In my research on entrepreneurial millennials, I’ve noticed that many are highly driven but lack direction. Marie Forleo, a modern renaissance woman, remembers feeling this way in her early twenties: “I knew I was smart, I knew I was driven, I knew I was willing to work hard, but I couldn’t figure out where my place was.”
If you feel like you’re bursting with potential but have too many passions to pick from, below are four actions you can take to distill your direction and choose your purpose:
“What do I want to do with my life?” is often a non-starter; it’s too hard to decide, especially in the beginning of one’s career. An easier and also productive question is:
“What do I definitely not want to do with my life?”
Write this at the top of a piece of paper, and then actually cross off avenues that don’t appeal to you. It can be incredibly satisfying—and effective—to turn down options. When you purposefully and permanently shut doors, your career begins to feel cozy, hopeful. You start to remember what matters.
Then write: “If I don’t do this in my [twenties, thirties, etc.], I will regret it.”
Answer with the activities that you couldn’t live without. If you have multiple, that’s okay; one “calling” isn’t necessary. Marie Forleo knew that if she didn’t pursue dancing, bartending and life coaching all at once, she’d regret it. So she consciously chose all of them.
If you’re consistently doing something that’s not on your ‘I will regret it’ list, stop; you’re running out of time. You can put it on a separate ‘Lukewarm passions that I’ll realistically never get to’ list, if you want.
Sometimes if you don’t eliminate something, it eliminates you. This possibility can be so horrifying that the very thought of it stops us in our tracks.
But failure can be an excellent director. J.K. Rowling explains in her Harvard commencement speech, “failure means a stripping away of the inessential.” I applied for my PhD in English Literature at top-tier schools the year after I graduated college and didn’t get in anywhere. Only then did I realize I don’t evenlike reading those books. I began focusing on what I knew I cared about and always had: writing and psychology. Once J.K. Rowling was a single mom and dirt poor, her path became clear too:
I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and I began directing all my energy to the only work that truly mattered to me… I was set free.
Write down all the professional work you’re doing daily. As you review your list, notice what you consistently underperform at or resent. If those things don’t relate to your ‘I will regret it’ list, cross them off. You’re free! Even if one of those items is your current job, crossing it off will liberate you to find something better. You won’t abandon anything as easily as you crossed it off, but you have to start somewhere.
If you haven’t failed yet, you will—and that’s a good thing. Rowling says, “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you fail by default.” When we see failure as an inevitability and a guide, we’re no longer afraid.
Social psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi found that the most successful creative people integrate fields. He also found that creative individuals have complex personalities, bringing together “the entire range of human possibilities within themselves.”
Thus, though multiple passions can feel problematic, they’re also a gift. Marie Forleo—a life coach, motivational speaker, author, web television host and former Nike Elite Dance Athlete—admits feeling overwhelmed by too many passions in her twenties: “I knew I was smart, I knew I was driven, I knew I was willing to work hard, but I couldn’t figure out where my place was… [and] choosing one thing sounded so boring.” Ironically, her integration of all her disparate passions spawned a coveted niche and defined voice in women’s self and career development.
Here are a few ways you can begin integrating your passions today:
- Start a blog chronicling the intersection, however small, of your passions.
- Google-stalk someone who’s doing multiple things that you want to do and learn everything you can. Email him/her, express your admiration and ask for advice.
- Invent a “tagline” including all your present interests. For example, my tagline “the psychology of millennials at work” encompasses my passions for modern work, psychology research and generational issues.
As you assimilate different passions, you might notice that they had underlying similarities all along.
Does this sound familiar?
I’m not where I want to be yet, but I don’t want to be miserable until I get there, because I’m smart enough to know that when I get there my dreams are going to get bigger, so I’m setting myself up for a life of misery. – Marie Forleo on her early twenties
To make ends meet while she pursued her life coaching business on the side for seven years, Marie was simultaneously a bartender, personal assistant and dance coach. The mentality she says “saved” her was: “Whatever is happening in this moment, I’m going to approach it and attack it—whether I’m bartending or scrubbing someone’s floor.” As a result, at the end of her shifts she wasn’t “exhausted from being miserable” and could coach with more energy and confidence. Marie calls this dedication to present mastery no matter the circumstances “making is-ness your business”.
Whatever you’re doing right now, even if you want out, can be practice for your purpose—if you let it. “You have to train yourself,” Marie says: “I’m going to master this, I’m going to bring my A-game, I’m meant to be here, this is my party.” Or, as Abraham Lincoln might have said, “Whatever you are, be a good one.”
Especially when overwhelmed with options for potential career paths, we “try to think our way into an answer, rather than getting into action to try something,” Marie explains. But the most effective solution to stuck-ness is the opposite.
Instead of just musing on your passions, set goals, strike lukewarm anything, schedule actions, solve a problem. Your progress will be a combination of process of elimination, failure, resourcefulness and your choice to master everything you attempt.
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