4 steps to pursuing your passion when you have something to lose
To be honest, I’ve had a pretty comfortable life. I don’t know what it’s like to struggle through harsh Scottish winters as a single mother on welfare like J.K. Rowling. My Grandmother never had to painstakingly hand-craft dresses for me from old potato sacks like Oprah Winfrey’s did. Imagine having to wear your ragged, hand-me-down school jumper to your sister’s wedding because it was the only one you had? I can’t, but my Dad can. That kind of existence is almost inconceivable to me.
I grew up in your average nuclear family in the 1990’s. Sure, there were some hard times, but I certainly wasn’t impoverished, and it was pretty amazing when compared to the abysmal hardship and crippling depression of others. The ultimate normality of my life manifested in a strange way, however, resulting in a constant overwhelming feeling that I did not struggle through enough adversity to know how to push myself to be extraordinary.
All my life, I wanted to be a world-class writer, yet I often struggled to even try. There were no dramatic consequences for me (in the short-term at least) if I did not put in the extra work required to achieve this goal. Should I fail or even not bother to try, all that happened was that I returned to my regular, comfortable life.
To quit my job and go all in on my passion though, is to sacrifice this safe, cushy existence. The thought is overwhelming. How will I pay the rent and bills? What will I tell my friends when I can’t afford to go to dinner with them? Do I really want to give up my Netflix and Spotify subscriptions? Can I walk past that pair of sneakers I love that are on sale? How will I deal with the constant worry of not having enough money to keep the lights on?
For this reason, I was always weirdly jealous of the harsh struggles that drove people like J.K.R and Oprah to push harder than most, and achieve abnormal success. From what I could see, they did not have to grapple with the constant allure of running back to the warm, soft embrace of an easy life. I mean, if you really have barely anything to lose in the first place, isn’t it be easier to be able to risk everything for success? If the only way you could go was up, wouldn’t it be easier to keep trying?
Both sides of the coin
Let’s look at J.K. Rowling, the famous author of the wildly successful Harry Potter series. Before she became a bestselling author, she was an unemployed single mother, relying on state benefits, and little left but a drive to build a better life for her daughter. Oodles of time and not much to lose. This unparalleled motivation made her impenetrable to the constant barrage of rejection she received from publishers. She toughed it out through thirteen different publishers saying no, until someone finally picked up Harry Potter and took a chance on her. Thirteen! That’s resilience.
But what if she had been in my situation? Ample opportunities for a decent job in my field and no real excuse not to get one, except that I might not like it that much. That it wasn’t my ‘calling’. Trapped in the safety net of my next wage payment – the constant loom of monthly rent, bills and loan repayments, anchoring me with financial responsibility. The expectations of those around me to hold down a steady job. In this scenario, she may never have written the most beloved book series of my generation, and influenced the lives of millions.
The way I always saw it, only once you have hit rock bottom can you unlock this mystical, magical motivation that makes you unstoppable. Now I see that I was wrong.
The comfort trap
To build your own business or to pursue your own out-of-the-ordinary passion is a courageous undertaking in itself. It becomes increasingly difficult when your well-meaning family, friends, and colleagues, tell you that it’s better to follow the tried-and-tested path, because they care about you, not knowing that this way of life will crush you in the end. They remind you of the safety net that you may lose, and make your fears concrete.
Often, this makes people give in, because they don’t want to cause their loved ones anxiety, financial pressure, or let them down. When you have a comfortable existence, it’s easy to talk yourself out of doing something that may threaten it. Sure, your life is not where you want it to be, but it’s not all that bad. And the thought of doing that thing you want to do is terrifying and overwhelming.
It’s easier to settle and make excuses for why not. We humans are naturally loss averse, biologically designed to not want to lose things that we have gained. Greedy little Gollums.
The sad thing though, is that you have absolutely everything to lose by living a life full of regret. You can always regret doing something, and the memory will quickly fade. But, the regret of never trying will linger forever. You do not have to win, or be super successful, but you owe it to yourself and to the world to try.
4 steps to following your passion when you have something to lose
1. Your current job is a blessing
When I finally decided to do what I always loved i.e. to drive myself demented through the act of writing, the thought of showing up for work at my regular job made me truly despair. It’s totally natural to want to rage quit your job the second you decide to pursue your passion. However, telling your boss to shove it probably isn’t the best way to approach the situation.
That’s because your current stint is not a hindrance to your inevitable success. In fact, it’s a valuable tool to get you where you want to be. The routine will help you to stay on track, not to mention the ease of mind which comes from knowing that you can pay your bills. If you currently don’t have a regular job, or one that pays enough, get a new one or downsize your lifestyle. Do what needs to be done to free up some of that financial burden, so that in your spare time you can focus on what it is that you were put on this Earth to do.
You already have to be there for about 8 hours per day anyway, so why not make the most of it! Use the time to take extra courses at work, meet interesting people from different departments for lunch or a coffee, and go to more trainings where you can network. Honestly, I wish I had just always done this because it makes your life so much easier. When you see everyday as an opportunity to learn something new, you become so much more engaged and productive. Listen to podcasts on your commute. Talk about your passion and learn from others, get feedback on something you created. There is so much untapped value here, do not waste the opportunity!
2. What will happen if you don’t do it?
Taking the time to write out in concrete terms what will happen if you don’t do this thing you want to do, is absolutely crucial.
For me, wanting to write everyday and share knowledge that may help others, is something that has popped into my head almost everyday of my adult life. No matter how many times I tried to disregard these intrusive thoughts, they were always accompanied by an overwhelming gut feeling that my subconscious is trying to tell me something worthwhile that I shouldn’t ignore.
Yet, I never did anything with these mini-epiphanies. I would always quickly talk myself out of it – writing is not practical, and too difficult. I wouldn’t make money from it, and when I get home from work, I want to enjoy my free time and not be more stressed. This epiphany-disregard loop occurred time and time again until one day I got real with myself and wrote down all of the things that would happen if I didn’t at least try, and listen to my gut for once. I uncovered three facts that gave me the urgency I needed to take action:
1. I would keep going through ever more frequent bouts of depression and horrifically low self esteem, knowing that I was not achieving my full potential.
2. The overwhelming thoughts of ‘Is this it?’, ‘I am a failure’, and ‘I have so much more to offer the world’ would become increasingly taxing, to the point where it would be hard to enjoy anything anymore.
3. I would look back on my life with substantial regret, for being too scared and lazy to make it work. To never have tried to give my all, 100%. When in fact, I had barely even tried 10%.
This exercise triggered a fundamental shift in my thinking where I realised that I never had contentment in my life the first place, just the illusion of it. And the consequences will be dire if I don’t remedy it fast. It made me happier than ever, working my 9-5 and spending my spare time working hard towards my goals.
3. Make a map, it will make you patient.
Breaking down your goal into manageable pieces is the most important part of this process, as tracking your progress every week will help you to stay focused and motivated. Before I began this website, I started preparing for the website launch for four months in advance. I made a list of everything I would need to do and exactly how I’d get there.
This forced me to do some serious thinking about EXACTLY what it was I really wanted. I thought I had a clear vision in my head, but when I first went to write it down, it was overwhelmingly difficult. Somehow, I wanted to be a life-coach entrepreneur with my own unique clothesline and post three daily nutritious food recipe videos. I presumed that I could squeeze in the time to do weekly extreme challenges, be a super athlete, share deeply and scientifically referenced articles, make Youtube videos, audiobooks, and learn how to use Photoshop to make motivational images on Instagram daily. Not only this, I wanted to be a speaker too and travel every month. Ha!
Once I wrote all of this out, I realised the absurdity of my mission, and that trying to do all of this at once increased my chances of failure exponentially. I needed to hone in on my strengths and simplify the craft – blind ambition without a clear path was the reason I had given up so many times before. So instead, I prioritised what I wanted to achieve, broke down the actions required to achieve them, and wrote simple, realistic goals. I made them easy to achieve e.g. ‘Write for 15 minutes straight today’ to increase my chance of success. Each time I checked one off of my list, it felt amazing, and spurred me on to the next task. Take the time to map your journey, it will lead you down the right path.
4. Be fearless.
Please remember that adversity is relative, and your woes are real to you. You don’t have to have overcome some extreme calamity to finally be fearless in living your life. A traumatic life event may catapult others into living life with urgency quicker than you. That doesn’t mean you can’t do the same. Remember: no matter what it is, your story has merit.
Call to action
Though our fears are terrifying now, and can so easily be put off until later life, we must acknowledge the truth and be brave. You must have the audacity to go after what you want, because you now know what will happen to your future self if you don’t. Refuse to be forever haunted by that formidable, unrelenting monster called Regret.
Be kind to yourself. When you finish a task, buy yourself a coffee. Never forget to mark your achievements. Oh, and be tough on yourself too. When you want to cave and have a TV binge, be strong and say no. Be responsible for yourself, to yourself. If you fuck up, forgive your damn self and get back on track. When all is said and done, do everything you can to look yourself in the mirror and say that you tried. No regrets.