Following Passion: An Uncommon Strategy Yielding Unexpected Results
Two weeks ago, I finally accomplished a very special life-long dream — and it reinforced something crucial I’ve realized about the business end of pursuing passion. You know, doing what you love(TM).
My partner and I had to trek all the way to the Arctic Circle to see about this here dream of mine. Because science and research say the Arctic Circle is one of the best places to go for a chance to witness the elusive Aurora Borealis with your own eyes. And I needed to do that really badly.
Like any good life-long dream, my interest in the Northern Lights bordered obsession. And after pulling overtime on those 10,000 hours of meticulous researching, fantasizing and planning — I’m delighted to report I’ve accomplished that darn dream!
For all of my hours (years!) fantasizing about the experience of seeing the Northern Lights — it wasn’t until I was outside at midnight in sub zero temperature on a snow covered fjord bank with my favorite human sitting beside me and the full moon carving out the shadows of jagged tundra in front of us, that I realized exactly none of those Aurora-fueled daydream sessions had ever included any meditation whatsoever on the kinds of breathtaking geographies, or special companions that might one day frame this wondrous experience.
I kid you not, the entirety of my most visited daydream was literally me just laying on my back, staring up at an illuminated dark sky, and crying. (I’d mix it up on the crying, though: sometimes an ugly laughing cry, other times a silent solitary tear.)
And even while pouring over the details of planning our trip, I gave strangely little consideration to our winning destination of the impossibly gorgeous Tromsø, Norway, beyond “place where the Northern Lights live.”
When you are obsessed with an end goal, there is a good chance you may overlook much of the captivating/revealing/transformative stuff along the way.
And you know what’s funny?
It turns out all that previously overlooked stuff was exactly what made seeing the Northern Lights so special after all. I didn’t even cry.
After all, as they say, it’s the journey, not the destination.
Whether burning a candle for your bucket list, longing to get paid to do what you love, or just trying desperately to hear your calling — we humans are fantastic at acknowledging this well worn journey/destination cliche to validate ourselves, after the fact. The trick then, is to take what we understand about the power of the journey, and learn how to get the most out of it in real time.
Because the most crucial (but often elusive) reason to follow any path is so that you can identify the underlying ideas and skills you actually care about most, and make them your new passion/bitch.
It’s easy to get bogged down by the endless pseudo science and commentary pontificating over whether it’s BRILLIANT or SO DUMB to follow your passion. It doesn’t matter. Regardless of which direction you decide to go, there are things you can do to ensure a productive journey on any path.
How to Follow Your Passion Like a Boss (3 Tips)
1. Train yourself to be present.
Pursue that path with abandon, but force yourself to take stock of the moments of deep satisfaction and crippling defeat; the exciting challenges that make you come alive and the tasks that make you want to throw up your hands. The trick is to recognize and analyze these moments as they are happening.
This is really hard to do, because our brains are wired to measure most everything against the past or future. And when we are fixated on an end goal, we tend to file every “win” along the way as simply in service of the greater cause. That can dilute the experience.
A wonderful storyteller who hates writing can force herself to try to do something she hates, and she can fail. She can give up on storytelling all together.
Or she can recognize that storytelling makes others a captive audience, and that’s something worth holding on to for later. Her talent for storytelling, coupled with a passion for strategy might make her an excellent marketing director. Or pair it with an unrelenting wanderlust, and she might form her own touring improv troop.
Doing your passion like a boss is about identifying the pieces that comprise your skills and talents, and then experimenting to figure out where they can fit together.
A good exercise for identifying those pieces: keeping a weekly journal (i know, but hear me out…) documenting the kinds of projects you work on, and 3-5 skills you used and/or want to further develop. Then rate each skill you list on a scale of 1-5 (most important to least). After a couple of months, not only will you be more in tune with the breadth of that real-time journey — you will likely start to see within your notes the formation of revealing patterns and connective insights about your interests, struggles and talents that you can use to inform your actions moving forward.
2. Learn to recognize the difference between a crappy path and a crappy passion.
Staying tunnel vision on a passion can be emotionally destructive when you don’t achieve it. And let’s face it — lots of passions go unfulfilled, and will continue to do so until the day we die.
But here’s the thing about abandoning your passion: it’s a totally fine and healthy thing to do if you’ve realized in your journey that it’s a few specific skills you’re growing that actually make you come alive, not the end goal — and you’d like to do a passion pivot and focus on those. Like a boss.
When is it not okay to abandon your passion? When it’s the path you’re on that’s full of potholes, and the city won’t provide the resources to fix it.
If it’s your life-long nerd fantasy to make video games for a living, and you get hired by the big, prestigious game company you worshipped growing up — you are absolutely following your passion like a boss!
But if after six month of working in what can only be described as a swanky sweatshop with no vacation days but free snacks; on a poorly managed team with high turnover; and zero chance to contribute creatively, you conclude “EFF THE ENTIRE VIDEO GAME INDUSTRY; I shouldn’t have looked behind the curtain” — then there is a real chance you are mistaking the potholes for the passion.
It can be devastating when a negative experience shatters your perception of an entire dream. It’s easy to let yourself become jaded, and assume every path leading to that passion is full of potholes. But you owe it to yourself to investigate.
Spend some time reading through employee reviews of various game companies on Glassdoor. Visit popular gamer forums and/or subreddits and ask the community to share their employee experiences. Search MeetUp for applicable gamer/industry groups in your city and get the in-person account. Try a job at another game company.
Just don’t be so hasty to throw the baby out with the bath water — unless that’s the strategy of the brand new indie game you’re developing in your bedroom with two other passionate nerds you met on MeetUp, because screw it — you’re gonna make video games your way.
3. Play the “I Could Be Happy Almost Anywhere” game.
There’s one particularly unique thing about people who’ve learned how to follow their passion like a boss: they can find threads of joy and satisfaction in nearly any job they perform.
Whether digging a ditch, managing a 300-person call center, or translating DVR instructions into 5 languages — they’ve taught themselves how to identify the skills and ideas they value most, and they can do it in almost any circumstances.
Here is a simple but thought provoking hypothetical game to try:
If I had ______________, I think I could do almost any job.
Fill in the blank as many times as appropriate. But try to be very specific; and give yourself the gift of candor: everything from “a 350K salary and 12 weeks vacation,” to “full creative freedom” will work.
The list won’t be entirely practical, and that’s fine. The purpose of the exercise is to give your mind the opportunity to consider a means, without it being influenced too much by a specific ends. This one’s therapist approved, ya’ll.
On the last night in Tromsø, and for the first time during our trip, the weather conditions were just perfect for a crystal clear viewing — but those stubborn Auroras would not come out to play!
Somewhere after 1 a.m., I turned around to inspect another swath of clear dark sky for magical green haze, and I caught sight of this incredible moon halo instead. My guy pulled me to him as we watched in awe, and then, finally, the tears.
Whether deciding what to do when you grow up, or chasing elusive light particles across the night’s sky, journey on with more agency and you will be a boss.
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