You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
—Mary Oliver

How do you feel when you read the words—

“Just follow your passion!”
“Find your one true purpose!”
“Discover your one big why!”

You may feel excited and hopeful like maybe the answer is waiting for you. But, if you’re like a lot of my clients, you’re likely to feel a bit stressed out. Maybe you’ve been unhappy at work for a while, and you’re telling yourself that you’ve got to finally get it right this time. Or you worry there’s something wrong with you because you don’t feel all the passion people say you should. Or you fear you’ll never find your true purpose.

If the phrases above make you nervous, I invite you to take a deep breath. Right now. Inhaling… Good. Maybe even another one while you’re at it.

Starting right now, you have permission to put down the quest for purpose and passion.

Here’s why—

A story has taken off like wildfire, propagated by many a career coach like me, that says we’re each born with one true purpose and we need to figure out what it is and devote our lives to it. This story is lock-step in sync with the story that purports that there is “one right answer” to every problem and one “best” way to be. Like any story, this approach may work for some. But it keeps many others needlessly stuck, searching for a perfection that does not exist.

I’d like to propose a different story, which goes like this— You are here to love, be loved, and learn. You are not here to have any specific career or reach any particular goal. You are so much more than your job description.

Given the right resources and support, there are about a gazillion different things you could do with your life. There is no perfect job or “right” choice. No matter how good your job may be, there will be parts you won’t love. And, there are many good jobs you could learn to love.

Take my life, for example. I’ve been a waitress at Friendly’s, an after-school teacher, a canvass director, a strategic researcher in a union, a birth doula and childbirth educator, a yoga teacher, and a health coach. Now, I’m a career/business/leadership coach. I love my job, and I’m grateful every day for what I get to do. But it is my “one true purpose?” I think not. Are there plenty of other careers I could imagine myself in? Absolutely. Will I be a coach till the day I die? I don’t know.

There’s nothing wrong with you if you don’t feel the zest for life that the modern-day passion police have told you to feel. You have permission to stop trying to feel anything else than what you feel right now. In fact, when you honor the emotions you feel in each moment, you might create space for newfound excitement to emerge.

Following curiosity.

I listen to a lot of podcasts, and one that I remember the most is a conversation between Krista Tippett of On Being and Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the bestselling memoir, Eat, Pray, Love. In it, Gilbert encourages listeners to let go of the quest for passion and follow their curiosity instead.

She says— I think curiosity is our friend that teaches us how to become ourselves. And it’s a very gentle friend, and a very forgiving friend, and a very constant one. Passion is not so constant, not so gentle, not so forgiving, and sometimes not so available. And so when we live in a world that has come to fetishize passion above all, there’s a great deal of pressure around that.”

Following each spark of interest or gentle curiosity can be like following breadcrumbs through the forest of your life. First, you get curious about something, so you explore it a bit and see where it leads. You discover that it’s for you and you go further, or you find it’s not a great match. But while exploring the first interest, you learn about something else and decide to investigate it. One thing leads to another, though you could never have predicted how. When you follow your curiosity, you might discover a newfound passion, and at the very least, your life will become a scavenger hunt of unexpected discovery.

Over the next couple of weeks, as you engage in the work of imagining the possible lives you could lead, I invite you to practice following your curiosity. That entails asking yourself what you’re curious about and then taking baby steps to follow the breadcrumbs.

Let’s try this now.

Grab a piece of paper and a pen, then get centered and comfortable. Then, write down what comes up in response to the following questions—

  1. What are all the things I feel curious about?
  2. What interests me, right now?
  3. What’s one small step I can take to follow my curiosity?

Choose one step that is so small you can do it today or tomorrow. Then, schedule it in.

If you ask yourself about what you’re curious about every day and then take tiny steps to follow your curiosity, over time, you’ll discover that one thing leads to another and that you’re on a journey you never imagined. It’s takes courage, patience, and lots of showing up. And, you can do it.

I’m curious to hear from you!

What are you feeling curious about? What’s one baby step you’re going to take to follow your curiosity?

Please share your thoughts below. I will be sure to respond.

And, if you have a friend or two who are trying to figure out their passion in life, would you please send them this email? I’ll be grateful, and I think they will be, too!

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