Is Following Your Passion Wrong?

“(You can) cooperate fully, humbly and joyfully with inspiration.” I love that line which I recently read in Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear. I was listening to an NPR interview on Sunday morning in which Gilbert was sharing insights with On Being host, Krista Tippett.

What captivated me was something she said about the advice that we constantly hear, “You should follow your passion.” In Gilbert’s opinion, it’s the wrong message. Believing fully that you should follow your passion, I was sucked in and wanted to understand more. Her point was something I’ve not experienced personally, but definitely something I’ve seen with friends and clients who feel stuck.

She said that telling people to follow their passion is not the right message because it can be a very overwhelming and hard directive. People become burdened with the responsibility and essentially struggle feeling lost or inadequate when they can’t figure it out. Her suggestion was to follow your curiosity instead. It’s a kinder and gentler approach that can help people get unstuck.

In other words, without the pressure to discover your passion, you could more openly explore your curiosities. It allows you to move forward with more courage and less fear. Following your curiosity is certainly less daunting. And in a great case scenario, perhaps you discover your passion along the way. And in a good case scenario, you engage with the world around you and discover new and interesting paths on your own journey. Not a bad outcome at all. And certainly, one that is less harsh than “failing” to figure out your life’s passion.

The interview got me thinking and inspired me to get the book, Big Magic. As I’m assimilating what I’m reading, it’s clear to me that we all take different paths. And there is no right or wrong when it comes to following our dreams and pursuing our passions.

Since I’m a trainer and coach at heart, I always assimilate in a manner that makes content easy to learn and use. First for me. Then for others. I immediately came up with an acronym…as I do. I didn’t have to force it; it just popped in my head. The acronym is P.I.C.

The “P” stands for passion. The “I” stands for interests and the “C” stands for curiosity. Some of us may know clearly what our passion is and if that’s the case, that’s awesome. Others may not be as clear. For those people, it would be appropriate to follow your interests and see where that leads you. And for still others, there may be curiosity. Perhaps it’s not a full-blown interest, but it’s an area or endeavor that you’re curious to learn more about.

What if each day, we spent a little time pursuing our P.I.C.s – our passions, our interests OR our curiosities? Pretty cool things would manifest for sure. Our path would take shape and we would get the mental jolt of feeling a sense of progress and momentum. So today, I took a few minutes and outlined some ideas for a big new project that is part of a longer-term plan that I’m working on. I think about it every day, but sometimes it’s just a fleeting thought. And therein lies the danger, right?

Have you ever had an inspiration or idea that came to you? And when you first got it, you were intrigued and perhaps even excited? And then, without much discourse, it was gone. Perhaps you thought it wasn’t feasible to pursue, perhaps you were too busy to give it attention or there were other stumbling blocks that caused you to deflect the idea. Or perhaps you simply let it lay dormant until further inspiration struck.

According to Gilbert’s theory, ideas are living, breathing entities which are looking for hosts to partner with. And if you don’t pay ample attention to them, they will gladly move on to another host who is more hospitable and welcoming. Ever seen one of the fleeting ideas that you discarded pop up in full bloom from the efforts of someone else?

According to Gilbert, there are too many ideas to engage with fully. Nor should you feel obliged to. My mind goes to an image of a networking event or party…lots of people and ideas mingling. You may run into a bunch of ideas, but not all of them are ones you are interested in having a conversation with. It doesn’t mean you can’t smile and wish them well. It’s just not a good match for you. Carry on.

But perhaps you’re curious. In that case, you may want to linger and begin a conversation, so to speak, with an idea.

I’m a big fan of intuition and by cultivating yours, I think you are able to be more present to see and be open to new ideas…and to new possibilities. Intuition will help guide you to the right choices.

Being mindful and aware will also help you recognize the ideas that you should give attention to. And by giving them attention, you can decide your next steps. It all ties into following your curiosities, interests and passions. I haven’t finished the book yet, but my guess is that is exactly what leads you to “Big Magic.”

So if you’re starting on a new project, wanting to manifest some different energy, or searching for your life purpose; perhaps you can take this approach. Give space to the ideas and inspirations that come to you. Allow them to marinate with you long enough to see if they resonate, and if they don’t, release them with gratitude to find a more enthusiastic host.

When you catch an idea that you want to hold onto; your next step is to give it some legs to get a footing. Start by spending some time on it consistently, each day. It can be just a few minutes if that is what you have. Or you may find yourself diving deeply into your next big adventure with more gusto. Either approach is fine. The important thing here is to create your own momentum. At that point, the ball is rolling.