Photo credit: Jacob Bentzinger

Renowned business school leader and entrepreneur (and author, and teacher,…) Marie Forleo uses the phrase “multi-passionate” often. I suspect, especially with the introduction of the internet, this phrase applies to many people across generations.

There are several times in my life that I’ve consulted a career counselor, for the purpose of exploring new and different paths, only to be guided to practical next steps for things I was already doing or thinking. Counselors asked: “What are you passionate about?”  (Instead of: “Your skill set and personality would fit nicely in X type of career.”)  They took my passions from there, as if my passions were meant to directly lead to a paid vocation or career or job.  That direct link or path was never the case.

I’m nearing my fifth decade on this planet, and I’m appreciative of the passion – purpose – career categories beginning to sort in my bones. My biggest advice, if you can stomach advice, is this: Please feel no pressure to blend any of these three categories, ever. If you keep following your instinct in all three, and all three feel and look different, that’s okay!!

Life is not always the sequential, linear puzzle our culture glorifies and financially rewards.

My teacher Katherine Woodward Thomas often suggests that life is co-created one moment, one step at a time. We are masters of our own reality and path. I agree. I also know how difficult clearing the baggage of cobwebs and obtaining clarity are.

Passions? West African dance and drum has been my bread and butter for decades, as well as this earth, and natural healing. But also throw in: intermittent obsessions with writing, theater, radio, creative and progressive education, travel, social justice, astrology, nutrition, music…  And so on!  I followed these outside of paid jobs, voluntarily, or many times paid to do them.  They were passionate hobbies. 

You can imagine how someone with too many English degrees like myself became confused about purpose.  Being paid as a writing and English teacher was definitely not cutting it, almost immediately. You would think it would an ultimate fit, like teaching stories and teaching people how to write would somehow be able to tie together many of my passions. The job occasionally fed my intellect and soul, but many times drained me: the public school system, the grading of papers, the student behavior problems with emotional roots that an English lesson would not help…

Paid vocation?  Purpose?  I’m still okay with seeing these separately, but I feel them all gently coming together. It will be evident over the next decade as I grow my business here. 

I find that my passions individually each had or still have their own purpose in my life, and often that purpose has nothing or little to do with how I pay my rent.  My passions developed me as a psychologically healthy person and robust soul.  Over time, this is worth more than any paycheck.  

In the larger scheme of things, I think many of our actions, words, and thoughts have purpose without us being aware– ever. Our human mind often seeks purpose, especially when suffering through something.  What is the purpose of a draining job if it only pays my rent?  (Catch 22—we all need a place to sleep.)

Letting go of the need for exact purpose and replacing it with faith, trust, and willingness to explore helped me.  

Purpose in any situation, might be something we’re not meant to know.  Meaning, however, is something that we can creatively construct, discover, reinvent, and use to our benefit.  Maybe we don’t know the purpose, but we sure have say in the meaning.

For anyone struggling with the need for purpose AND a meaningful paid vocation, I suggest:

Embracing your passions, as long as they feed you in some way and don’t drain you

Following your intuition (teach yourself how to or learn from others if you’re not good at this)

Practice gratitude throughout your days

Develop a sacred healthy circadian rhythm to your life

Release the need for purpose

Instead, focus on the meaning you make and the belief system behind it

Filter and hopefully remove toxicity in your life, and make your health a priority   

This is a journey we’re on. We’re not meant to know everything.  We in the United States live in a patriarchal and capitalistic culture that can disillusion us to think we are “behind”, and “not good enough”.  Even worse, this culture can make us think that purpose, passions, and paid vocation are supposed to come together at an endpoint, when we won the money or status game.

Life is full of cycles, like a spiral staircase, that may go up or down, depending on what we need. If you follow the bulleted list above, you might find yourself ascending in some way over time—it does not need to be status, power, or money.  For some folks, decades may pass before passions, purpose, and paid vocation overlap. For some, it may never. And all of it is okay.

I hope you give yourself permission to be who you are.

The perspective from a spiral staircase is lovely, maybe even confusing and dizzying, especially when looking far up or straight down.  May you hold onto the railing, appreciate something about where you are, and have at least one passion in your life.  The passions keep us climbing. 

How have your passions fed you?  I’d love a comment or email.