I was having a conversation with a friend over a G&T at the weekend about the much bandied around phrase follow your passion.
It got me thinking as this phrase suggests:
(1) everybody has a passion, a passion being something you are excitedly drawn towards to the exclusion of everything else, and
(2) that you are led by it, again, perhaps to the exclusion of everything else.
I do not not believe in passion nor would I discourage a person from following their passion. If you have a dream, go for it! Aim for the bigger life. Take a risk. I heartily believe that if you enjoy doing something you will be better at it and have greater success.
But, having not fully explored that passion to date, can we all succumb to wild abandon at the drop of a hat? Can we all up sticks to become a diving instructor in a sunny climate, be the next Tracey Emin or start our careers over from scratch starting tomorrow? Some people can, yes, and I applaud them for it but for many it is not so simple. Not to overlook the fact that it does seem to me to be a somewhat romantic notion and one that needs to be tempered with a good pinch of realism. For people who’ve taken on a mortgage or have dependents or similar it is similarly not perhaps practicable to start from scratch and retrain. As with most things, life gets in the way.
After much deliberation and another round of G&Ts (I heartily recommend an elderflower tonic to mix things up a little), we concluded that it would be far more accurate to adhere to the rather long-winded mantra ‘enjoy doing that thing that I quite like doing because the bills won’t pay themselves and I probably couldn’t tell you what my passion is if you asked me anyway.’ But maybe that’s what you get when you stick two lawyers together.
I admit that I don’t have a sole passion (and perhaps this is why I hold this point of view). I’m no artist or musician. I don’t have an uncommon flair for gardening or cooking or, in fact, anything else. I appreciate art, like listening to music, potter in the garden and can do a nice meal for friends. I think this is the same for a lot of people.
Does that mean I have an unfulfilled life? No. I enjoy the things I do, enjoy improving and learning new skills. I like trying out a new recipe but am I going to quit my job and retrain, as a chef? No. Just like law isn’t Ally MacBeal, cooking isn’t Jamie Oliver or Deliciously Ella, and I don’t think we should be lured into thinking it is.
Also, be wary of the trap that just because something is a passion it does not mean that it’s not hard work. For example, running a restaurant by the sea is a fantastic vocation but it is also an around the clock job. I remember when I worked in a restaurant, the chefs worked the longest and hardest of everyone. Passion requires patience, dedication and commitment. Who placed the orders with the suppliers? Hires the staff? Prepares the budgets? Arranges laundry? Rents the property? Balances the books and so on. Are these actually things that have been thought through?
A couple of years ago I attended a lecture at Escape The City in London which is a community which does what it says on the tin. It helps you hatch plans to trade in a corporate life for something else.
The event was centred around the theme of this blog post and I wish I could remember the name of the wonderful speaker because she was brilliant. The venue was packed. Standing room only. And the crux of the lecture? How do you follow your passion without giving up your current job entirely.
The answer? The magical answer. Small steps.
Let’s run with the cooking analogy. You think you would like to do something in food, let’s say you want to run a bakery.
Following the advice you start small. Read baking blogs to research recipes, attend food lectures, go to a food fair, bake at home, follow bakers on Instagram, seek out people who you would like to emulate and ask them questions i.e. do something small in keeping with your interest. Then gradually build on it.
You are not jumping in feet first but something is better than nothing and each step is a step in the right direction.
Once you have built on these building blocks then you can build on them further. Is there somewhere you want to travel to to learn about a particular cuisine? Can you work four days instead of five and use that extra day to make a bigger commitment to your dream? Are your hours flexible during the day? Then you could have a full day or time in the morning or afternoon to test and bake or go to a course. Start baking in the Friday for family then friends who are having events at the weekend. Then when you’ve got some pictures, content and feedback, build a website or start a blog or advertise.
I like this theory. It’s constructive and achievable. It also isn’t an all or nothing. As time goes on you can scale back one as you building the other.
One of my favourite examples of this is Johnny, to whom I affectionately refer as The Pudding Van Man. I don’t know him very well but I talk to him when buying his delicious cakes. He worked in a corporate environment (I barraged the poor man with questions one day). He applied for and got a place on The Great British Bake Off Season One. He didn’t win but got to about halfway through the series. Afterwards he bought a tiny van with a hatch on the back which he set up outside of St Albans station each weeknight to sell his wares; near to bursting custard doughnuts, bakewell tart, treacle tart, brownies and pecan pie. A couple of years ago he opened The Pudding Stop in St Albans. This year he’s extending his lease. Amazing. If you are in the area, go!
So do the things you like with all the dedication and enthusiasm you can muster and be passionate about those steps you are taking. Fling yourself into them and work hard to the best of your ability but don’t feel bad about it if it’s not the be all and end all. Passion is a good servant but may be a bad master. Follow it, but don’t be led.
Here’s one of my favourite quotes and I think Roald Dahl said it one hundred times better than I ever could: