A while ago I wrote about why you shouldn't you follow your passion (though a reader, Laura, pointed out that the piece might have been more appropriately called something else, like Why You Shouldn't Lose Heart if You Don't Have a Passion). That piece seemed to be particularly resonant, as I've received a lot of feedback on it. Of course it's something I've continued to think about, especially vis-a-vis writing this blog; I've always had a slight pulling to write a blog, but it hadn't felt like a passion and I'd talked myself out of it many times for many reasons.
When I finally got started with Dear Sabrina, it felt great. I enjoyed working on the technical aspects and slowly customizing the design and features, and after a few posts I began to get into the swing of writing regularly and putting myself and my thoughts out there. But then, as so many of us do, I started to question myself....
Sure, I enjoy doing this, but am I really contributing anything to the world? Isn't this just light and frivolous? Should I be investing my time in bigger causes, like helping refugees or working to end human trafficking or healing sick children or getting plastic out of the ocean? There are so many worthwhile, important causes that can be addressed on so many levels, and aren't the people doing that work doing something more worthwhile than I am?
I kept with the blog, as you can see, but I still felt a twinge of doubt about devoting my working hours to it. Around that time, my dear friend Sophia sent me a link to a piece on The Pool that spoke directly to this insecurity.
Caroline O'Donoghue writes:
And it's that moment – the moment when someone is so elated by what they're doing, with the meal they're making or the play they're performing or the cat wheelchair they’re engineering – when they usually dismiss the activity as not worthwhile. It's not just humbleness. It's not just self-deprecation. It's genuinely believing that the thing you do most naturally is a thing that is not valuable.
I won't quite say that writing this blog is the thing I do most naturally (that'd be drinking margaritas and eating salty tortilla chips while discussing deep matters of the heart with my dearest friends, or snuggling on the couch with my babies), but I will say that her words ring true: just when I found what really fit for me, I dismissed it as being not worthwhile.
In her essay, O'Donoghue mentions Elizabeth Gilbert and the Magic Lessons podcast, which I've referred to at least once here at Dear Sabrina. In the episode, Gilbert talks with a woman who felt a deep calling from early in life to be a comedy writer. However, she convinced herself that real, serious people don't do that, so she spent the beginning of her professional career getting a PhD in Holocaust studies. But she was never fulfilled studying the Holocaust (she became quite sick, in fact), and the urge to write comedy never left her.
As O'Donoghue recounts, Gilbert ends up giving the caller an assignment, telling her to make a list of ten of her personal heroes. "People whose work has enriched your life, enlightened you in some way, made you laugh or cry. Write the list down. Under each name, note what that person has given you by "selfishly" following their own path."
While I haven't done that yet (though I did once write a letter to one of my favorite authors, David James Duncan, thanking him for his writing), I see the value in it. And in turn, I see the value in continuing to do what I'm doing now, puttering away on this blog, put some thoughts into written words, sharing the things that have moved me. I'm not saving the world and its denizens in the way that many of my good friends are, but I'm trying to enrich a small part of it. I'm trying to take the things that I do best (or at least enjoy the most) and put them into the world, in the hope that this space contributes something to the world out there. And that's something, right?
Photo by me for Ide Bageriet, a lovely co-working space in Åkersberga.
The blog that made me want to blog, and fear and vulnerability in starting a blog.
Of course, sometimes the thing you love doing is only possible after a lot of work that you don't love quite so much... Cooking leads to washing up, teaching means grading, etc etc. I am always suspicious that "passionate" people have found someone else to do their admin.
Also, you know the idea that telling children they are smart can be harmful (because it encourages them to stick to easy things they are naturally good at, instead of trying hard to learn new skills)? I wonder if telling people to "follow your passion" is harmful in the same way.
Such great thoughts, Tim. A lot of the creativity stuff I've listened to and read lately carries exactly this message: even the best just involves a lot of doing drugerous work. I love this piece, and plan on writing about it here at some point: https://markmanson.net/passion
I think you're onto something in putting together those two ideas. I can absolutely say that both of those things prevented me from just working hard at something I found even moderately enjoyable. I was always so "naturally gifted" and "smart" that I was embarrassed not to be good at something, so I simply wouldn't try anything to challenging or anything I wasn't immediately good at. I only recognize now, well into my thirties, what a great disservice that thinking was for me.
"Meaningful" is relative, like most things in life. If you compare your work to giving first aid in a refugee camp, blogging might not seem life-changing. So go ahead and compare it on the other end to being something like... a tobacco lobbyist or a litigation attorney. There are wonderful natural talents that people use to make the world a worse place in the name of "success". So as for blogging... given all the distracting garbage that exists on the internet I think that providing people with a moment of intelligent reflection in their day is certainly a meaningful contribution to society. And your writing is all the better for that fact that you enjoy doing it!
Thank you, Laura. I love your point that some people use their natural talents to make the world a worse place, which is something quite evident if you read the news these days! And I do hope that this space provides a moment of reflection in readers' days; that's exactly why I created it.