Wednesday, 7 March 2018

[ killing me softly ]

There are a variety of books, articles, seminars, and podcasts you can get into when looking for some direction on your calling in life.

One of my favourite authors also wrote this and this, but to save you the trouble of them and the background reading, I'll summarise.

The outline is around why we have trouble finding our passion in life, how we can do so in a way that doesn't feel like following a script, and where to go from there.

It's not that I want to rewrite anyone's words here - gods know there are enough psychology books, self-help sites, and other random resources you can follow up on for that. Plus, to be fair, I find quite a bit of the material pretty helpful.

I want to talk about that sticky grey bit between finding your vocation and how you let it treat you.


You see, the issue I have here is the find your passion and let it kill you vibe. Let your calling consume you. Colour everything you are with your pursuits. You get the drift.

Finding your passion, as we'll call it, is like any other relationship; there's ups and downs, weird bits and boring bits. And like all relationships, you get to know each other, see what sparks and what strikes out. 

This is the bit in all those books where the author and I usually part mental ways; my pragmatism kicks in, and my romantic, optimistic side takes a coffee break. 

Because at this point, you're meant to throw yourself into your passion like a surfer during peak swell at Bondi. Which nobody really does. 

Most of us tend to dip our toes in, wade out slowly, take a big deep breath, then dive in.

It's about how much risk you're willing to take. What level of comfort you're willing to leave behind. What balances out your scales.

And this is the other bit where all those books and articles and motivational talks fall a little short for me; they don't give enough credit to the last point - balance. 


When I was a kid, I got taken to ballet and gymnastics, dance and drama classes. I got elocution lessons, singing classes, sports galore, and so very much more. 

I was supported in every random whim and dodgy tutorial I wanted to attend. I felt encouraged and nurtured, and attribute much of my confidence today to a brilliant childhood.

The part that may not always be clear however, is this; I was also taught, in no uncertain terms, to have a back-up plan. Even a few. I was inspired to try things I was luke-warm about, and again if I found I was good at them - even if I still felt pretty indifferent about them. 

Case in point; how do you think I ended up in corporate? I certainly don't love it, wouldn't call it a passion by any means, but I am good at it. Very good. And that lends itself to a high level of satisfaction that can't be dismissed just because I'm not super keen every day of the week. 


Let's try another analogy; no one buys a house, then researches if it needs work done. They don't sign a contract, then send in an expert so see if it's structurally sound. 

(For anyone who does actually do this, you've got bigger problems than finding your calling in life. Just saying.)

All the really hard stuff gets done in advance. Don't mistake me, you'll still have cleaning and upkeep, but you figure out if this is the one for you, well before you actually move in and decide a bathroom reno is such a good idea.


To be clear and bring it back round; I didn't just decide to be a writer and start applying for jobs straight off the bat. 

Sure, I tried my hand at different writing styles, tried to figure out what I'm good at (still am), and wrote and wrote. Then I wrote some more, and then a lot more. 

Before that, I took classes - remember the ones mentioned above? They weren't just great things I did that gave me a wicked acting career. They actually helped shape what I do now. That, the seminars and I do agree on - everything you do shapes who you are now. All the random choices lead to somewhere, and you follow the ones that lead to something. 

All these things make it sound like I'm living the dream when it comes to my passion, right? That even though I spend more time in a corporate world than a creative one, I'm completely fulfilled in the latter. 

Obviously, I'm not. For those of you who can see what's coming, this isn't a surprise. 


Here it is; my creative life doesn't keep me secure at night. It doesn't pay my bills or let me have nice holidays. It doesn't manage my anxiety or let me take yoga classes. 

It absolutely does keep me awake at night. I'd like  it to eventually pay my bills, but I'm still working on that. It variously adds to or subtracts from my anxiety, and surprisingly, courses and classes I do through my corporate job actually help my writing more than trying to find the right writing class. 

The corporate world lets me go home at night and order take out, every night if I wanted, because I can afford it. Something I couldn't currently do as a full-time writer. It teaches me to deal with different personalities, and follows a discipline of a sort. It hones skills I only half-love, and creates opportunities I'm only semi-sure I'm interested in. 

The big factor, the one that makes it, if not the most earnest then certainly the most beneficial a relationship I've carefully cultivated over the years, is this; corporate feeds the creativity. It is the balance that lets me be me, any day of the week.

It lets me be a writer - without most of the struggle that being a writer comes with.

And there it is folks; having a passion and a completely different career are not mutually exclusive things. Sure, one of them is always going to have more of your love than the other, but it doesn't mean you have to suffer for it. In fact, it means you can enjoy it more - because one is feeding the other, and oddly, vice-versa.


Coming back to the part about letting your love kill you, let me give you an old example and then tell you why I'm, if not 'content' as such, happy enough with my writing career moving so slowly, and not letting it totally consume my life.

When I was 23, I started saying I didn't want to get to 30 and resent all the things I'd given up to be an actor. I wanted to act and love it. I knew the hard stuff would still be hard, but should the bottom fall out of my world, I didn't want the drop to break things I couldn't replace.

Of course there were things I was willing to give up, other things I could have easily also given up - but only some that I actually did.

After 30, I did very little acting work, and these days, next to none. It's been pretty much all writing for the last few years. But I look back on all the gigs, the late nights, the crazy directors, the worse producers, the 3am call times, the lack of funds, catering, and talent, and I still love those times.

Because I only gave up enough to make it worth the risk. A stable home, a steady income, good sleep, and reasonably sound mental health were, and still are, high on my list of priorities. Some days, I was ok with risking one or two of those things. And as I got older, the risk wasn't as worthwhile.

What I was getting out wasn't what I was putting in anymore, and I found my skills had migrated elsewhere. For better or worse.

I guess what I'm saying is this; I found acting wasn't really my thing anymore, but I wasn't crushed by the revelation. Maybe a little disappointed, but certainly still motivated to nurture my other skills, and leave behind what didn't serve me anymore.

A lot of people I know didn't. I have full-time acting friends, ten years my senior, struggling to make ends meet, earning less than half what I do, moving house and changing fallback jobs a few times a year.

To be fair, some of them still love it. Some of them have had that passion for most of their lives, and the risk, the things they are willing to give up, are their money and their stability. They made peace with what they wanted in their lives, and let things run their course.

Sadly, for a lot more of my actor friends, that's not the case. They wait impatiently for callbacks and auditions, spend money they don't have on trips they can't afford. In all honesty, maybe they do still love it. But it never really seems that way.

Maybe I don't get to be as creative as often as they do, or spend as much time in the arts. But if it's a choice between high risk and no reward, and low risk and small payoff, I'll take the latter. At least for now.


The final point here is that I believe that experiencing as many things as possible that you're good at, if not all the things you could be good at, is better than just picking one, and stubbornly sticking to it - just in case maybe one day it pans out. 

Look at it like a pro gambler; the more games you play, the higher the chance of a win. And if you're only putting in enough to see how it goes, a little bit at a time, you can always fold before it gets too hectic, and try again at something else. 

And just because I really like weird allegories and watched a lot of horror in my twenties, try this; 

Let your passions kill you softly, gently, not with so much frenzy. You can always pull the knife out, stitch up the wound, and start healing.

To take the violent metaphor further; you can always get stabbed again. But not if you've bled all your life out on something you could have saved yourself from.


No comments:

Post a Comment