Remember I said that when Megan plays, she collects and then piles up random junk? This week she discovered a box in a cupboard and has been piling it up with odds and ends. She guards her hoard like a Rottweiler and I cannot touch it or clean it up. I never realized kids played like this. I wonder if all little girls do this? I know my niece does. Fascinating! I took a photo of her stash which contains various naked dolls, nappies, puzzle pieces, a towel, some clothes, some books, a shoe, a pouch of baby food and some underpants. Her piles always include undies.
I don’t write this blog for anyone but me. My thoughts often run around in my head like rats in a burning building so writing helps me maintain some control and structure up there. I also write this blog for my girls who will maybe enjoy reading about their younger selves one day.
I want to put in writing some life lessons I’ve learned so far. Hopefully Megan and Jessica will take heed and won’t reinvent the wheel. Today I want to write about two concepts that fooled me and sent me on a wild goose chase throughout my twenties – finding my purpose and passion.
The concepts of purpose and passion drive me insane. When I hear people say, ‘find your purpose’ or ask ‘what is your passion?’ I want to bop them over the head with a pickaxe. I have the urge to fire gun shots in the air or smash metal dustbin lids against a wall.
Our unique, special purpose in life and discovering our passion for some sort of mentally orgasmic activity are the Golden Tickets, aren’t they? They are elusive, fleeting and sometimes downright impossible to pinpoint. The reason people spend so much time trying to find their purpose or passion is probably because they don’t have one.
Purpose and passion are sophisticated lies. We are told we all have a special purpose and some sort of passion so we embark on this treasure hunt trying to find the artist or photographer or dancer or writer or teacher or whatever it is that is apparently hidden deep within us.
The pursuit of our passion and purpose can put us under so much stress. The quest for them wrecked havoc over my career and robbed me of much joy for about eight years after I finished university. Throughout my 20’s I wrestled with my life like it was an out-of-control crocodile. I searched high and low for my purpose and passion and all I have to show for this great big scavenger hunt is a convoluted, non-linear, dog’s breakfast of a CV. The other day I asked Al whether anyone would ever hire me again and he said vaguely, ‘You never know. Maybe some day.’ If I ever need a decent (or any) job some day, I will have to sell potential recruiters with my riveting personality (!?) and then seriously spin my career path in an interview because my resume will do me no favours. Thanks purpose and passion.
I don’t believe everyone has their own unique purpose. I don’t think each individual is destined to do something grand such as develop a cure for cancer or bring about world peace. Some people do, but most don’t. Purpose is simpler and a lot more accessible than we think. I’ve concluded purpose is morely likely about something we should BE rather than something amazing that we should DO.
I absolutely believe there is purpose to our lives but we all have the same one – something along the lines of to love and be loved. I love Raymond Carver’s quote, ‘And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so? I did. And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.’ Ask anyone on their deathbed what matters most and they will tell you that too.
Another problem with finding an overriding purpose for your life is it forces you to spend a lot of time in the future instead of in the here and now. You spend so much time future tripping that you forget to live in the grace and joy of a day. You don’t live once. You die once. You live every single day.
The problem with passion and purpose is that they are inherently static and finite. I prefer Joy and Curiosity. Do you know what I have realized throughout this Happiness Jar exercise of 2015? A life well lived is a life well loved. Without fail, our happy moments have been relational. Alastair’s happy moment is often the greeting he receives from Megan and Jessica when he opens the front door after work. Mine is usually a special time shared with family or friends during the day. I rarely have a happy moment that does not involve people. I wish someone had told me when I was 18 that I should pursue my joy rather than my unique purpose. Joy is a lot easier to find. I would have wasted less time searching for something that wasn’t there, hoping to find fulfilment in the wrong workplaces and carrying around my dissatisfaction and bad attitude like it was toilet paper stuck on the end of my shoe.
The world tells us that life is linear. We go from A to B to C. We should find our passion then study that and choose a career path based on that, all in your early twenties. Life is not like that. It is not linear and your passions can change. When I chose my career, I thought my purpose was to be a rich, high-flying corporate exec. I couldn’t talk the talk in the corporate world and I don’t suffer fools but dealt with it all in quiet, passive-aggressive misery. Then I thought my passion was training. So I studied further and got my honours in Industrial Psychology. I’ve run hundreds of training courses since I decided that was my passion and do you know what? It sucked. I don’t ever want to train another person on anything ever again. Oh dear. Do you now see my dilemma?
That’s why I love Elizabeth Gilbert. She is my favourite writer and I hang on her every utterance. She likes curiosity and not passion. This is what she said about passion in an interview:
I feel so sorry for every college student graduating who ever sat there sweltering under their graduation gowns while somebody at the podium told them to follow their passion. Passion is a really intimidating concept and really hard to find on a Wednesday morning. Passion can also burn hot and it can burn out. Passion’s greedy, in a way. It demands the full commitment from you, demands that you risk everything, that you throw every chip in the pot.
I feel like these are not very humane or accessible ideas for most people in everyday life. Yet curiosity is a generous instinct that just gives. What it gives you are clues. And the clues can be really random and really tiny and seemingly insignificant. But if you can get the humility and the faith to trust them, and to just turn your head a quarter of an inch and look a little bit closer every day at whatever might have caught your attention, no matter how nothing it may seem, then all that stuff is a clue on the great scavenger hunt of life.
It might lead you to your passion, or it might not. It might peter out and lead you nowhere, but you didn’t risk much. All you did was take an afternoon on a Saturday to look into something. It’s not like you sold your house and shaved your head and moved to Nepal.
Sheer brilliance. Man, I wish I had heard that when I was choosing my career.
So if life is more about joy and curiosity than about purpose and passion, then what career should you choose? Long story and that’s for another blog post. A son of one of my friend’s is studying cartooning because, as she said, ‘he is really passionate about drawing.’ WTF. When I heard that, I searched for more dustbin lids. Drawing better be one hell of a burning passion to sustain him through a lifetime of poverty with that kind of career. I will say now that it is important to choose a career that pays you enough to live well. I didn’t enjoy being a CA but it helped us buy a lot of joy, such as the house I am sitting in now. Accountancy is not really my thing but I still don’t regret the career I chose. I regret the attitude, naiveté and misconceptions with which I approached it because some idiot told me to find my burning passion and make it my job.