How do you discover and live your passion? This is a question we all want to answer, especially in mid-life where everything is suddenly up for questioning. Especially after age 40, when you get this nagging feeling that what you do isn't really fulfilling and meaningful anymore. Especially when your support structure continues to be more concerned with the mundane aspects of life than with happiness and fulfillment.
How do you discover your passion in your work? Another tough question. For me, it was in the middle of teaching a workshop years ago while I was still working in corporate America. I got this sudden awareness that my life had to change. It was in the middle of ANOTHER Powerpoint presentation. I felt dizzy, light-headed. My boss thought perhaps I was getting sick and we should reschedule. I remember thinking to myself, "I am sick all right, sick of this job and what I must do now is reschedule my life!"
Start by writing down what gets you the most excited about life. Is it riding your bike on Sunday mornings, spending time alone with your books, or doing the budget back at the office on Thursday afternoons? The answer is different for each of us.
Think deeply and write down what excites you most. Start to imagine what your life would be like if you spent the majority of your day actually doing what you love; what a concept! Most people are unable to do this because they immediately jump to the conclusion that they couldn't support themselves and their families doing what they love. Sadly, they wait until they retire. Then something happens and they die. Then it IS too late.
The next best step is to meet and hang around people who love what you love. Discussing it with these like-minded people will give you ideas. If you love books, start attending book fairs and libraries; meet with publishers, authors and editors and visit book stores. Meet and observe others who spend their days with books. If you love to work with numbers, start to meet and hang around with similar people. Subscribe to financial publications, talk to accountants, controllers, people who work with money and spreadsheets all day. Learn what they do, how they do it and why they do it. You will get new ideas!
Build a life roadmap. Determine what is most important to you in your life. Figure out what you need to do each and every day to align your actions with what is most important. Establish key goals 3-5 years from now that align with what is most important to you. Make sure they align with your passions, too.
What is vocational passion? Imagine it's Sunday night and you can't get to sleep. You toss and turn all night pondering your work. You wake up and glance at the clock and notice it's still only 2:00 am and then 4:00 am and finally 5:00 am. You can't stand it anymore. You jump out of bed thinking about all the work you must accomplish on Monday. The difference is that, when your work is also your vocational passion, you'll love every minute of it. Your work takes your breath away!
Just recently I gave a talk to a large group about how to discover and follow your passion. As I was waiting off-stage and being introduced, I noticed my usual pre-talk feelings overwhelm me. I felt dizzy, a little light-headed, and my body felt a rush of breath. Although I am in great shape for my age (almost 50) I worried that I was having a stroke and would die shortly into my talk. Then I thought to myself, "I hope it doesn't happen until the end of my talk or at least the funny parts." Then my thoughts were interrupted as I heard, "And here is Craig Nathanson, The Vocational Coach..." Within seconds, thoughts of an impending heart attack or stroke left me and as I saw my audience I suddenly, once again, felt my purpose in the world.
This inner experience happens EVERY time I speak and just before meeting with my clients, and I have come to realize that this is the rush of vocational passion. Then I am sure once again that somehow, someway, I have figured out a way to continue living an authentic life doing what I love.
Do you toss and turn on Sunday night, excited about Monday morning? Do you jump out of bed on Monday morning and race to work? Is Monday your best day of the week and Friday the worst because you have to wait until the following Monday to resume your life's work? Believe it or not, this really IS possible!
Sounds simple and yet this is the most challenging thing you will ever do - to take action. Despite all the people who tell you you're crazy; you'll starve; you're selfish; you'll become homeless... you do it anyway. You start to take action with the INTENTION of figuring out a way to make this work.
After leaving a senior management position in corporate America over four years ago, it was always an interesting experience telling people what I did. To the usual party question, "So what do you do?" I would simply say, "I work with people over forty to help them discover and do what they love!" The look in their eyes always said something between, "You fool!" and "I am jealous!"
My first talk was supposed to be in front of a big crowd as part of a job fair at Harry's Hoff Brau in San Jose California. As I entered the room about five minutes before my talk, I wondered if I was in the wrong room - it was empty. Around 6 pm when my talk was about to start, a sweet elderly woman in her late 80's wandered in and asked if the show was about to begin. She was recently widowed after 50 years of marriage and she was still carrying around a lot of sadness. She thought this free show might cheer her up. I sat down next to her and just listened to her talk about her life. Although I didn't give my planned speech, when she hugged me and told me I had cheered her up, I thought to myself that it had been a perfect first show!
What matters most is that you START! Following your vocational passion, especially after forty, is a lonely experience at first. Soon, however, you will become so involved in doing what you love that you will start to wonder why it took you so long to get started. One day recently I went to pick up my seven year-old from school. As I waited for him, a woman drove up and asked, "Are you the guy in the paper recently who helps people discover and do what they love?" With a little embarrassment, I said, "Well yes I am." She said, "I noticed you the other day before the article came up and I thought to myself, 'There is a man with bounce in his step.' I picked up my son and as we drove away, I thought to myself, 'That's what happens when you live an authentic life - you get that bounce in your step!'"
Can you get the bounce back in your step? I think you can. First imagine what you want and what you are passionate about. Write it down. Talk about it with others. Take one small action and ignore the opinions of others while you are starting out. Measure your progress. Your bounce will surely come back and others will notice. And with each step you take, I'll be cheering you on from the sidelines.