I’m a curious person. I love things that make me go, “Hmmmm, that’s interesting…” And I love how digging into them often opens up all new avenues for me to pursue. I love the playfulness, the possibility that curiosity brings. Yet I often find myself writing off my curiosity as a fun but, ultimately, useless thing. I push aside my curiosity in the pursuit of something I am told is far more meaningful: passion.
For a long time, I’ve felt an overwhelming pressure (both internally and externally) to “follow my passion” in life. Far from being the rewarding and exciting adventure it is often billed as, however, it feels more like an impossible and thankless task, one that I would even describe emotionally crippling.
The time and energy I have spent looking for my passion, reading about it, filling out worksheets to try to capture it has left me feeling exhausted and desperate. It always feels just out of reach, something I could grasp if only I kept at it, approaching it from different angles, like a buttery kernel of popcorn that has slipped between the cushions.
Enter: Elizabeth Gilbert
A couple of days ago, a friend shared a video with me that freed my mind from the pursuit of passion. In the video, Elizabeth Gilbert, a human who I admire more all the time, describes it like this:
You spend a lot of your life having people tell you to follow your passion. It’s nice advice, it’s heart-warming advice, it’s great advice — if you happen to have one that is very clear and obvious.
Sometimes it feels cruel and all it does is make you feel even worse and more left out, because you’re like, ‘I would if I knew what it was.’
If you’re in that position right now… forget about passion.
Follow your curiosity. It might lead you to your passion or it might not. You might get nothing out of it at all except a beautiful, long life where all you did was follow your gorgeous curiosity. And that should be enough too.
As I processed this idea (in the shower, where all the good thinking happens), I felt an analogy that made the whole thing really click for me and helped me let go of this desperation I have to find my passion.
Disney princesses are told that there is a prince who will come, sweep them off their feet and make their life worth living. He could appear anywhere at any time, but when they see him, no matter the circumstance, they will just know. Their eyes will lock, their hearts will sync and they will be one and the same being from that moment on, living happily ever after in bubble of uncontrollable happiness.
When people talk about following your passion, they use imagery like this too.
Just as the Prince Charming myth leads us to ignore every other person along the way who isn’t “The One,” the passion myth makes us ignore our curiosity. Instead of being happy playing the field – having flings, sleeping around, dating the bad boy, snogging a stranger in a shitty pub – we sit in a corner waiting for this knight in shining armor to come and find us. Or even worse, we go desperately looking for him in everyone we see (that’ll be the option I went for).
I am exceedingly guilty of trying to shoehorn my curiosity into a passion. I find something interesting and I tell myself that this must be the one! The thing I’ve been waiting for! The thing I am supposed to do with my life. Finally!
It usually lasts about a week.
Letting go of passion and the idea that it will make you whole is as exhilarating as that lightbulb moment you have after a breakup when you realise you are free to do whatever you want, with whoever you want, for as long as you want.
There’s freedom in that moment. And that freedom sounds far more interesting than spending the rest of my life looking for something perfect – especially when the imperfect things make for far better stories.