passion vs. purpose

I caught a bit of the Being Elmo documentary while flipping through channels in a hotel room a couple weeks ago. I was basically looking for something to fall asleep to, but I became engrossed in the story of Kevin Clash’s life as the puppeteer behind the iconic Elmo.  His passion was inspiring, but I came away a bit saddened by the family element of the story. While Kevin was off entertaining the children of the world, he missed out on a lot of key moments in his own daughters life.

Today I came across Kathleen’s take on the documentary, and it got me thinking (again) about passion and creativity.

“This film made me take a step back and really evaluate what I’m already doing that sets me on fire. Not what I would love to be doing if only I had chosen a different major in college / I had started dancing when I was 5 / I had more time …”

I’ve spent a frighteningly large chunk of my twenties trying to figure out what my passion is. I suppose it started when I went off to college as an “undeclared” major. When push came to shove I chose Marketing with concentration in PR because I thought this major would give me the most job opportunities. I knew I liked writing, and I was decent at it. So I went the route of learning the AP style, and taking classes in copy editing. I’ve since thought a lot about the missed opportunity to try something more creative. Little even focused on creative writing. Our school leaned way more to the art side of liberal arts, and yet I took no design or art classes (although there was one pottery class).  I’m not a fan of regret, but it’s hard for me to look back in retrospect and not wish something had been done a bit differently.

Cut to a couple years after graduation when I became really interested in cooking. After absorbing hours of the Food Network and other cooking shows I decided this would be the trajectory that my “big career change” would take. I imagined myself as the NEW Rachel Ray. Hosting cooking shows about healthy eating and teaching people how to eat well. It was a far cry from my job in insurance, and that is what I liked about. So I enrolled in a part-time personal chef certificate program, and set about learning how to handle a professional kitchen. I had more passion about cooking than I’d really had about anything before, and I could see this passion leading to fulfilling the elusive “purpose” I’d been trying to define for myself.

Of course, life happened. The minute I completed the program and was in the position to start marketing myself as some kind of personal chef the economy tanked. I got the opportunity to take on more responsibility in the job I thought I hated, and somehow reshaped my position into a job I actually liked. The next couple years were a whirlwind. In hind site I’ve learned how much I thrive on tight deadlines, juggling multiple tasks and even pressure (whether it’s external or just from myself). I’ve realized that I’m actually pretty good at “figuring things out”, and in a company that doesn’t have a lot of structure this is a key role to play. Most importantly, I’ve become proud of what I do, but I’m not letting it define who I am.

Things have settled down at work for a bit. I’m starting to hand off more day to day tasks in preparation for my maternity leave and focus on being a better manager.  Ironically now that I actually have some time to think again, I’m working on taking a step back from the personal big picture thinking that has dominated my so-called quest for purpose. I signed up for an adult drawing class that begins in couple weeks, because even though I didn’t have basic art training in college doesn’t mean I can’t learn. I’m trying not to get distracted by the now.

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