E18: Where is the passion in your life? Part 2
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This is part 2 of 2. After part 1, where I shared many points of caution about heedless pursuit of passion, this week I encourage you to follow your dreams! Be inspired to think big. We cover how to embrace failure, avoid the pitfalls of self-sabotage, how to look for opportunities in unlikely places, and why validation is a tricky thing.
In this episode:
The intersection of passions, gifts, and opportunities
Be flexible with how you find opportunities
Overcoming the things that stop you
Don’t look for validation
This is podcast part 2 of 2. Last week I had to be a huge downer and tell everyone to press pause on their passions and dreams until they were sure that they were content with where they were at because discontentment is not a strong foundation for change. We also talked about making sure you look for opportunities to fulfill your passions where you’re at - in your current circumstances - before you chase them elsewhere. Find a way to be passionate about what you’re already doing. Finally, the key thing to remember from last week, and to take into this week, is to not pursue your passions as your primary aim, but rather to take them with you. Fit your passions into your opportunities, rather than chasing them no matter what.
After noting all of those things, and giving all kinds of caveats, I’m now going to encourage you to follow your dreams. At some point, after a great deal of self-examination, you might still be very sure that your passions need to be pursued and, in that case, maybe you should go for it! We’ll cover how to overcome the come ways we self-sabotage and stop ourselves from achieving our dreams and why validation is a dangerous thing to pursue.
Last week I said that when celebrities give awards speeches and say things like “follow your dreams,” it’s misleading advice. That’s true because they don’t know you. But you know you and you can do the due diligence to ensure that you have the right dream in mind. If you completely believe in what you’re doing, you’re content where you’re at, and your dream complements your gifts or skills and opportunities, then go for it! Once you define your passion and have a clear idea of what it looks like to pursue it, it’s your dream. So I’ll use the word “dream” for the rest of the podcast.
When people hear about following their dreams, they might think they don’t have any or that they aren’t worth pursuing. They might think that dreams are big, hairy goals that people pursue if they want to become a pop singer or start a multi-million dollar business. But that’s not true. We all have dreams, but sometimes we are just scared to name them or pursue them. Just finish this sentence “Wouldn’t it be great if…” Don’t overthink it. Wouldn’t it be great if I felt healthier. Wouldn’t it be great if I could homeschool my children. Wouldn’t it be great if I could go back to college. Wouldn’t it be great if I could make and sell jewelry. You can see how some of these dreams might not be newsworthy, but they are valuable to each individual woman. Your dream is yours. Don’t sabotage yourself by assuming it’s too small or not worth pursuing. On the flip side, don’t sabotage yourself by assuming it’s too big and that you could never do it. We’ll talk about what to do with your big dreams later.
If you are sure that you need to pursue your passions and turn them into reality, remember that passions aren’t the entire pie. They are a piece of the pie.
There is more to consider when you are finding your best fit. Just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t mean it should be your sole focus. There is more to consider than just passions. The intersection of your passions, gifts, and opportunities is your sweet spot for determining what to pursue in life - whether as a career, a hobby, or something else. You could be passionate about singing, for example, but if you aren’t gifted in this area, then you shouldn’t make it your sole focus. You could be passionate about interior decorating and particularly gifted, but if there aren’t many opportunities that provide an outlet for this, then it doesn’t make sense to pursue it very heavily. There is an exception here, though, and that is when you make opportunities for yourself.
I would encourage you to consider how you could find opportunities to pursue your dreams and passions with some amount of flexibility. Be flexible with how you think you could apply yourself and how you could get started. If you are looking for the perfect intersection of passions, gifts, and opportunities, be prepared to look for it in unexpected places. It might not be at work. It might be in a volunteer position or helping out at church. It might be right in your own home or with your family. It might be something you can do on your own as a hobby without any expectation of a paycheck or of recognition. If you’re really doing something original, you will probably have to make that opportunity yourself. This takes a creative mind, flexibility, and bravery. You’ll be blazing your own trail. This can be intimidating. Remember you don’t have to know exactly where the trail will end or even what the path looks like ahead of you. You just have to whack the bush in front of you down. Then the next bush, and so on. One step, one hurdle at a time is best to remember when you’re creating something for yourself.
That’s what I did with this podcast and blog. I wanted to write and create. I thought the solution was to make that my career. For years I wrestled with communications and content-heavy roles that included so much other business nonsense that would override any fulfillment I could have gleaned from creating content. I thought that it didn’t make sense to create my own content and website because no one would ever read what I put out there. I let that stop me for years. The assumption that I needed an audience or needed validation killed my ability to move forward. Now, I create this podcast because I want to and because it is my dream. Because it is the perfect intersection of passions, gifts, and opportunities for me. But that opportunity was in a place I hadn’t thought to look before. It was an opportunity I made myself, in my own time, in my own home. I didn’t need anyone else to create it for me. Sure, podcasts have been done before but I hadn’t done it before and no one was telling me how to do it or creating an opportunity for me. I had to figure out each step for myself. So be prepared to build your own opportunities rather than find them.
If you wait until “later” to go for it, then you might run out of time. You don’t know what will happen to you next year or in 10 years. Be bold and start taking steps now. What is stopping you? There are so many things that typically stop people, especially women, from boldly going after what they want to achieve. Let’s talk about those ways that we self-sabotage or feel discouraged and how to overcome them.
First of all, I think self-doubt gets the best of many of us. We assume we won’t achieve our dream so we don’t even try. Or, we start trying but, when it gets hard or when we aren’t immediately successful we assume we aren’t on the right track and stop. It can be easier to fall short and never know if you’d fail than to go through failure. But failure is a necessary part of success. It’s how you learn and understand what works and what doesn’t. It’s best to assume in advance that you will fail at some point, to plan for it, and to know that you can use that failure to learn and grow. Listen - no one is going to believe in you as well as you can believe in yourself. No one understands your dream as well as you do and no one has the vision of where you want it to go except for you. You have to be prepared to be constantly convincing yourself that you can do it and that you are on track.
Bigger than trusting in yourself is trusting in God. I believe God can put ideas on our hearts. Sometimes, there are dreams we can’t let die for this reason. We have an overwhelming urge to go for them. If a calling is from God, when you practice self-doubt, you are also doubting God. You are doubting that he can carry you through the journey.
Anothing thing that often keeps us from achieving a dream is thinking it’s “too big.” Episode 13 of this podcast is called “Think big, start small.” Have you ever stopped yourself before you started because you thought your dream was just too much or too big to achieve? I have, many times. I’m not naturally a risk-taker and hate failure. But after years of working corporate jobs where I was encouraged to think big, I started to understand how to accomplish the big goals we were supposed to go after. It’s not about having your entire roadmap planned out at the beginning. It’s about starting with small, manageable steps and learning along the way. You don’t have to know how you’ll accomplish your dream in order to have one. Do you think every entrepreneur had their entire growth plan from $0 to $1 billion mapped out? No.
Combat your fear of thinking too big with a couple simple steps. The first and most important step is defining your dream well. Why do you want to pursue this dream? What does it mean to you? What do you want it to give to the world or to do for others? What does success look like to you? And then, the second thing you do is to take a single step toward it. Don’t worry about the ten steps after it. Just take the one step now. This is the least overwhelming and most achievable thing you could do. If you want to go back to college, for example, and you don’t know what all 4 years look like, or how it will fit into your life, or how you’ll afford it, so you stop yourself before you start, then you’re sabotaging yourself. All you have to do is know your “whys” - why you want to go to college – and take a single step toward it. Call the admissions office and set up an appointment to ask questions. That’s one step. Or sign up for a single online class and see how you like it. That’s another step. You can take more steps from there. But don’t ever let the enormity of your dream stop you from taking any action at all.
For years I’ve had this urge to speak to women on a bigger platform. When I had my miscarriage, I knew I had to find a way to share it with more women so that they wouldn’t feel alone when they went through things like that. I had that idea and it just wouldn’t die. But I stopped myself because I felt like I needed to know exactly how I’d do it, I needed to be successful by other people’s definitions of success, I needed to know how to turn it into a business, I needed to have the support of other people, and other lies I told myself and other forms of sabotage that I let creep in and stop me.
If you’re like me at all, perfectionism has prevented you from pursuing dreams in the past, too. Unless you know you can succeed, you don’t try at all. If you’re doing something brand new and original, though, you won’t even know for sure that you’ll succeed, at least not in the way you intend to succeed, because it’s never been done before. The perfectionist wants to know exactly how she’ll succeed and hates failure. But to succeed, you must embrace failure. Remember what I said about failure earlier. It’s necessary. It’s fact-finding. You learn by failing. Instead of worrying about how you’ll succeed, instead plan ahead for failure and know that you’ll use the lessons learned to succeed later.
I have let perfectionism prevent me from trying in college classes, prevent me from going after jobs that I thought would be too challenging, and prevent me from starting this podcast and blog for many years. I self-sabotaged instead. When it became clear that I wouldn’t have a perfect outcome, I simply gave up entirely, stopping myself short of my potential. I learned a lot about overcoming perfectionism through martial arts and fighting. No matter how good you get at a martial art - in my case it was Muay Thai and a little Jiu-Jitsu - you will never be so good that someone can’t beat you on a good day. It’s humbling to constantly be brought down a peg or two. Even if you win a fight and knock out your opponent, you’re still going to get punched in the face several times along the way. I was the most hurt in the one fight I stopped short with a knockout. I wanted to give up after round one because she was coming after me and hitting me so hard. But in between rounds, I adapted to the failure, took notice of how tired she was, drew up some reserve energy, and knocked her out in the second round, still walking away with a headache and a stiff jaw that lingered for a couple weeks. It taught me that there is no “perfect” so trying to achieve it is self-sabotage. There is only good preparation and a healthy mindset regarding failure. So set yourself up now to be well-prepared for the future and to be ready to learn when you fail.
In addition, set yourself up for rejection, knowing it isn’t personal. Rejection stops a lot of people after they’ve gotten started on their dreams. When you tell others about your dream, they might scoff at you. When you try to go public, you might get told “no.” Whether your dream is to become a long distance runner or to write children’s books, it’s easy to fear what others will think of you. This is where you have to remember a key thing: rejection isn’t personal, and is often projection. It is other people projecting their ideas of what is or isn’t possible onto you. People think things aren’t possible simply because they haven’t seen them before. But don’t you want to do something people haven’t seen before? If you’re trying to be original, expect rejection and be prepared to be the sole defender of your idea. Or people will reject you because, in their mind, they think what you’re doing has been done before. What they don’t see and can’t see until you’ve accomplished it is that your way of doing things will be unique to you. It has to be unique because we are all so different. You may want to write a book or a blog and, sure, the world is full of books and blogs, but no one will do it like you will. Yours will be original because it comes from you. Other people can’t understand it and are scared of what they don’t know. So of course they’ll be quick to reject it. Remember that it’s not personal, and it’s not always based in anything real. Remember that when people reject your idea and don’t let their false assumptions about your dream stop you.
I wanted to start a blog for years but didn’t because of tiny comments I would hear and internalize. These tiny comments weren’t even intended to be rejection, but I took them that way. I’d hear things like, “there are a million blogs so why would yours be any different” or “it’s too hard to make a name for yourself in that space – it’s so flooded.” Right now, my friend and I are discussing doing a cookbook and already someone has said “Why would anyone buy a cookbook from someone who isn’t a professional?” I heard similar things when I wanted to do a podcast. But every space is flooded now. There are 7 billion people on this planet. Does that mean everyone should just give up on their dreams? Absolutely not. I listened to those comments and took them as rejection for years until I seized a tiny moment of motivation last October and just went full-speed ahead until I had this podcast, a blog, and a website. And no, I’m not huge or famous or anything, but that’s not the point. The point is that I’m on track to doing exactly what I felt an overwhelming urge to do. So when you get rejection, practice telling yourself that you are on track, that you know you are doing the right thing, and keep plowing ahead. If a door closes, find another or build your own.
This is where it’s helpful to consider that the old advice to “never give up” isn’t always the right advice. Sometimes giving up is the best thing in order to find a new path forward. This might look like quitting a job or clearing your schedule of commitments so you can rest, get still, clear your mind, and focus on what you really want to do. I couldn’t define my dream until my mind was free of the clutter of a busy career.
I know someone who was forced to quit – she was laid off – early in the pandemic. Suddenly, the dream she thought she had, the career she thought she was passionate about, was no longer a real and present opportunity. When that door closed, she built her own. She took her massive culinary knowledge and marketing know-how from her career and started a business based in teaching people how to cook online. It is a perfect fit for her skills, her passions, and her personality, but it required giving up on her dream of pursuing her career.
So consider this: setbacks are just opportunities in disguise. When life hands you lemons, turn it into something resembling lemonade, right? When a door closes, you can take a moment to rest, get quiet, and consider what God has for you. Why did this setback happen? When you don’t get a promotion, or you get laid off, get turned down, get injured, or get sick, there is opportunity buried in your setback. There are opportunities for learning, growth, faith, or even an outlet to build a business or share with others. So, wherever you’re at, always remember to look for those opportunities or build one yourself. If quitting something will help you simplify your life to make space for the opportunity, then it might be the right thing to do. Similarly, if you’re forced to quit or to take a different path, look for the opportunity in that setback.
While we’re still kind of on the topic of rejection, it’s important to think about what isn’t rejection. Feedback and criticism are usually not rejection. I really struggle with this. There is something in me that is really defensive in the face of feedback about something I’m emotional about. Again, martial arts helped a lot here. At first, I would get close to tears when feedback indicated that my technique wasn’t right. The root of the issue for me was perfectionism and my embarrassment when others would see that I wasn’t perfect. I hated having that part of me exposed. Over time, I became less emotional and saw that all feedback was helpful and useful as I learned that I’ll never be perfect and that feedback is necessary for growth. I’m slowly learning how to adapt this to other parts of my life and I’m not great at it yet. Sometimes I don’t accept feedback because I’m afraid that, if I internalize it as rejection, as I’m prone to do, I’ll sabotage myself and stop going after my goals. So I don’t accept the feedback at all, fearing rejection. It sounds crazy - I know. That’s the emotional part of my brain, though. When I’m being more logical and reasonable, I can see that two heads are often better than one and that it’s helpful to have an outsider’s perspective on my crazy ideas. Just make sure that, when you’re accepting feedback, you are taking it from a trusted person. Not everyone’s input is valid and you don’t have to let everyone speak into your dreams.
As you are letting others speak into your dreams, you may find yourself falling into the trap of validation-seeking. Any kind of validation - positive or negative - can be a dangerous thing, if you go looking for it or become reliant on it for motivation. Motivation should come from inside of you. From your well-thought out reasoning and deep convictions. Not from anyone else’s encouragement.
People are quick to give validation once they see you are successful. But for the time you aren’t successful – at least in their eyes – you’re likely to face rejection or criticism. People can’t validate what they don’t understand or don’t see. So you have to be fully bought into your dream and move forward regardless of the absence of validation.
Finally, when you’re on your way toward your dream, you may have to redefine what success looks like. In business as in life, sometimes things don’t turn out the way you expect them to. That doesn’t mean you aren’t successful though. If you’re not successful yet, that doesn’t mean you won’t ever be. Additionally, you have to be ok with looking for success where you don’t expect it. What’s your dream? College, starting a business, running a marathon? You might think you’re running that marathon for you and for your health. And you are. What if you don’t hit your goal time though? Even if you don’t do very well, even if you finish last and half to walk most of it, you might be more successful than you know because you have created so many other positives: your kids have seen you make a goal, work hard, and persevere. Your friends have become inspired to get healthy as well. And so the marathon you barely finished becomes a conduit for change in other people’s lives. That’s also success. So remember to not limit yourself to a myopic view of what achieving your goals looks like.
I remember multiple instances at work where we were nearing the end of a contract and things weren’t going as planned because the client changed directions, we needed new resources, and so on, and we regularly had to redefine what success looked like in light of new challenges and information. This was pretty much the norm and it will happen in pursuit of your dreams as well. You should start out with an idea of what success looks like for you - this will be your vision that you can point your actions and decisions toward - but be ready to pivot and redefine it as you get new information. That’s not failure, that’s just good project planning! You can’t predict the future and you don’t know what you don’t know. So relax, know that success might look different in the end, and just do the best you can with the information you have.
So, if you’re a content person and desire to pursue your dreams and have a great opportunity that highlights your passions and your skills then please - go for it! Time waits for no one and later might be too late. If you’re overwhelmed by the idea of pursuing something new, just take a single step now and then another and another until you’re on your way. The idea of thinking big, but starting small has worked well for me and I hope it works for you, too.
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