they mean.

While most of my friends jumped from high school to college, then dove into their career the moment they graduated, I had no idea what I wanted to do after high school, which may explain why I found myself building helicopter landing pads in Augusta, Georgia at the age of 18, and why I’ve bounced from one discipline to another, from VP of Ops, to CIO, CMO and CEO in the decades that followed.

It’s only by looking back at this point in my life that I’ve come to see how I was, in fact, following my passion. But as it turns out, that passion was for learning, not for a specific career.

The reason I took on so many different roles was that I was fascinated by the process of acquiring new skills, of challenging my mind to discover procedures and processes as a way to understand how things worked.

And I see that same trait in a lot of millennials. They’re hungry for learning, and will jump from one job to the next, decide to become an entrepreneur, or adopt the life of a freelancer, rather than pursuing a “career”, as is often expected of them. New gets them excited.

But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the idea of bliss, or passion. It just means we should look at our life a bit differently, which is what I found myself doing as last year was coming to a close.

I’m not one for new year’s resolutions, but as each new year comes around I do take some time to reflect on the last twelve months gone by, and the next twelve months on the horizon.

It was in the waning moments of 2017 that I discovered an article on Medium by Remo Giuffré. Remo is something of a savant when it comes to people, and in this post he talked about finding one’s purpose.

He brought forth a new term (well, new to me) to describe the intersection of many factors that lead to discovering our purpose – Ikigai. According to Wikipedia, Ikigai is a Japanese concept which means “a reason for being”, and according to Japanese culture, everyone has an Ikigai, though we often have to search for it.

Ikigai Toronto Star Graphic

I invite you, as I did, to take some time and examine this visual concept. I admit it’s a bit complicated, especially the empty sections surrounding your Ikigai, but I think you’ll come to realize that Ikigai is far more than passion – it’s service, it’s fulfillment, it’s the gift that only you can share with the world.

For me, it represents the work that I’m doing now, which is storytelling, by way of storylistening. Passion + Mission + Profession + Vocation. And it took decades to discover. So to those who buck the trend of being defined by their career, who have this unbridled thirst for knowledge, and experience, and service, you’re doing just fine. While some will find their Ikigai early on, don’t worry if it takes a lifetime to discover. Enjoy the ride, and remember that each day you’re writing your life story.

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