Discovering your passion, and rediscovering your passion, is a lifelong pursuit
I’m proud to be a Gen Xer. My generation got a lot right, while mostly being left on our own. But there’s one thing we got really wrong, and we created a culture monster in the process.
More on that below. First, I want to share a story about rediscovering the reason that you love something.
I’m one of the lucky ones
I’ve been a writer all my life. I remember writing stories as early as eight years old. I wrote in high school. In college. Then took a few years off to work a job, start a family, own a home. I picked it up again for real in my early 30s, though I never really stopped.
Articles, poems, short stories, novels, and even plays have come from my pen. I’ve won contests and been published in a variety of places. I’ve blogged poetry and fiction as well. It’s just something I do.
When I published my first novel in 2012, my boss at the time said, “I admire that you know what your passion is. I hope one day to discover mine.”
What he didn’t know was that a few months earlier, I had nearly quit writing altogether.
I admire that you know what your passion is. I hope one day to discover mine.A prior boss
Why I almost quit writing
When I almost quit writing, I had already finished five novel manuscripts. Semper was the fifth, and I was (and still am) proud of it. While the first four would stay buried in my file system, I knew that Semper was good enough to be published.
That was in 2011, when the publishing world was facing an existential crisis and changing dramatically. As a whole, the publishing industry began treating aspiring novelists with disdain. The message to writers was, “You will get rejected, you will be grateful for rejection, and if you are lucky enough to get plucked from the slush pile, then you will get paid next to nothing, it will take two years to reach shelves, and you will be responsible for all the marketing and publicity… and if your book doesn’t sell out in six months you will probably never get a second chance.”
This was not the version of becoming a published author I’d always dreamed of. The reward for all that work was disrespect, and more work. Had the industry changed so much, or had my dream been based in a fantasy that had never really existed?
It didn’t really matter.
For many aspiring novelists, the dreams we had been chasing for decades were blowing up in front of us. You work for years on a book, then you’re faced with the Sisyphean reality that very likely, you will never get the rock to the top of the hill.
So, I was ready to quit.
The “why” of a passion—understanding what truly matters
Spoiler alert: I didn’t quit.
I spent weeks trying to understand myself. What truly motivated me to write five novels? If only a handful of people ever read Semper, would that be okay? Semper was planned to be the first in a trilogy… did I want to spend years writing the sequels? What reward would I get for all that work?
That last question proved to be the most important one.
I had been focused on all the wrong rewards, and that disconnect had driven me into disillusionment and resentment. Being so wrapped up in one version of a dream had kept me from seeing other possibilities.
Being so wrapped up in one version of a dream had kept me from seeing other possibilities.
So, instead of quitting, I decided to self-publish even though some people try to paint self-publishing as the last resort for bad writers. It’s not. And, I don’t regret my decision in the least.
Today, I’m still happy with that decision, though to be honest I’d love to have more readers. That’s why all this week (August 1 through August 5, 2022), the entire trilogy of Semper, Forsada, and Freda is free to download for Kindle.
Download them. Tell everyone you know. If you read any of them, please post a Goodreads or Amazon rating. It would mean the world to me.
Discovering your passion may be a surprising journey
As I said, I’m one of the lucky ones. I found a creative passion early on in life, and it’s stayed important to me all along. It’s taken various forms (like this blog post), but it’s always there.
I think my old boss had also found his passion, but he just didn’t see it as such. He was an amazing manager and great friend. I think his passion was taking care of people.
The key to discovering your own passion is twofold:
- Know yourself, and
- Try a bunch of things.
The trick a lot of people don’t understand, is that you have to keep doing those two things over and over again your entire life. As circumstances change, as you go through the seasons of your life, as you learn and grow, you need to keep understanding and re-understanding yourself. And keep trying things.
It’s the difference between discovering your passion, and following your passion.
And with that, we come to my complaint about Gen X.
How my generation failed as parents
For a long time I approved of the “participation trophy” culture—giving kids an award just for showing up. I still think that’s important for kids in many recreational settings—participation should matter… especially if you’re bad at a thing but you enjoy it and always try your best.
But when you combine it with the other two sins of Gen X parenting, the result is an entire generation of 18-year-olds graduating high school with a diploma and a built-in full-blown midlife crisis they don’t have the tools to understand or overcome.
You can’t follow something that doesn’t exist
We Gen Xers are famous for talking about being latchkey kids, getting kicked out after breakfast and told to “come in by dinnertime.” We were the first full generation where our parents were probably divorced or both working.
We wear our independence not just as a badge of honor, but like it’s our entire uniform. We can do anything. We can be anything we want.
When we became parents, we naturally wanted our kids to grow up with the same sense of independence, freedom, and personal power. So we taught them three things:
- You can be anything you want to be
- You get credit for showing up
- You must follow your passion
The result: A kid who feels like a failure because they think they must follow their passion, but they have no idea what their passion is.
They’ve been so over-scheduled and over-protected and over-rewarded, and they’re so young that they haven’t had a chance to do the two things necessary to discover their passion.
One final thought on the lifelong pursuit of discovering your passion.
Too often, we equate a person’s passion with their identity. I identified as a writer. Unfortunately, the identity I imagined didn’t fit with my identity as a person, and that led to a disconnect which led to negative feelings and resentment.
In reality, writing is a passion, a vocation, a pursuit, an activity… but not an identity.
In order to continue to find joy and fulfillment in life, sometimes we need to be able to let go of old identities and ideas about ourselves that no longer fit with who we really are. That constant pursuit of self-awareness is never complete because things change around us. We change. That’s the nature of life.
Where are you headed next?
I’m still writing, still creating. I’ve added video to my storytelling. I’m writing more poetry. Much of what I’m writing is actually this blog, coupling two of my passions—writing, and empowering people.
I’d love to hear what passions you’ve pursued in your life. Are there any that have lasted your whole life (so far)? Are you on your way to discovering something new? Share in the comments or drop me an email. I would love to hear from you!