It took more than three decades, but I’ve finally found my passion. For most of that time I hadn’t even known it was missing.
For much of my twenties I had no idea what my passion was. Actually to be honest I didn’t have much of an idea about what passion was full stop. I wasn’t particularly excited about anything in life – my career, my relationship, my future direction. Even my travels often felt more like going through the motions than anything else.
From the outside I seemed to have a great life – working for a top finance company in different parts of the world, a long term girlfriend, travelling to dozens of countries – and yet on the inside was a big gaping hole. I had no idea what was missing, but something certainly was.
Ironically it took the breakup of that relationship for me to figure out what I needed to fill the hole with. Passion. I had to stop existing and start living. To start with, and to help numb the pain of having my entire world suddenly turned upside down, I turned to exercise. Walking, jogging, running, the pain in my legs serving mainly to dull the pain in my heart.
As the emotional hurt subsided, however, I found that the running continued. In fact, if anything it became an even bigger part of my life. 5km became 10 … and then 15. I was doing it more often too, and felt unhappy if I couldn’t pound the pavement for a few days. I couldn’t find words to describe how I felt, or why I was happy to drag myself out into a cold wet night to run for an hour or more. The word I was looking for was passion, but without a frame of reference to compare it to I didn’t even recognise the feeling.
In the meantime I’d changed countries yet again, returning home to New Zealand in the search for happiness. With newfound desire in one area of my life, I found it in others as well. A new relationship came and went, burning bright and ultimately flaming out with an emotional intensity I’d never felt before. I made new friends, lived in the city bars, explored parts of my homeland that I’d never seen before. Throwing myself hard at the world, I was determined to make life in Christchurch work for me in a way it never had previously.
Sadly I failed. The zest that I now felt for life wasn’t being reflected in my surroundings and try as I might, I just couldn’t find people that shared my world view. At a point where many of the people I knew were settling down, buying a house, starting a family and beginning the long comfortable cruise to retirement, all I wanted to do was break free and live. In the words of Mark Twain, “Explore. Dream. Discover.” I realised at that point that it’s incredibly difficult to sustain a passion alone. It was again time to move on.
With no job lined up, I had a clean slate to travel for an extended period rather than just days or weeks. And so travel I did, wandering round the globe for a little under five months and reawakening the wanderlust that had been quietly suppressed for a few years. I also did something that seemed totally innocuous at the time but has turned out to be one of the most important decisions I’ve made in the last decade. I started writing.
My little travel blog was just for friends and family at that point, mainly because I was too lazy to write to everyone individually and I hate sending bulk emails even more than I hate receiving them. When I found myself regularly making time to put metaphorical pen to paper instead of sightsee, hunting out dodgy wifi connections instead of having my 200th beer of the morning, I should have realised that perhaps there was more to this blogging thing for me than just being an online travel diary. I didn’t though, and with the end of the trip came the end of the blog.
Fast forward 18 months and although I was loving my new home of Melbourne, that familiar sense of dissatisfaction was rearing its ugly head once more. My job sucked, life was kinda static and my passion was being slowly sucked out of me as a result. I took a bit of time to evaluate what mattered, and realised that there were two interrelated things that always made me feel happy and inspired. Travel and the freedom associated with it regularly lifted my mood, and sharing those experiences with others helped fill a need to give a little back to the world (or maybe a need for external validation, one or the other). I started doing a bit of writing for travel sites, then started my own, and the rest is history.
After the most amazing year of my life in 2010, returning to other people’s idea of normality was always going to be hard. I still love Melbourne, my friends, my family, but when it comes to how I spend my days and my life things have irreversibly changed. I started a new contract last week that will take me through to the end of the year. It pays well, the company is a household name, it’s a more senior role than anything I’ve had before, I’ve met some good people there already. It should be a great job, and it might even turn out to be.
But it doesn’t inspire me. It’s just not my passion.
When I wake up in the middle of the night with my brain racing, it’s not the job that I’m thinking about (even though it probably should be). It’s an idea for my next post. It’s the fun chat I had with a fellow traveller. It’s a funny or insightful comment that someone left on this blog. I get ridiculously excited about the tiny amount of income that this site generates, even though I’ll make much more in a week in the office than I’ve ever made from this blog. I suspect that’s telling me something.
Funding my life solely from this passion will never be easy. It may not even be possible. Writing of any sort is notoriously difficult to make more than beer money from. The easy option, at least financially, would be to revert to being a wage slave and try to fit my happiness around it. The thing is that I’ve been there and done that, and although it’s kinda worked for me in the past it’s not going to in the future. I want ridiculous amounts of happiness to be the default, not just slotted in between longer bouts of mediocrity. So despite any real evidence that it’ll be sustainable, I’m intending that this contract will be one of my last corporate gigs. Maybe even the very last.
It’s pretty much guaranteed that I’ll make a lot less money than I otherwise would. That’s not going to be easy or fun, but neither would spending the next thirty years in a cubicle. If I have to choose between physical riches or emotional ones, I’ll take the latter every time. When it comes to money, poor and happy vs rich and miserable may be the choice I have to make in the name of following my passions.
If what that ultimately gives me is freedom then you know what? I’m just fine with that.
Am I deluding myself? Do you feel the same way, or entirely different? Thoughts?
[Passion image courtesy of Juliana Coutinho, suit and tie image courtesy of tsmall]