I’ve been reading a lot lately, and it struck me the other day how much life advice we actually get in a normal week. How to get more productive, the 7 habits of very successful people, how you find your true calling, say yes to everything, learn to say no - you name it.
I’ve been reading a lot of them. Partly because I like lists (and reading lists —> aka reading cookbooks ;)), partly because something in me always goes “Oh, maybe you can learn something new! As for example how to get 8 hours of sleep and get everything done and do laundry and see friends and read and eat healthy and save money with just this magic trick that costs your 5 minutes a day.”
A lot of it focuses on passion. How to find your passion, what to do to follow your passion, is there even a passion for every one of us. This topic has always created a bit of an unsettling feeling inside of me. I think it’s because I’m interested in so many different things that sometimes seemingly contradict each other. I’m never sure what’s better - to focus or to spread out. I love tech and art and reading and knitting and feminism and cooking and Excel and numbers and writing.
I was never really sure how to reconcile all these different interests.
So I started exploring. And I came up with this:
A lot of our culture (especially in the startup world) focuses on passion. On finding your calling. Devoting your life to it. Robert Green, who wrote the book Mastery, puts it like this: “You possess a kind of inner force that seeks to guide you toward your Life’s Task - what you are meant to accomplish in the time that you have to live.”
This is exciting and super scary at once. Exciting, because apparently everyone of us has one thing that we have to find - that one passion - and then we can build our life around it. And apparently, also according to Greene, it’s never too late to start that. Sure, the road is hard, but eventually you’ll arrive at a destination.
Scary, because some of us (including me) have these nagging questions in their heads: “But… what if we don’t arrive? Or … we arrive, and then we realize that maybe the passion is boring after some time? Then it’s not the passion, right? And then, what do we do? Keep on searching? And if we don’t find anything and then we die, does that mean we failed?”
There’s been a sort of countermovement to the passion focus lately that’s centralized around these questions. For me, this started when I found Elle Luna through a friend of mine. Elle Luna is a fantastic artist who wrote a beautiful book “The Crossroads of Should and Must”. She proposes that we’re all very shaped by “shoulds” that stem from cultural norms, childhood, experience, and that tell us what we should be doing. This can, but most of the times does not coincide with what we “must” be doing. The “must” is - similar to Greene - a passion, a task that is waiting for us. Something that calls our name. Now the difference is that Elle does not propose to leave everything standing where it is right now and run for your passion, but to calmly work towards it. To trust that you will find it eventually, but that you don’t have to throw everything overboard to find it. Already sounds a lot more humane, right?
Then I came across a super interesting TED talk by Emilie Wapnick: “Why some of us don’t have one true calling”. She introduces the concept of the Multipotentialite - someone who dives deep into one interest, becomes an expert in it, gets bored and moves on to the next topic. A culture like ours that advocates finding your true passion hurts people who are multipotentialites. It makes them feel wrong, unnormal.
And then there’s Elizabeth Gilbert. The effervescent, sparkly, brilliant, Elizabeth Gilbert who was a passion-advocate for the longest time. Until she realized something that everyone of us should realize every time we read one of these articles: There are different kinds of people. There are people who do have ONE passion, who do have ONE calling, who either know it from childhood or who find it. She calls those the Jackhammers. And then there are people who don’t. People who have different interests, complex lives, a path that’s not straight. The Hummingbirds. The Hummingbirds who fly from interest to interest, from flower to flower, and create a complex network of paths and cross-pollinate the world.
On their path, Hummingbirds might find their passion. Elizabeth Gilbert’s view on this is very, very similar (in my book) to Elle Luna’s, only with one difference: Elle assumes everyone does have a “must”, a passion that will reveal itself eventually. Elizabeth doesn’t claim that. It might happen, yes, but if it doesn’t, it’s not a big deal either. And that provides comfort. A lot. It gives permission to follow the curiosity, to trust that eventually you might find a passion at the end of that twisted path - and even if you don’t, it’s okay. And that’s liberating.
Let’s be hummingbirds. Let’s be jackhammers. Let’s be whoever we think we are and if that changes let’s be whoever we are then. Let’s explore. Let’s fly.