I keep running across people who are depressed and anxious about not knowing what they were meant to do, as if there were really only one thing we were meant to do.
Well, we don’t believe in that old myth anymore that there is only one true love out there for us, do we? So why do we persist in thinking that we each have only One True Profession?
I know, I know. I’m a cartoonist and an author, and it probably looks from the outside like I’ve found that One Thing and grabbed onto it, and that’s what’s propelled me forward.
I was on the Unmistakable Creative podcast, and Srini Rao, the host, asked me how I had figured out what I wanted to do with my life, because from where he sat, it appeared as if I’d found out early what I was “destined” to do. He asked, “You think everybody has this one thing they’re capable of getting good at, exceptional at, in their lives?” And I replied:
“No, that’s what I’m saying. I feel like I could have gotten good at a lot of other things. And I am pretty good at a lot of other things. Maybe not at the same level. I’m certainly not known at the same level for other things. Like, I realized at some point in my early 20s, I’m really good at organization, would have made a really good movie producer, or a contractor. Someone who has to think about many people’s roles in the job. That’s a skill that is completely not used when I’m making a comic book.”
Yes, like on houses. I would be an awesome contractor, and, bonus, if that were my job, when I went home at night, I wouldn’t sit around feeling like I ought to be drawing or blogging or whatever. I could just, you know, have a barbecue. That is very appealing to a self‐employed artist. (I know: I’m sure if I were a contractor, part of me would wish I were making stories.)
But what I put my mind to getting really good at was comics, writing, and teaching, not contracting. And so that’s where my greatest passion now lies, and that’s where my best ideas spring from. So, in that sense I did find my passion, and I cultivated it.
When I was renovating my house? I had a lot of ideas about how to design the bathroom, and when to bring the plumber in and when to order the tub. I lay awake at night thinking about these things, and got a lot of pleasure out of solving those problems.
I’ve always loved stories. But I started out totally crap as a storyteller. I had to work very hard at it, for many years, to be any good at all. And now, storytelling as a craft, as a set of tools, is a core element of my work and a central research concern of mine. But that’s not destiny. That’s investment.
There are times when you’ll feel that fire for whatever it is you want to do, and you can’t wait to jump out of bed in the morning and get started. And there are times when that thing is a job. Times when you feel you will never ever want to do it again. But you get up and you do it anyway. That’s how something becomes deep and nuanced and important to you. That’s how you develop expertise and special skills that may be valuable to others or make something the world hasn’t seen before.
Whatever your passion turns out to be is a combination of what you’re into, your circumstances, and what happens to fall across your path, added to what you decide to spend your time on, and what you’re willing to take risks to do more of, with just a tiny dash of natural talent.
It mostly comes from what makes you feel great, and that might be a personal sense of fulfillment, but it might just as well be how much you can help other people. Building schools in underserved areas is the passion of some. Being a parent is the passion of others. Interior design is the passion of still others.
If you don’t find your passion in writing or art or whatever muckety‐muck, look for what you can do that’s useful, that gives you pleasure, and do more of that.
This may not seem like it’s connected to my article on figuring out your business model, but it totally is: You need not feel trapped by whatever you think you “must” be doing creatively. Maybe you want to be a musician. That can play out in dozens of ways, and you will need to be flexible and inventive about how you’re going to actually meet your income goals. Especially if you’re trying to make a living as a creative.
And that means: possibly finding things to be passionate about that aren’t exactly precisely what you thought you’d spend your time on.
I’m on record about this: the idea that you need to wait for inspiration is a crock. Inspiration in that “Eureka” lightning‐bolt sense can happen, but it’s not a plan. The kind of inspiration that motivates you and makes your work great comes from maintaining a regular creative practice.
And that is also where passion comes from. Do the work, and don’t settle for doing the least you can do.
Do you work in a clothing boutique? You’ve got a few options. Maybe you can get good at folding clothes beautifully and be efficient at the register, and you’ll keep your job. You could be horrible to people and you’ll lose your job. But can you make people who come in feel better about themselves? Can you change how they look and the content of their day? If you can derive joy from whatever that is, you can develop a passion for selling clothes. I don’t pretend this is a fancy world‐changing career path, but if it makes you happy, there is a place for you, we need more like you. You don’t need to have a loftier goal if you don’t want one.
Do it now, choose your creative passion. Do it as deeply as you’re capable of; feed it. Or figure out that you don’t actually care and go get an easier job.
Download the checklist that will help you face dilemmas and make conscious decisions on the road to taking back control of your time and attention.
May 26, 2016 at 3:33 pm
Well said, all of it (as usual). More creativity is born in sweating and digging than that inspired stroke of a pen. Mistakes? That’s what editors and erasers are for. 🙂
September 21, 2016 at 6:02 am
Such a revelation. I used to think exactly that, that i was created to do something specific that i was ignoring, but then, i just thought, why should i wait to discover it? i need to choose something or i will end up in my forties without a clue and a job i don´t really care. Great article.