This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. It was published on 14 Sep 2015 by TEDx Talk. I was unable to find the transcript anywhere and had to do it myself. I have posted the transcript here for the public’s learning purposes.
Stop Searching for Your Passion
By Terri Trespicio
The day that I got laid off from my job at Martha Stewart, I was relieved. I loved the job, I really did. But the relationship was over and I didn’t know how to end it and then it broke up with me. Don’t you love it when that happens?
At the time, I have been also hosting a radio show for the Martha Stewart brand on Sirius XM. And then not long after that got cancelled,too. On the day of my last show, I got into the elevator at the 36th floor and as it started to drop, I started to cry. Every floor took me further and further from where I had been: a magazine editor, a radio host, the person with the cool job to talk about at parties, you know.
And honestly, I had no idea what I was going to do. And quite frankly, no one was looking for me. So, I did what anyone would do in that situation.I was making some phone calls: “Hey, what are you up to? Did I mention that I am available?” I needed to get paid to do something, right. I lived in New York City. If you are not paid to do something,you are not going to be there very long.
But this idea that I had to know that what I suppose to do now, right. I am supposed to pursue this passion. It’s just bugged me. It always had. And that’s because it’s a dangerously limiting idea at the heart of everything that we believe about success and life in general. And it’s that you have one singular passion and your job is to find it and to pursue it to the exclusion of all else. And if you do that everything will fall into place and if you don’t you failed.
The pressure starts really young and it goes your whole life, but it’s perhaps most pronounced when you’re graduating from school, right. After this, “Wow, the world’s at your feet! What are you going to do now?” And it’s so intimidating, it’s like picking a major for life. You know, I had a hard enough time picking major for four years and I changed that once, if not twice. I mean it was like just intimidating, right? And this compelling. I mean this really, you know,forceful cultural imperative to choose your passion,it’s stressful to me, but it’s not just me, it’s everyone I talk to agrees with me.The woman who sold me this dress. I told her what I needed the dress for, what I was talking about and she said, “Oh, my gosh, I really need to hear this talk, because I just graduate from school. My friends and I; we don’t know what we’re passionate about, we don’t know what we supposed to do.”
I’m leery of passion for a few reasons. But one of them is that passion is not a plan, it’s a feeling. And feelings change.They do. You can be passionate about a person one day, a job, and not passionate the next. We know this and yet we continue to use passion as the yardstick to judge everything by,instead of seeing passion for what it really is: the fire that ignites when you start rubbing sticks together.
Anyway, I was such a mess when I was in my twenties, such a mess. I was anxious and depressed, and had no life to speak of, I was tempting to keep my options open, and I was sitting around at night in my underwear watching Seinfeld reruns. Actually I still do that, that’s not the worst thing in the world to do.It’s fine. But I called my mother every night crying and I was turning away perfectly good full-time jobs.
Why? Because I was afraid. I was sure that I would pick the wrong one and get on the wrong train and headed to the wrong future. My mother begged me, she said,” Please, take a job, any job. You’re not going to be stuck, you’re stuck now!You don’t create you live first, then live it. You create it by living it, not agonizing about it.” She’s right, she’s always right. And so I took a full-time job as an assistant at a management consulting firm, where I knew nothing about nothing. Okay. Zero. Except I knew I had a reason to get up in the morning to shower, get showered, leave the house, people who were waiting for me when I got there and I got a paycheck every two weeks. And that is as good a reason to take a job as any.
Did I know that I want to be an office administrator for the rest of my life? No! I have no idea! Truly! But this idea that everything you’re supposed to do should fit into this passion vertical is unrealistic. And I will say it – elitist. You show me someone who washes windows for a living and I will bet you a million dollars it is not because he has a passion for clean glass. On of my favourite columns is a piece by Dilbert creator Scott Adams. He wrote a piece in the Wall Streets Journal a few years ago, about how he failed his way to success. And one of his jobs was a commercial loan officer. And he was taught specifically: “Do not loan money to someone following their passion.” No, loan it to someone who wants to start a business, the more boring, the better. Adam says that in his life success fueled passion more than passion fueled success.
When I got my first job as a magazine editor, in publishing, I was thrilled. But I had to take a pretty big paycut, because at the time, I had been a catalogue copywriter at a wig company.Laugh, if you will, clearly you are and many, many people did. But wigs paid. So I had to figure out a way to make some money. A firnd of mine invited me to a jewellery party. I asked “What is a jewellery party?” She said, “It’s like Tupperware, but with bracelets.” I said “Okay, got it, got it” I went and I had the best time. I was there hanging out, trying jewellery, the salesperson having a great time and I was like “That’s a job. I could do that.” I meant, really, she is having a good time. Now, I have no background in sales, unless you count Girl Scouts, and I was terrible.And I had no passion for jewellery. I mean, honestly, my earrings cost /////420, all of them combined. And yet I was like “I think I can sling silvery jewellery to suburban moms drinking daiquiris. Yes, I could do that.” And so I did, I signed up. I became a Silpada Designs rep.Listen to me, I was not setting a world on fire straightaway.Really. I was awkward and afraid of selling.And then, I got better, I got better. I started making some money. I started getting really passionate about it. Not just because of the money, but because what I realized was people wanted the stuff. People wanted the stuff. They were happy to pay for it. I sold so much jewellery that year. I won a free trip to Saint Thomas.It’s true. I eventually let my jewellery go, because my career path shifted. But I was so glad that I did that.Because it planted an entrepreneurial seed I did not know was there.And that bears fruit to this day.
Now as you know an entire cottage industry has sprung up around helping people find their passions, right.Books,coaching, webinars,whatever.And their hearts is in the right place, it’s great, I am all about self-discovery.Okay.But when you asked someone,or you are asked like, “What is your passion?” It’s triggering. It’s like “Oh my God, I have to come up with a good answer for this.” One of my friends in her mid forties and she is looking what is her life going to be now. And she is like “ I don’t know what I am passionate about.” And she is legitimately concerned about this. She is ready to hire a team of people. It is like, why are worrying about this? You know why, because she thinks something wrong with her.That when someone asks you at a party, on a date, at a job interview,” What are passionate about?”That you are not going to have this wow compelling answer.
I thought something was wrong with me in the seventh grade and everyone was really into like the rock-bands and their actors and they would carve the names of those bands in tables in a library.And I never carved anything, because I could not think of anything to carve.I mean I likes Bon Jovi as much as the next girl, but not enough to deface school property, you know. It is probably why I do not have any tattoos either. I am assuming that is why. I was really boring, I thought something was wrong with me. But that is the fear, isn’t it? And that means that you are not interesting, or ambitious, or that you have a singular obsession or scarly talent that you are hiding.And your life is not worth living.And it is not true.
Passion is not a job, a sport or a hobby.It is the full force of your attention and energy that you give to whatever is right in front of you.And if you are so busy looking for this passion, you could miss opportunities that change your life.You could also miss out on a great love.Because that is what happens when you have tunnel vision,trying to find the One.
We all think we know the person we are and the kind of person we could love.But sometimes, we are wrong.Blissfully wrong.And sometimes, you don’t know what you are going to do next, right? I mean, I don’t. I love not knowing what I am going to be doing five years from now or I will be into.
And that is okay, okay not to know. You know why? Because the most fulfilling relationships, the most fulfilling careers are those that still have the power to surprise you. And as for the things you know you want to do. You want to write a book, you want to start a business, you want to change careers.
Great! But if you are sitting around waiting for passion to show up and take it, you are going to be waiting a long time. So don’t wait. Instead, spend your time and attention solving your favourite problems. Look for problems that need solving. Be useful, generous. People will thank you, and hug you and pay you for it and that is where passion is. Where your energy and effort meets someone’s else need. That is when you realize that passion lives, and realizing wht you have to contribute. Why do you think when we are asking people what they are passionate about, they say “Helping other people”? So, don’t wait. Listen to my mother. Just start doing. Because to live a life full of meaning and value, you don’t follow your passion, your passion follows you.