A few weeks ago I went to a class through Emory Continuing Education on reinventing yourself. The instructor was Claire Cook, author of “Must Love Dogs.” Claire wrote her first novel at 45. Now, 16 years later, in addition to writing fiction, she also writes and speaks about reinvention and aging. Early in her presentation she looked around the double-sized classroom and said that most likely 50% of us know exactly what we are passionate about but need help achieving our dreams; the other 50% most likely have absolutely no idea what would make us happy. I guess it comes as no surprise that I’m in the latter group.
So how do I figure out what I’m passionate about? That feels like a daunting task. Clearly I’m not alone in feeling this way. A fellow classmate shared with me an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert she had seen recently on the Oprah Channel. Gilbert, the author of the memoir “Eat, Pray, Love,” related a time when she had given a speech. Afterwards she received an angry email from an attendee whose complaint was, “Thanks a lot Elizabeth….you talked about the importance of following your passion. Well, I have no idea what I’m passionate about so now I’m thoroughly depressed!” Amen.
So what can us aimless seekers do? First off, “passion” is way too big a word. Gilbert suggests paying attention to what arouses one’s curiosity. Curiosity is a more normal-sized word with a lot less pressure! Cook says to start paying attention to everything and anything – big or small – that excites us; to try new things; to get out of our comfort zone; to explore. But then to jump in and start doing.
I’ve begun by doing two things. First, I’ve started inviting people who interest me for coffee. I try not to get too analytical about why they interest me. So far I’ve met with a co-worker’s mom who is an expert on communication as I’d like to become a really good listener. The other person is a respected co-worker who has started working with a coach to help her be more effective at work and to help her articulate what her own career goals are. I thoroughly enjoyed my conversations with both these women and can’t wait until the next one.
The other thing I’ve started doing is this blog. What has surprised me most is that I find I now refer to myself as a “writer” with no sense of false airs. (And believe me, I have a strong inner truth-meter when it comes to how I see myself!) I hadn’t quite realized before now how much I wanted to be a writer; it just seemed so out of reach. Which doesn’t mean that writing will be a part of whatever I do next professionally, though I hope so.
Everyday I work on being okay with not knowing what I’ll be doing next. My trainer tells me that all that matters is the next step….the one right in front of you. If you make each step count, follow what excites you or are curious about, it will eventually lead you where you need to go. So I work on having faith and not panicking. I don’t know what my “Oz” is, but making each step count is helping me feel more awake than I ever have before.