E17: Where is the passion in your life?
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Have you ever been told to pursue your passions, no matter what? When we make passions our primary pursuit, we often end up chasing a fleeting thing. Before doing so, we need to make sure we are grounded in who we are, content with where we are, and know why we want to pursue our passions. Furthermore, we need to consider if we could become passionate about the opportunities in front of us - where we are already at - before we pursue the next best thing.
In today's episode:
Work shouldn't be your primary source of passion and fulfillment
How does contentment relate to passion?
Understand who you want to become first
Discern your "why's"
Yesterday I managed a 9 month old who refused to nap because he was teething and instead spent his entire nap chewing on his crib. Then, he proceeded to spend the rest of the afternoon crying and getting into everything because he was exhausted. He pulled his white noise machine down onto his head, he got stuck under the rowing machine, he cried for no reason, and generally had a challenging day. He is starting to stand up so he was falling constantly and needed to be helped. For hours, I was interrupted every 30 seconds, never finished a single thing I intended to finish, and never got to sit down, though my pregnant body needed it.
If you saw me yesterday, you might not guess that I was pursuing my passions. You might see a tired mom doing thankless grunt work - and you’d be right! This mom is tired, is doing exactly what she wants to, and is content to be here. This is my passion. If you saw me yesterday, you also might not guess that I am content, but you’d be wrong. After years of pursuing fulfillment in my career and trying to follow my passion, I’m finally pursuing things that fill my heart with gladness. And it’s not always about the things or tasks I’m doing on a daily basis. It’s about the kind of person I’m trying to shape myself into and what I center my life around.
First, let’s unlearn a few lies.
How many times have you heard a celebrity say in an award speech, “Just follow your passions wherever they lead. Don’t give up on your dreams.” The premium our culture puts on passions is huge. Today I’ll try to make my counterpoint clear: Don’t follow your passions. Instead, incorporate them into your life. But there are a lot of stereotypes and bad advice that we have to break down first.
It took me years to unlearn everything I absorbed from culture about following my passions. Have you ever received the advice that, in order to pursue your passions, you should find a job you’re passionate about or to do something fulfilling for work? I have. I graduated from college thinking that my career needed to fulfill me in some way. When a job felt unfulfilling or was disappointing, I often received advice to pursue a different job that fed my passions. By listening to this advice, I had given power to my job - a temporary, circumstantial thing - to fulfill me. I had also allowed a job to dictate what I was passionate about. That’s a high bar for a job to meet and ultimately, I was let down. In this pursuit, I wound up over 30 years old, still uncertain about what I cared about. I imagine I’m not alone in experiencing that. There is nothing wrong with looking for something to do that feeds your passions or is fulfilling. But it can be misleading and disappointing to look exclusively to a temporary, circumstantial thing like a job to provide that fulfillment.
Have you ever heard the saying, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life”? It’s such a lie. It sounds nice but the truth is, that we are always working. Work is a fact of life - whether it’s paid or not - and I can think of several examples of people who end up hating their passion projects once they are forced to do them for a paycheck.
Passions are a fleeting thing to pursue. Bring them with you, but don’t center your life around them. Furthermore, pursuing your passion doesn’t always look the way people think it looks and, sometimes, you have to build opportunities yourself or look for passion in your current circumstances instead of looking elsewhere.
Today’s podcast is the first of two parts. Today we will talk about what it means to pursue your passions, why contentment is key to understanding your motivations, and, if you are motivated to pursue passions that are outside of your current circumstances, why? Why do you want to pursue them? Often when people look outside of their current circumstances to pursue dreams or find fulfillment, the root of the desire to change is discontentment. So today’s podcast is kind of a yield sign or yellow light - if you have some big dream or change you want to pursue, take a moment to think deeply about why and what you want out of it.
Next week will be more of a green light and the conversation will be more tactical. We will talk about how to find what your passion is, finding the intersection of passions, gifts, and opportunities, motivation to get started, and why it’s best to avoid looking for validation. In the event that you are quite sure that your passion is a big, hairy, crazy dream, it’s important that you don’t let other people’s opinions or validation slow you down! So tune in next week for that.
When I talk about jobs or work today, I am not only referring to paid work at an organization or business. I’m referring to a primary responsibility that you do everyday. We all work in some fashion and are typically productive on a daily basis. What you do is your job. It can be what you do for a paycheck but, if you don’t work a traditional job or get a paycheck, know that your work is simply what you do with your time that is productive - whether it’s caring for elderly family members, children, volunteering, managing your home, or something else.
So, if work is simply what you do everyday and we don’t always have a choice in the matter, then doesn’t it make sense to look for joy, passion, and contentment in our daily circumstances first, before we look to another job or situation?
I used to work full time, often overtime, and it was a joyless, passionless pursuit because I expected it to fulfill me and it didn’t. Now, I am a mom. That is my primary job. It can be hard for stay-at-home moms to feel fulfilled in this job when it’s relatively thankless, no one validates our decisions, the fruit of our labors is not immediate, there isn’t much of a social scene, and we don’t get paid. When I graduated from college, this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. Now that I’m here and have reflected a lot about why I’m here, I can confidently say that I’m very passionate about this job and find it extremely fulfilling. It is where God put me, I’m sure he has a reason for it, and most parts of it I genuinely love doing every single day. Even the parts that I don’t love are good for me and are sanctifying. It is fulfilling to know that I’m growing as a person everyday. However, when I chose to become a stay-at-home mom, a few people in my social circle questioned that decision and one even said “I wouldn’t be able to do that because I just have to pursue my passions.” That comment really stuck with me. The presupposition seemed to be that being a stay-at-home mom wasn’t a passionate pursuit or that I couldn’t pursue any passions while momming. These are not mutually exclusive things! In my blog last week called “Are children a hindrance or a blessing?” I talk about the decision to have children and stay home and how fulfilling it’s been for me in ways I couldn’t have anticipated.
Another job I have is this podcast, though I’m not paid. By calling it my “work,” it’s easier to create a solid balance between when I spend time on it and when I focus on my real priorities, like my family. It also helps me focus and dedicate time to it more than I would to a casual hobby or project. This podcast job is a passion project. Instead of writing as a career, which I spent years doing and disliking, I realized I could build that opportunity for myself without even leaving my home. Pursuing your passion could just look like building your own opportunity out of your current circumstances.
Before you look to pursue your passions, consider how you could become passionate about your current situation. Consider what the value is of looking elsewhere and why you want to.
Not working a traditional job has altered my perspective on where to find fulfillment and what a job should provide for you. It has made me realize that I was putting a lot of power in my employer’s hands to leave me fulfilled or not fulfilled. When I tried to pursue my passions in yet another job, I was often left disappointed. Now that I am my own boss, so to speak, I realize that jobs can’t do anything for me other than pay me. I can control some things though - I can alter my reaction to a job, create opportunities for myself, and be fulfilled, but this is a result of my own efforts around how I react to my environment, and not a result of anything my job has given me.
When I Googled “Pursue my passions” and similar phrases, most of the top results directed me in how to find a job that I was passionate about. Next to no information existed about finding passion in your current circumstances; about being passionate about where you’re already at. My guess is because that’s harder. It’s hard work figuring out how to be content, how to care about something you might see as lackluster, and how to build an opportunity out of it. It’s easier to quit and find the next job, find a new hobby, or distract yourself from the humdrum of daily home life instead of finding contentment and joy in it.
What does contentment have to do with pursuing your dreams or passions? Well, it has to do with where we find fulfillment, which is very much related. A desire to pursue your passions elsewhere - outside of your current circumstances - could indicate a lack of contentment with where you’re at. I want to be careful how I phrase that and be clear that it doesn’t always mean this, but it can, and it’s worth considering before you embark on some major life change.
Only you and God know if you are truly content with where he’s put you and if you really are called to something else. But if you are discontent and attempt to make a major life change to pursue happiness or satisfaction, know that you will be the same discontented person after you make the change. Who you are inside won’t change. In my personal experience, when I pursued passions outside of my current opportunities, it was because I was discontent and would rather try to change my circumstances than change my mindset or my heart. It reflected a “grass is greener” mentality that often led to disappointment.
First things first - pursuing your passions starts with learning to be content where you are at. It is common to assume that, if you’re not happy with your current circumstances, then you should pursue your passions and find contentment elsewhere. But discontentment is not a firm foundation for a new, lasting change.
Socrates said, “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” He understood that contentment comes from adjusting your state of mind, not your state of living.
Where you are is your current opportunity. It’s the lowest-hanging fruit you have. If you haven’t chosen to be content where you are and made the most of what it has to offer you, then what makes you think you would do any better if you were to move on or change your situation? Deeply assess your current situation before assuming that the solution to your discontentment is a new one.
You have been put where you are for a reason. Before you look for another place to be, another path to follow, or another passion to pursue, try to be content where you are now.
What is contentment? This topic is really interesting to me and I’ve read about it a lot recently as I’ve tried to understand why so many people are discontent, frustrated, dissatisfied, and constantly looking for the next best thing. Contentment is a quiet, inward, gracious, pleased frame of spirit in all conditions and situations. A contented person submits to God’s will and does not wait for better circumstances in order to make good choices in his life. He does the best he can with whatever he has, in whatever condition he is in, at any time. Contentment isn’t circumstantial - it is within you and is a reflection of your satisfaction in God’s will.
I believe God knows what our path will be, where we will end up at any given time, and knows what trials and challenges we need to grow and become better people. We are therefore supposed to be content with where we are at because discontentment reveals a lack of trust and pleasure in God’s plan for us.
Learning to be content with where God put me means that I learn to see every trial and challenge as sanctifying. I see every situation as having a higher purpose. And I see complaining as being dissatisfied with his will for me. So I instead choose to be grateful for where he’s put me, find the lesson in my circumstances, find the opportunities where I’m at, make the best choices I can where I’m at, and make change with great care, ensuring that I’m coming from a place of gratitude and satisfaction, rather than frustration. I don’t always do this perfectly. I think I’ve said before that I am often talking to myself in these podcasts - telling myself what I need to do better at.
While imprisoned in Rome, the apostle Paul wrote:
“Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.” – Philippians 4:11-12
If you are content in every circumstance, then contentment is not circumstantial at all. You will learn to not look to the next new thing to bring you happiness and will feel assured that the grass isn’t always greener elsewhere. To be clear, contentment doesn’t mean complacency. It doesn’t mean you don’t desire change or shouldn’t change, if change is necessary. But you should ensure that you are a content person before you embark in a big change. Change as a result of discontentment is ill-motivated and might result in more disappointment. So your challenge is to consider how you can find gratitude and opportunities in your current circumstances.
The next thing to think deeply about before embarking on a big change or pursuing a new passion is, how does it help you become the person you want to be? My dissatisfaction with my former career, in the end, was related to the fact that I hadn’t figured out what my vision or purpose was - I hadn’t figured out what kind of person I wanted to be, and I spent years trying to find that person in my career. I sought contentment in my circumstances and was constantly looking to change my circumstances when things didn’t work out in a way that I liked. I had spent a lot of time focused on what I wanted to do, but not much time on who I wanted to be. After years of toiling in careers I hated, moving from one job and hobby to another, I realized the problem was me. I was the common denominator among these jobs. No matter what changed, I was still unhappy with where God had put me. So I took the time to figure out who I wanted to be and how I could organize my life to make that possible. What I wanted was to be a peaceful person, free from anxiety and unrest. This required dedicating myself to God and freeing my schedule and time of commitments that weren’t good for me. When I focused my pursuits around who I wanted to be instead of what I wanted to do, it actually became easier to pass each workday with contentment. I was content not because my job was different, but because my mindset was.
Now, with that same mindset and focus, it is much easier to be content staying at home, though there are days where I do very little that is glamorous or interesting, or validated and praised. I am content because my contentment is grounded in where God has put me, which is right here, and because I’m focused on who I want to be more than what I am doing. I can pursue that focus no matter what I do with my days.
So, what kind of person do you want to be, now and in the future? Do you want to be generous, kind, wise, or something else? Whatever kind of person you want to be, make it your vision for your life. My vision is to be as peaceful as possible. I chose peace because it’s the most elusive trait for me. I’m naturally more high-strung and anxious and I don’t want to live that way.
Once you have your vision, consider how you can orient your life in a way that makes it possible to achieve someday. Every choice, every action, and every commitment carries an opportunity to get closer or further from your vision. When you have that perspective, it is easier to be content in pursuit of your vision regardless of your job or your circumstances. It’s easier to find opportunities to become passionate about where you’re already at. I now feel like I can find a passion to pursue on a daily basis because everything I am passionate about leads back to helping me be more peaceful. It makes me passionate about being more forgiving, more spontaneous, more reflective, more creative, and more easy-going. It makes me passionate about opening my bible or helping my friends. My life is about who I am, not what I do, and it makes pursuing my passions a more flexible concept. I wrote a blog called “What kind of person do you want to be in 20 years?” about living this purpose-centered life and you can find it on my website.
I wanted to emphasize the point about “who you are vs what you do” first to address what I think is at the core of a lot of people’s motivation to pursue their passions and their reason for their dissatisfaction with where they’re at. They are looking for contentment in circumstantial things like what they do and are often let down.
Now, all of that being said, there are times where you want to do something you really care about. Beneath my pursuit of being a peaceful person, which I prioritize, I have other passions and things I still like to do. It is fine and great to find a job or a hobby you love to do. I hope you find that. I hope you don’t spend every day hating what you do.
There is 100% nothing wrong with wanting to do something specific and wanting to enjoy it as long as you don’t expect that thing to fulfill you in any way. Instead of following your passion no matter what and expecting it to do anything for you, find a way to fold your passion into your life and bring it with you. I could really sum up this whole podcast with those words.
If you don’t have a job you absolutely love, you can keep the job, pursue your passion, and be content. These things can all be exclusive of one another because your contentment is not tied to your job or your passions.
And, there may be real reasons to be dissatisfied and aim to change your life, once you’ve solved your contentment problem and are clear on who you want to be.
So, if you’re still feeling dissatisfied…why is that? If you aren’t dissatisfied but still want to pursue your passions elsewhere, why? Why can’t you where you are at? Why are those passions calling you? What will they do for your life?
See, if you want to figure out what is really going on inside of you, what desires you truly have, and make a solid path to pursue your passions, you could start by dissecting why you’re feeling the way you are feeling and dive deeper and deeper into that line of questioning. If you can’t grill yourself very well, enlist the help of a spouse or trusted friend to ask you about your “why’s.”
I talk about discerning your “whys” a lot. Understanding why is super important before you embark on any change. Sometimes it’s easier to change external circumstances than to do the hard work on ourselves. If you find yourself trying to pursue your passions outside of your current circumstances - outside of your job, marriage, family, or home - then it is worthwhile to consider what is causing the desire to pursue a different passion in the first place. Why do you do the jobs you do, and what are you looking for them to provide? As we said before, if you’re looking for your job to give you some kind of contentment or fulfillment, you might never be happy. It might be time to reset expectations for your job and look to a higher purpose for fulfillment.
Just like how your spouse can’t “make” you happy, neither can a job or anything else you do make you feel good - at least not in a lasting, meaningful way. Contentedness is not based in your circumstances - it is something you carry with you. Before looking for it elsewhere, consider how to find it where you are at.
This week was kind of a yield sign or yellow light. If you have some passion you want to pursue, take a pause and do some hard thinking first. Next week we are going to dig into the more tactical part of this message. If there is some burning dream you want to pursue or a major life change you want to make, now is the time to consider why you want to do it, and if you’re a content person, knowing that content people are more likely to make lasting positive change. Next week is the green light we will talk about how to find the right intersection of passions, gifts, and opportunities, how to stay motivated, and how to move forward even in the absence of validation.
The key thing to remember for this week is that passions are a fleeting thing to center your life around. And if you change your circumstances before you become content with where you are and understand who you are, you’re likely to wind up discontent again in the future. Do the hard work now.
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