I truly believe that when people are true to themselves and have the freedom to pursue what they are passionate about the world becomes a better place.
Catherine of Siena said "Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire". I love this quote because it speaks truth into the notion that when we are being our truest selves, our most switched on to the things that make us come alive, we are giving the world our best. When we thrive, the world thrives. What we need is more people doing work and life in a more whole-hearted way.
I love nothing more than meeting people who have identified their passion, the thing that makes their soul bubble up and are making space for that in their life - these people are contagious and often seem to have a deep contentment. This is not to say that your passion should become your full-time job or that following your passion is easy. It isn't. Sometimes pursuing our passion takes grit, bravery and patience but there is an understanding deep within us that what we are doing matters, sets us alight and makes us a bit more whole.
I think this can be especially hard once you become a parent. The responsibilities of life can take over and it can be hard to feel like you really know yourself anymore. Sometimes life can be all routine, all expectations and can veer us away from the important pursuit of the things that spark us. There's a temptation to accept that life really is about duty, and that finding and following your passion is only for the few - but I disagree. We can all find something that puts fire in our belly, whatever the season of life we are in.
Below are five simple tips for finding and following your passion that I hope will give you some clarity and motivation to go after the work, the cause, the skill or whatever it is that makes you come alive.
1) RECOGNISE THAT PASSIONS CHANGE AS WE CHANGE + THAT'S OK.
It would be crazy to think that you should still be passionate about the things you were passionate about when you were 18 or even 28. We are constantly being shaped and moulded by our circumstances and we need to give ourselves permission to evolve. Sometimes we can get stuck doing things out of duty or because we always have, but there should always be room for change, development and experimentation. When I was in my 20's I was really passionate about music and song-writing and for a time I really enjoyed pursuing that. But my life has changed in various ways and that season naturally passed (a copy of my EP came in a donation box to my mother-in-laws charity shop last year so... yeah, that season has passed!). What I've found is that there will often be umbrellas to our passions - so for me I can see that it's writing and creativity. What used to be a desire and drive to write my ideas and points of view into songs sees me now writing those into articles, resources and blog posts. It's the same passion - just evolving as I evolve which is only natural.
What are some of the things you used to be passionate about but have maybe fizzled out? Are you still giving them your energy? Is there a way you can give yourself permission to close that chapter? What can you see as the umbrella or theme that lies over the things that make you come alive?
+ IDENTIFY WHAT GIVES YOU ENERGY.
Do you remember the last time you felt like you were right in your sweet spot? Or a time when you were really compelled by something and couldn't stop thinking about it? A cause? An activity? Is there a responsibility you took on that surprised you by how much you enjoyed it? There are certain moments in our life that can bring real clarity to where our passion lies. Sometimes it can be clouded by the all the 'but's' and the reasons why pursuing something would be silly or too lofty or a total change in direction. We can rationalise ourselves out of anything, but the inspiration that makes your soul sing will still be there, stirring you and making you uncomfortable until you move in its direction. I realised a few years ago that I get a lot of energy from being around creative people. I'm not a practically creative person (in fact, I really tried to be crafty but I've resigned to the fact that I'm just not), but I love to be around other women especially who love to make, write, style and honour their creative side. It was something that I was lacking in my life in my job as an activist and so I decided to start Assembly Gatherings as a way to foster that passion. What about people you look up to? Can you think of someone whose work you really admire and wish you could be a part of? What inspires you about that person or their work? Sometimes we need to identify the last time we felt energised by someone or something and try to distill it down and find out why it made us feel that way. What was the common denominator that brought that energy out in you?
What was it about a particular situation, task, person, activity or group of people that gave you energy? Was it the conversation, the community, the doing, the learning? If you could attempt to do anything in life, knowing there was no academic, financial or situation barriers, what would it be?
+ TALK YOUR PASSIONS THROUGH WITH YOUR SAFE PEOPLE.
There are some people in life that just don't want us to change or dare I say it, thrive. There are people that struggle to watch other people flourish or be passionate about something for whatever reason. Right off the bat, I would say it's important to identify these people in your life and try not to take on their stuff. Those attitudes and behaviours are about them and them alone. They may be relatives, friends or colleagues who just don't 'get' it. What I have found is that when it comes to finding and following your passion, it's really important to find your safe people - the ones that you can share your ideas, goals and aspirations with. These are people who cheer you on, gently ask you tough questions but are ultimately on your side - without agenda, jealousy or cynicism. When you have something bubbling up inside you, it's so important to let this stuff air out amongst your safe people and glean encouragement from them. There is nothing self-serving or egotistical about going to your safe people to validate your desires or passions - in fact, it's a really healthy way to exercise vulnerability and be nurtured. It might just be your partner or your best friend, it doesn't have to be a formal focus group or a wide-spread variety of friends. I have my husband, three best friends and a couple of similarly minded creative women that I talk to about my writing and creative pursuits. They don't have to fully understand or be an active part of things but they can cheer you on, ask questions and be the accountability catalyst you need to put your ideas into action.
Who are your safe people? Whose voice or opinions really matter to you? Who can you email, text or chat with about the stuff you are passionate about? Who are the people you need to set your sharing boundaries with? When was the last time you shared your hearts desires or pursuits with someone safe?
+ TAKE SMALL STEPS.
Sometimes finding out what you are passionate about can be a season of trial and error. Sometimes it's about going with your gut, pushing a door and seeing where it leads you. There is no magic formula to finding it but often just a willingness to take the next step. When I got interested in human trafficking I was 22 and living in London. I was working for a charity that was setting up a campaign about the issue and I asked if I could volunteer to help. I started by organising a University Tour for the team to go around and raise awareness - we're talking spread sheets, booking travel, liaising with Student's Unions. It's a far cry from the more in-depth prevention work I'm doing today but it gave me a taste of being part of something bigger and over time, my heart kept coming back to it. There are all kinds of clubs, groups, team, charities and causes both in your local community and online that can give you a glimpse into whatever it is you are keen to explore. Sometimes it takes a bit of investigation to see what is happening around you or to find something you can connect into but making that small step is so worth it. Experiment a bit and don't think of it as wasted time - in fact, try not to factor time into it at all. Maybe you can't find anything relevant to connect in with and you need to start something from scratch? Start small - set up a facebook group, a twitter account or ask around for other interested people. Every small step in any considered direction will help you to know whether something is really for you or not. There are no prizes for whoever can find their passion and start doing it in the fastest time.
What small step can you make to pursue something you've been thinking about? What investigating do you need to do around your subject/issue/activity of interest?
+ EMBRACE THE FEAR.
Everything you can think of is going to try and distract and divert you from pursuing what you are passionate about. You will convince yourself of all kinds of reasons not to look into something or that you aren't enough in some way. Fear lurks around us in the most obvious and subtle ways. I wrote about it more here a few years ago. The truth is that if we can harness our fear, we can begin to unpack what's behind it. Is what you are wanting to do actually dangerous? ("Why yes Mel, my passion is walking across hot coals!" In that case - your fear may be legit and your body is telling you to chill...) What would be the worst case scenario? ("People might think I'm not good enough. I might end up giving up after a while and look like a quitter. I don't think I'm ready.")
Mark Twain wrote that "courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear". Isn't that the truth? If we can embrace it, call it out and choose courage in the midst of it, we could find ourselves stepping into some life-giving places. Sometimes we just need to name the reason behind our fear and you'll find it dissipate a bit - shedding light on those dark places give them less power.
Can you name your fear and begin to choose courage? When was the last time you did something brave that you never thought you could do? How did it feel? Imagine yourself doing the thing that you really have a passion for and totally bossing it. Try to create new pathways for your mind to go down instead of the rhetoric that binds you up.
I hope some of this has landed in your soul today and gives you a gentle nudge to go after something you really desire or feel passionately about. I would love to hear from you if this resonates and you want to talk it through more. Leave me a comment here or on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram and let's help each other to come alive that little bit more.
P.S. If you are looking for some creative community in Northern Ireland and fancy coming along to the next Assembly Gathering on the 10th of June, there are a few tickets left and it would be awesome to have you there. Click here for more info!