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Five Ways to Stop Passion from Scaring the Bejeezus Outta Ya

Lately, I’ve been seeing something repeatedly that scares me, shocks me, shakes me to the core as both a person and as a creative career coach. During talks with clients, and in their written responses to the question, “What are you passionate about?” I started getting answers like these:

“I like a lot of random things but I’m not passionate about anything in particular. I think.”

“Is it OK to not feel passionate? I don’t think I’m passionate about anything.”

“  ” (Michelle’s note: Yes, it’s blank!)

“I always get stuck when it comes to questions about my passion. I guess I never really understood what it means.”

“Passion is a really loaded word for me. I don’t like to use it.”

Now, as someone who spent my early adulthood (and lots of time, energy, and money!) chasing a passion to be on Broadway, and who then, when I finally came to terms with not wanting to pursue an acting career, made it my one and only mission to find a new passion and make that into a career—I was floored. Flummoxed. Flamoozled. Also, confused. I mean, people decide to work with me because they want to find a career that they love, that is aligned with their skills, interests, and values as grown-ups. Why the heck would you spend your hard-earned money on working with me and not believe that you can find a passionate career, nonetheless that passion even exists?

So, in addition to getting feedback from my clients, I took this question to the streets (in this case, “the streets” is my blog), and got amazeballs insight into many of the vampires that exist around the word “passion.”

There’s immense pressure that comes with your passion. If you decide you have a passion, then you must do it every day for the rest of your life, and you must stop doing everything else you like to do for the rest of eternity, because that’s how long you must work on your passion. Also, if you decide you have a passion and then “fail” at it, you must kill yourself because you’ll never be happy in your life. Ever. No matter what. Even if a money tree grew in your backyard and you never looked older than eighteen—even then.

You’ve never liked anything enough to be “passionate” about it, and/or you’ve never felt that spark that’s supposed to come with finding your passion. You might really like painting or Lost or planning your wedding, but you didn’t necessarily want to do it all day every day for the rest of your days (see above). Since you can’t picture that one thing you would want to voluntarily do forever and always, then you must not be passionate about anything.

You have too many passions, which probably means you have none. Obviously, it ain’t possible to love to do lots and lots of things, so you’re just really scattered and unfocused and will never get anywhere with anything because you can’t commit to just doing one thing. Obviously.

You decide not to believe in passion because you’d like to think you’re not missing out on anything awesome. If you’ve never experienced it, then it doesn’t exist … right?

You haven’t let yourself think about what you even remotely like doing, because, as a grown-up, you’ll never be able to do it as a career. I mean, you might be passionate about shopping or gossiping with your friends, but that’s not valid. How can that translate into a career? It can’t. So it doesn’t count. So let’s not even think about it.

If you find that your vampires whisper some (or all!) of these things to you, let’s play a game of What If. What if … you didn’t have to make a career out of your passion? What if … you believed that passion ebbs and flows over time? What if … you can be passionate about many things at once without burning out or spreading yourself too thin? What if … you decide it’s a greater risk to not try to live a life of passion that to try it and fail? What if … you use the word “passion” to drive you instead of stop you? What if … being passionate about something doesn’t mean that you’re forced to do it every day for the rest of your days? What if … you listened to that quiet voice that is actually telling you what you want to do, instead of saying that it’s “not practical,” or “won’t work,” or you’re “not good enough”?

I know, I know, easier said than done. So let’s talk about some ways to really, truly, actually, indubitably (I love that word!) not have the word “passion” scare the bejeezus outta ya:

Replace “passion” with another less bejeezus-filled word. That’s right—banish it from your personal vocabulary, at least temporarily. Now, if we get to the nitty-gritty, what happens to someone when they’re passionate about something? They think it’s fun, they get excited or motivated by it, it enthuses them, they’re super curious about it, they enjoy doing it. Instead of asking, “What am I / can I be passionate about?” ask, “What do I do for fun?” or “What gives me energy?” or “What do I like learning about?” For the client who told me that “passion” was a loaded word, I had her start a Big-Likes list. It runs the gamut of “riding in a convertible,” to “tea on the patio,” to certain textures,” to “being useful,” and she’s constantly adding to it. It’s such a low-pressure way to discover, claim, and build on what she enjoys—I have a feeling it would be the same for you.

Find something in every day that you enjoyed, and write it down. It might not be a Big Like, but by plucking out that one thing from your normal day and making note of it; you’ll start keeping your eyes open for all the things you’re doing that don’t suck. And please, please, please (with a cherry on top!) don’t discount “small” stuff like iced coffee on a hot day or your morning viewing of Willard Scott being crazy on The Today Show.

Get down everything you’ve been thinking about lately that you want to learn or work on. This is not a commitment to do all or even one of those things. It’s just a way to let yourself see it. That’s all. Once you see it, you might have something that’s just begging to be done or tried. Just listen to it, OK? Promise?

Make it easy. A lot of my clients mention that, once they put hours into commuting, working at a soul-sucking job, and making and eating dinner, they can barely do anything but sit on the couch and watch Judge Judy reruns (not that there is anything remotely wrong with that—it’s how I start each weekday!). How can you get your pep back? Make it easy. For example, if you already know that you want to paint but are having trouble getting motivated to go into your studio, how can you make it as easy as possible to start? Maybe, before you leave for work that morning, you set up your paints and take out the photo that serves as your inspiration so all you need to do is open the door and you’ll be ready to go. Is there a weekly or monthly commitment that you feel you “have” to go to? Then say “no” or delegate it to someone else, and claim your time for yourself. Know that post-work time is a lost cause? Set your alarm thirty minutes early and use that time to do what you want do. (I won’t dare say “for your passion”!) It’s all about finding the right structure and shortcuts for you, so experiment!

Don’t think beyond right now. Once you start thinking about picking the “passion” that you’ll be bound to (gulp) forever, the vampires are gonna come creeping in. Listen, nobody has a crystal ball, so who the heck knows where you’ll be or what you’ll wanna be doing in another year, let alone another fifty? So let’s take those questions above and add “right now” to the end (i.e., “What do I do for fun right now?” or “What gives me energy right now?” or “What do I like learning about right now?”). The one exception is that you can think of things in the past that you enjoyed, gave you energy, or liked learning about, so feel free to replace the “do” with “did.” Although if you enjoyed going on a St Patty’s Day bar crawl for twelve hours when you were in college and you’re now forty, I’d be careful of that.

When you’ve found that passion, or simply decided how to bring fun and enjoyment into your life, live it for the now and release that fear of failure. In a way, I failed at acting (in the case of walking away from it), but I so don’t see it that way. That passion, living and pursuing it, led me to absolutely positively having to find a new passion when I decided that acting wasn’t going to be my life or career any longer—it was unacceptable to live a life without it. And that led me here, to coaching, which is 200 percent my new passion. And ya know what? I might fail at this too, but everything that’s gotten me here so far, well, is nothing but a very validating learning experience, and I know that I can’t truly fail at this either.

Find what you Big Like. Take that chance. Live for the now, no strings attached. Let yourself fall so hard you get a bruise. But don’t let passion scare you, because it’s real, and it’s spectacular.