Today, at the beginning of the “10s,” I am thirty-three years old. By the time this decade fades away in the last few hours of December 31, 2019, I’ll be forty-something. (I’d rather not do the math.) Lately, one particular phrase keeps repeating involuntarily in mind: “Life is short. Life is short. Life is short.” I don’t understand why sometimes the voice repeating this phrase sounds like Sean Connery’s. I wouldn’t think voice-over work would be his first choice.
By third grade, I had been around adults enough to understand that as you get older, it is expected that you go to school, graduate, get a job and then work until you’re too old to continue. I probably knew this before reaching that age, but I mention third grade because it was at this point I decided what I wanted to do after graduating: teach. From third grade through high school, I hardly gave my career path another thought; I had already decided to become a teacher.
As I progressed through school, I was lucky to be given the opportunities to try a variety of activities: baseball, tennis, computer programming, music and religion to name a few, and on a smaller scale, theater, photography and swimming to name a few more. I had the opportunity to determine where I might excel and what might not be a good match for me. For example, I think I made contact with a pitch once during my entire season of Little League, and when I did, the ground ball I hit was fielded by the shortstop and tossed to the first baseman for the out. There was no delusion: I knew I would never play for the Mets.
In elementary and middle school I benefited from GT curricula that were designed to allow me to be creative and to explore academic subjects that I wanted to learn about. Then in high school, I enrolled in honors and advanced placement courses when I could, and I participated in a number of extracurricular activities. In college, I studied music education and dabbled in a number of different minors, all topics that interested me rather than areas that offered a significant potential for earning money (although computer science could have been a lucrative career). I balanced that with being an officer in several different student organizations and teaching in local high schools.
As a result, from primary school until I left my job at a non-profit organization in late 2001, I was spending almost all of my time involved in activities I enjoyed. Unfortunately, that changed when I realized I had no money.
The college professor whose primary responsibility was to direct a three-hundred-fifty member corps-style marching band explained how she was one of the lucky few — someone who gets paid for doing something she was completely passionate about. Most of the rest of us get paid to work and, if there are any passions, they are extravocational. With debt to be repaid and no money to do so, I opted to switch gears and enter the corporate world.
In the decade most recently superseded, I tried the business thing. I spent most of that time working for a large corporation. For a few years, I spent a lot of my time after work completing a master’s degree in business. I tried these, even knowing they didn’t feel right for me, because building a career is what sensible people do. And I know why, despite being a leader in just about everything I’ve done prior, and despite my talent and reputation for being able to do just about anything at work, I don’t make a very good leader in business: my heart just isn’t in it.
Also this past decade, I was fortunate enough to start writing Consumerism Commentary at a time when people were on the verge of realizing that the internet is a great place to discuss personal finance. Although I’m probably still a better musician than I am a writer, I’ve found a new passion in writing. To make this decade successful, I intend to continue to seek out opportunities to discover new and old passions such as writing and photography. I’ve enrolled in a second photography class this winter and I’m keeping my eyes and my mind open to finding ways to be involved with more of the activities I enjoy.
In addition to cultivating new and old passions, it’s also important to eliminate anything that doesn’t stem from passion as much as possible. The more you are doing things you love, the less you’ll have time for that which you don’t. I don’t think you can always “do what you love and the money will follow,” but you can do what you need to do only as much as you need to do it, so you can focus more of your energy on your passions.
What if you don’t know what your passions are? That’s an understandable situation but there is an easy solution: try everything. Don’t waste time, life is short. The best improvisational comedy relies on the “Yes And” rule. When you are part of an improv scene, your answer to every question is, “Yes,” but your answer doesn’t end there. You need to add another layer or level to the idea that is being tossed around.
To find your passion, say, “Yes,” to everything, even if no one asked a question. When by yourself, if you find your brain wondering, “Should I…,” there is no reason to finish the thought; the answer is yes.
I don’t like to write much about things like “fulfilling your intrinsic potential” or “becoming a wonderful human being” or “being who you want to be.” In my experience, most of the time people who talk like that are trying to sell something. But if there’s any one thing you can do right now to make this decade truly stand out, that one thing is to do something you love.
Starting now, I plan on spending more time pursuing my passions and less time on those things that don’t feel right for me.
Photo credit: An Ta
Updated September 14, 2011 and originally published January 8, 2010.