Does the expression "follow your passion" fill you with dread?
I know it does me. Why is that? Are you like me? Do you love lots of things and have trouble nailing it down to just one thing? Are you most alive when your plate is full of diverse and interesting and new experiences? Is your greatest strength your curiosity and love of learning?
For the longest time I felt so discouraged that I wasn’t able to articulate one single passion. In fact, friends would send me articles such as “Nine things successful people do differently” and invariably the article would identify how important a single point of focus is over the long term. I read Harvard Business Review, and Inc. magazine and they all seemed to reinforce the idea that success is dependent up on focus. Even Angela Duckworth's work on grit suggests that success is related to long term focus on one singular goal.
Each time I read one of these articles I want to throw it in the trash or counter the argument. What about the value of doing many different things? Is it possible to be successful without that single point of focus? I wanted to find out.
The first article I discovered by someone who shared the same enthusiasm as I do, for a number of foci, filled me with unbridled enthusiasm. I really wish I had kept this article! In fact, this author actually had a name for the phenomena of keeping multiple projects underway at the same time. I will make it one of my missions to find it again, as somehow, by naming it, it feels more normalized. Why is it that labelling ourselves somehow helps us feel less alone. Why is it we find comfort in numbers? (if you have seen this article or have it - please pass it on!)
Just this week, I heard a video of Elizabeth Gilbert on one of the Oprah sessions (thanks Jal!). She outlined how she had always been one of those singularly focused people, passionate about writing. She compared herself to a jackhammer – efficient, focused, loud and sometimes difficult. Once, after preaching about the power of passion, an audience member wrote her to tell her how discouraged she felt after hearing this talk, as she didn’t have a passion. She felt distraught and out of sorts. That gave Gilbert the inputus to examine others in her life, people that she loved and respected and she discovered, after reflection, were not singularly focused as she was. She compared them to hummingbirds, where they fly from flower to flower and field to field and forest to forest cross pollinating – taking ideas from one thing to another "while living incredibly rich and complex lives". That sounds more like it - a hummingbird – what a sigh of relief. I can be a hummingbird! That - I can do. So finally, I have a name, perhaps not a very scientific one, but one I can easily live with.
Now that isn’t to say that I can’t be jackhammer-like at times – singularly focused and so intent on my goal that I fail to notice everything around me. But the reality is that I have so many interests, that I have yet to find that life-long passion that will define me.
Until then, I am content to be a hummingbird. Not only are they beautiful birds but, they they are capable of incredible things. Did you know these tiny birds can fly incredibly long distances, especially given their tiny size? A ruby throated hummingbird can fly over 500 miles non-stop and a rofous hummingbird flies over 3000 miles in its migration from Alaska or Canada to Mexico each year. They beat their wings up to 200 times per second and their iridescent colours are stunning. That sounds like success to me!
So, until I figure out that illusive one point of focus, I am happy to continue to follow the hummingbirds path, cross pollinating the world, being open to new and fresh ideas and adventures.
What aspect of your life is like a hummingbird? How can you incorporate some more cross pollination in your life?