“It’s been over a year and I still feel like I’m standing at the bottom of this giant hill looking up,” my sister says as she takes a sip of her chianti.
It’s been a long day, and she’s frustrated. She’s spent the last 6 hours walking around in four inch heels and a navy blue snakeskin dress, showing off her collection of cocktail attire at a pop-up shop event that didn’t go as well as she’d hoped.
“It’s a never-ending grind,” she says, “but I love it.”
Watching my sister and her partner hustle their way through the highs and lows of entrepreneurship reminded me of an article I read about finding your life purpose by Mark Manson, where he asks:
What’s your favorite flavor of shit sandwich?
Here’s the truth. We exist on this earth for some undetermined period of time. During that time we do things. Some of these things are important. Some of them are unimportant. And those important things give our lives meaning and happiness. The unimportant ones basically just kill time.
So when people say, “What should I do with my life?” or “What is my life purpose?” what they’re actually asking is: “What can I do with my time that is important?”
It doesn’t matter how much passion you have for something, how important the work is to you, or how much you #loveyourjob, at some point, things are going to suck.
But if you’re passionate enough about something, then you can endure the boredom, rejection, laziness, burnout, and self doubt that comes with pursuing any endeavor.
My sister and her partner couldn’t imagine following any other path (and I have no doubt that they will find great success), but boy are they eating a lot of shit sandwiches right now.
I’ve always been a little envious of people like them who know exactly what they want to do and go after it with all of their hearts and souls. The athletes who show up at the gym or court or pool twice a day. The artists who wake up at 5am to paint before getting the kids to school and heading the office. The writers who scribble out stories every chance they get while they work two jobs on the side.
Take bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert, for example. In her book Big Magic, she writes:
When I was about sixteen years old, I took vows to become a writer.
I didn’t make a promise that I would be a successful writer, because I sensed that success was not under my control. Nor did I promise that I would be a great writer, because I didn’t know if I could be great. Nor did I give myself any time limits for the work, like ‘If I’m not published by the time I’m thirty, I’ll give up on this dream and go find another line of work.’
Instead, I simply vowed to the universe that I would write forever, regardless of the result… I did not ask for any external rewards for my devotion; I just wanted to spend my life as near to writing as possible.
She goes on to say that despite other mistakes in life, she kept those vows.
I wrote every day throughout my twenties… On bad days, when I felt no inspiration at all, I would set the kitchen timer for thirty minutes and make myself sit there and scribble something, anything… no matter what else was going on or how badly I believed the work was going.
Generally speaking, the work did go badly. I really didn’t know what I was doing… I had no chops, no game. It could take me a whole year just to finish one tiny short story. Most of the time, all I was doing was imitating my favorite authors, anyhow.
…And slowly, I improved. I learned how to write.
What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do
I still don’t know what I’m passionate enough about. I tell myself it’s writing, and yet I can’t bring myself to write every day. There’s no crap-tastic writing sandwich that I’m willing to eat on a daily basis and I often scratch my head wondering where my damn spark is, only to get down on myself for being lazy and uninspired.
Maybe you’re that way too.
But just because we haven’t found our passion doesn’t mean we’re doomed to lives of unfulfilled dreams and wasted potential. We can find great personal growth and satisfaction if we choose to follow our curiosity, one small step at a time. As Elizabeth Gilbert so perfectly puts it:
You spend a lot of your life having people tell you to follow your passion. It’s nice advice — if you happen to have one that is very clear and obvious.
Sometimes it feels cruel and all it does is make you feel even worse and more left out, because you’re like, ‘I would if I knew what it was!’
If you’re in that position right now… forget about passion. Follow your curiosity.
It might lead you to your passion or it might not. You might get nothing out of it at all except a beautiful, long life where all you did was follow your gorgeous curiosity. And that should be enough too.
I’m lucky that I get to spend my days saying yes to the things that I find interesting in the form of my many random monthly challenges. I can throw stuff against a giant wall to see what sticks, and expose myself to new and interesting things. On top of that, projects that offer a certain level of uncertainty, challenge, and even stress allow us to build the willpower, focus and mental endurance necessary to achieve the things we set out to do. These are powerful and important skills to cultivate because for the majority of us, passion alone won’t get us there.
So until I stumble upon that special flavor of shit sandwich that’s waiting for me to bite into it, I’ll continue to follow my curiosity in different and challenging ways, and hope that one day, not to long from now, I’ll find what I’m looking for.