My daughter is 17 and heading into her final year of college. She is a wonderful girl with a lot of interests, but she worries that she doesn't feel a real sense of direction yet. Her two closest friends already know what they want to study and do in their lives (fashion and working with disabled children) but she feels badly because she doesn't have any sense of what her passion is.
This weekend, I had the great good fortune to attend an all-day taping for Oprah Winfrey's new Soul Sessions series. It was a feast of inspiration and wisdom from people like Deepak Chopra, Brene Brown, Shawn Achor and of course Oprah Winfrey. One of the speakers was Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) and her message speaks to the very heart of what you are describing.
Ms. Gilbert confessed to having long been an advocate for finding ones passion, sharing her story about having known since she was five that she wanted to be a writer, and constructing a life that revolved around fueling that "pillar of flame" she carried for her craft.
So it was a surprise when she opened her talk by saying that she was going to be arguing against passion.
She then shared a story. After having delivered one of her trademark Find Your Passion talks in Australia, she returned to her hotel, ordered up room service, and opened up her laptop. Visiting her Facebook page, she began reading lovely posts from some of the people who had attended her talk that evening.
And then she read a letter from a woman who had attended the event and was describing the sense of depression she was feeling after having listened to Elizabeth urge the audience to discover their passion and, like her, pursue it doggedly.
This woman said that throughout her life, she had been interested in many things, enjoying their pursuit for various amounts of time. But nothing had "stuck" the way Elizabeth had described--there wasn't a single, specific interest that claimed her heart and soul. And after years of reading inspirational books and listening to compelling speakers cajole her to find that passion buried within her, she began to feel somehow inferior, because she simply didn't have something that felt like a pillar of flame inside for any one, particular thing.
Elizabeth was profoundly humbled by this woman's story. As she sat with the letter, she began to reflect on the people closest to her--her best friend, her husband, her family members. She realized that if she asked herself how many of those nearest to her had a singular passion in life--something comparable to her lifelong desire to be a writer--the number was...zero. All of her loved ones had pursued many interests over the course of their lives, but none had just one, other than her!
She started to formulate this idea: Some people--like her--are jackhammers. They focus intensely on one thing, diving in deeply and tuning out any other pursuit. But others are like hummingbirds, flitting from flower to flower--letting curiosity lead them from one interest to another--and making the world a better place by "pollinating" various interests with their unique contribution. Not everyone is a jackhammer! We need hummingbirds!
Not everyone has a passion! In this age of Follow Your Dream! Find Your Calling! Never Give Up!, we can urge our children to know that they can just be who they are, allowing curiosity to guide them as it will.
Please share this story with your daughter, and encourage her to approach life with wide-eyes and an open heart, following whatever bread crumbs capture her interest without trying to manufacture a calling. If her passion lies in simply living with curiosity, it will be more than enough to ensure a magical life.
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected and the brand new Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids (An Eckhart Tolle Edition). She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.
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