“Get out there and do it” and “Follow your passion” are among the most asinine pieces of advice you’ll ever receive.
They’re cheap like a $10 hooker, and as they’re everywhere online, they’re just as infectious.
I’m no fan of clichéd clap-trap, and neither am I a fan of the way these tropes make people feel they’re missing something, lacking something or getting something wrong.
What the “follow your passion” brigade neglect to mention is how often you doubt what you want rather than having confidence in it, or how you wonder if you’re wanting the right thing at all. They don’t talk about how hard it is to go after what you want, how easy it is to compare yourself with people who are further along than you or just how much you might suck at it at first. And they certainly don’t talk about how others can stand in your way and discourage you, or how your own thoughts can be your worst enemy.
What I am a fan of, and always will be, is calling it like it is. Even if that might not end up with a snappy line you can put on a t-shirt or onto an image of a mountain at sunrise to stick on your Facebook wall.
In that spirit then, here are a handful of pointers that will help you to trust and have confidence in what you want.
1. It’s not just one thing
I want to make a tangible difference to people. I want to laugh until I pee. I want to spend more time in Portland, Oregon. I want to get my novel published. And I want all of the mind-blowing sex.
While it helps to focus on one thing at a time or risk spreading yourself too thin, the notion that your “passion” is one thing that will bring everything into focus is bullshit.
It’s okay to want more than one thing, and it’s okay if your passion evolves from one thing into something else. That doesn’t mean you’re flakey and it doesn’t mean you don’t know what you want. It simply means you’re learning.
Takeaway: It’s okay to want more than one thing. The trick is in prioritising and then trusting your choices.
2. It’s not a magic eraser
Read enough of those chest-pumping, high-fiving, ego-inflating articles about following your passion and you might think that it’s a route to magically solve all the problems in your life.
It’s true that when you align your life around what matters to you it’s easier to let the things that don’t matter fall away, but that doesn’t always equal everything being sugar-coated, peachy-wonderfulness.
If you’re haemorrhaging cash, starting a new business is unlikely to stop the flow. If you have an issue in your relationship that you’ve been avoiding, becoming a digital nomad is unlikely to solve it. And if you have a health issue that’s proving challenging, that challenge will remain whether you write that novel or not.
Takeaway: Conflating going after what you want with erasing the problems in your life is fantasy. Always own the reality of how things are.
3. Scale is irrelevant
When you start to look at what you want, and how you want it, it’s tempting to go big. It’s got to be all or nothing, you tell yourself. If you don’t do it all, why bother at all? And if what you want isn’t going to make waves, surely there’s a bigger rock out there that will?
The “make epic shit” brigade will have you believe that if you’re not going after something huge, life-changing, culture-shifting or earth-shattering, that you’re not doing it right. That you’re selling yourself short, or playing it safe. They’ll tell you stories about how they’re travelling the world on a bread board or forming a collective dedicated to helping everyone make six figures inside a month, but you don’t have to get hooked or diverted by those stories.
What you want can be as gentle as breath on your neck and as warming as the sun on your face.
It doesn’t have to change everything, but it should always enrich or nourish something.
Takeaway: Purpose is as much about texture as it is impact.
4. It can’t be outside-in
We’re living in an age of cheap inspiration.
It takes zero effort to read something on Facebook and share it with the comment, “So inspiring…”. And it takes little effort to regurgitate memes and themes on article hubs that aim to distract just long enough to turn into a marketing lead rather than actually change thinking or behaviour.
Cynical? Maybe. But there’s no denying that so much of what we think we want comes to us courtesy of everything around us, and it’s those inputs that lead us toward phantom wants such as status, validation and recognition.
Want and desire don’t happen outside-in, not if you want them around for the long-term and certainly not if you want to have any confidence in them.
Takeaway: Figuring out what you want isn’t always easy. That doesn’t mean it’s any less necessary.
5. It may well make you doubt everything
Knowing what you want and then bringing it about is, in some measure, a disruptive process.
It’s moving from one thing into another, and any change brings with it resistance. It’s entirely natural and completely expected.
If you’re not watching, that resistance leads to things like self-doubt and second-guessing. It can create gulfs and even crises of self-confidence, and it can feel like everything in you is urging you to turn back, toward safety.
It’s not ideal how discomfort and resistance get to trump want and desire, and while that’s simply how we’re wired, it doesn’t mean we’re slaves to it.
Resistance and doubt don’t mean you’re on the wrong course, they’re simply indications that you need to trust more in what you want to guide you through.
Takeaway: Feeling doubt and resistance doesn’t preclude having confidence in what you want.
Having confidence and trust in what you want happens at a deep level, with all kinds of stuff getting involved (neurotransmitters, friends, physiology, family, etc).
It’s a quiet core that can persist and fuel even in the middle of turmoil.
Confidence is a turmoil-whisperer.
(Wanna stick that on a t-shirt?)