Friday, June 22, 2012
Pick your passion
In downtown Redmond, not too far from our current digs, there's a little independent chocolate shop known as Brugge Chocolates. It's like our own local version of La Céleste Praline, all dark wood and white marble inside, filled with chocolates and candies and bottles of port. I'm particularly addicted to their dark chocolate Florentine bars, which are a divine mix of dark chocolate, almonds, orange peel, slivers of ginger, and Mysterious Ingredients of Awesome. These little bars rarely make it home, as I can't wait for the taste I crave and end up getting into the bag long before I pull into our driveway. (And yes, my dear out-of-state friends, Brugge does sell chocolates online!)
Today I stopped by for my occasional Florentine fix, and had a chance to chat with the shop's owner for a while. Curious, I asked her how she got involved in the business, and she told me a familiar tale: she was once a successful career woman at Microsoft, but she'd always had a dream of owning a confectionery shop, and the dream just wouldn't go away. When she left Microsoft, that dream at last became a real possibility. She loved chocolate but had never been formally trained, so when a Barry Callebaut Institute office opened in Chicago, she traveled there to receive the confectionery training she knew she'd need if her dream were ever going to get any traction. Then the space for the shop came open, and everything else seemed to fall into place. Now she makes and sells wonderful little edible jewels from a single storefront -- and she's managed to stay in business, even steering through the treacherous shoals of a difficult economy. The best part of learning her story was watching her as she spoke about her passion. Her eyes shone as she talked about achieving her dream -- even when she admitted that today was her "paperwork day" where she did all the accounting for the store. Even the paper-pushing aspect of the job was tolerable, because she was doing what she'd always wanted to do.
There are many former Microsofties, and other alumni of big businesses, who have similar stories of leaving a good job to follow their true passions. My uncle Bruce is another example. For years he worked as a tool and die maker in the local GM factory, just as his father had. It made very good money, but it wasn't what he really wanted to do with his life, and he was miserable. After his retirement, however, he began a very different kind of job as a local representative for a pharmaceutical company (or as Uncle Bruce prefers to say, with a big grin, "I'm runnin' drugs!"). His new job gave him the opportunity to go all over town and talk to a huge cross-section of people, and it uncovered the long-buried gregarious aspects of his personality. He discovered he really loved talking to people, something he'd rarely been able to do at the factory. Now it seems that everyone in his Indiana town knows my uncle; wherever we went with him, we'd hear choruses of "Hi, Bruce!" "Hey there, Bruce!" "Bruce! How are ya?" from every quarter. And it's obvious he loves it. If he wanted to run for public office, he'd be a shoo-in.
So if the rewards of following one's passion are so obviously manifest, why is it so common for people to be highly reticent about going after their passions?
First, there's inertia. Human nature dictates that if you're in a good enough job making good enough money and things are calm and stable, you won't make any effort to upset the balance. Why would you? That's doubly true if you have a spouse, children and a mortgage all riding on your ability to make a specific cash amount every month. The more stability there already is in your life, the less likely you are to let it go and take the risky route.
Second, there's low self-esteem and perfectionism. Many people lack confidence in their own abilities. They reason that since they're not yet perfect at what they do, they won't ever really be good enough to pursue their passion -- perhaps not stopping to consider that the only way they'll ever reach that level of skill is to engage in regular, rigorous practice. You've gotta start somewhere, and nobody starts at the top rung.
Finally, there's fear. Fear is a huge issue. While passion is a potent motivator, fear is even more effective at keeping people in their places. So many dreamers have drifted into dead-end jobs out of a simple fear that they'll lose everything, that their dreams will fail. And let's be honest: some dreams do fail. Not everyone gets to be an astronaut or a professional athlete or a Hollywood star or the President of the United States, so it's a valid concern. The question is, should you let the possibility of failure keep you from pursuing what you really want out of life?
My recently-departed cousin Phil is an example of following passion in the face of failure. He wanted to be in movies. On the advice of a single producer who told him he was good-looking enough to make it in film, he moved out to Hollywood and tried to make it big. He had some minor successes, finding bit parts on soap operas like General Hospital, but it didn't last long, and he ended up moving into real estate. But as one of his childhood friends pointed out at Phil's funeral, Phil did something most people never do. He tried. He actively pursued his passion, even though he didn't reach the heights he'd originally hoped for. He found out exactly what he could and couldn't do, what was possible for him. And in the process he discovered and honed another one of his abilities: the aptitude for kindness, for active and attentive listening to other people, for thoughtful gestures and friendship. So many people said at Phil's funeral, "I was really close to Phil," or "He was my best friend." He might not have achieved his original dream of stardom, but in the process of walking the path he discovered something more important: how to love people, one of the most critical skills human beings can learn during their brief time on earth.
I love to write. I've always wanted to be a writer. But I don't have an agent, and until recently didn't see any possibility of finding one. Sometimes I feel like a hermit, typing away here in my nifty computerized Batcave, crafting stories I think people might want to read, but with no means to reach any readers (other than through this blog). Just recently, though, I've developed a stronger desire to pursue my passion, and I can see things starting to fall into place. It's exciting -- and it's also terrifying. What if I'm really not any good as a writer? Can I live with that? Or is it time I stopped passively dreaming and started actively doing?
What's your passion? Are you pursuing it?