Marcus Aurelius wrote, “Luck is the good fortune you determine for yourself.” I completely agree with that idea—I don’t believe in luck. Oh sure, I occasionally get the parking spot right outside the mall on a frigid day, or win an amazing raffle prize, but when things turn out really well for me, it’s almost always the result of hard work.
I tend to think a huge step is missing before you can begin to roll up your sleeves, and it’s something that doesn’t get talked about enough: You have to have the courage to live your passion. I think we all get inspired, but for many of us, it stops there. Everything from t-shirts to keychains to coffee shop walls are emblazoned with the idiom “Reach for your Dreams!” but that’s a little too cliché for me. I say do what makes you happy, and don’t be afraid to reach for fulfillment.
What does that look like for you, exactly?
Perhaps activism has been calling your name. Maybe you have a fantastic idea for an app just burning to get out of your head. Or your passion might be nail art and you are happiest giving yourself a manicure and perfecting your French Tip. Awesome! Carve out time to let yourself learn that skill.
There is no reason for any person to live a passionless life, even while working full-time, taking care of children, and dealing with whatever else life throws. You just have to be committed. You have to invest in yourself and that means setting aside dedicated time for yourself. Invest in you.
So how do you carve out that time? There are a few little things you can do to grab a chunk of time just for yourself:
Examine your day and outline everything you do, start to finish. Keep a log for a day or two if you aren’t sure. Drop one activity you don’t absolutely have to do, and replace it with one small thing that will move you an inch closer to your dream.
Put a blank space in your daily organizer. This simple act can be the most liberating. We’ve been conditioned to believe that the busier we are, the more important we are. It can even turn into a fear of having free time. Harvard Business School Professor Thomas J. DeLong termed this the “busyness trap.” DeLong says that the busyness trap is so ingrained in the American corporate culture that people don’t even know what to do when they are not busy. I can attest to this. Not long ago, I was working full-time, freelancing another 15 hours a week minimum, and going to school online for my Masters. When I first graduated with my degree, I literally didn’t know what to do with myself! I was using busyness to mask boredom and unfulfillment, but I wasn’t sure how to change that. I also felt like if I wasn’t working, I wasn’t “doing what I was supposed to” and was being irresponsible. Eventually, I learned to celebrate my free time by leaving space in my planner. See that blank space in your personal calendar as an opportunity to do whatever you want.
Reduce your time online. Keep another log—this one of all the times you are on the Internet in a given day. Especially outside of work, how often are you checking emails, the weather, social media, etc.? You may also find that when you jump online you get caught up in so many things you hadn’t meant to do that the time just flies. Try reducing your time online by even 2 hours a week. Two hours a week translates to eight hours a month! Imagine what you could do just for yourself and your dreams in those eight hours.
Think about what makes you happiest, or what you could add to your life that will contribute to a more enriching, fulfilling existence. Maybe it’s something you don’t even realize yet. If that’s the case, I encourage you to use your newfound free time and try new things. Experiment with all kinds of new activities that you’ve never had the time or the inclination to try before. In my case, once I had more time after grad school, I added more freelance writing jobs. While the pay was great, it didn’t take me long to figure out that spending 8 hours a day in front of the computer only to come home to spend even more time in front of the computer was definitely not fulfilling.
I brainstormed, and ended up trying a pottery class (major, frustrating fail!), learning to speak French (four years of it in high school and all I remember is how to ask where the toilet is!), and then a high-intensity weightlifting boot camp course. That’s when I hit on something.
I realized that a good compliment for me, since I have a fairly sedentary job, is an activity that gets me up and moving. The boot camp was fantastic, and I was getting in the best shape of my life, which was a huge confidence and energy booster. But it wasn’t my passion. I still had to figure out what that was.
Secretly, inside, I knew all along what my real passion is (and I suspect that each of you do, as well). My passion is dance, but finding a dance outlet was fairly difficult. I tried the only adult ballet class that my town offers, but it ended up being an unchallenging exercise class for me because I have been dancing since age three. Then I tried Zumba, which while fun, was also a repetitive exercise class.
I was back to feeling a bit adrift when, two summers ago, I overheard another guest at a friend’s party talking about a dance studio specifically for adult women. My ears immediately perked up! I checked out the studio that very night and sure enough, it offered a mix of exercise and dance classes that specifically catered to female empowerment. No men allowed, and the idea was to become completely comfortable with your own body and who you are as a person.
And the really interesting thing to me was that the the studio specializes in burlesque…!
I tried a class that very next Saturday and was hooked. It was the most amazing experience I’ve ever had. I became a regular, and performed in my first show as a student about a month after joining. (And I think it’s important to note here that this studio is about a 45 minutes drive for me. And that’s on top of my daily work commute. That’s what you do when you really want to invest in yourself!) The dance studio also has a performance troupe attached to it (hence the occasional student performances), and when a spot opened up in November, I jumped at the chance to audition. I earned a spot and now can add “burlesque dancer” to my résumé.
Those are words I never thought I would utter, but I’m so happy that I can. It’s hard to really describe what it feels like to be able to live my passion. It’s even evident to other people around me. I’ve been told I “look like I’m in a great mood” by co-workers who don’t know me well.
I would never have described myself as unhappy, but now I am certainly fulfilled. Being able to leave work and go do what I love is both a creative and emotional outlet, (and believe me, having rehearsal the night after the presidential election was the definition of therapeutic). I am less stressed and calmer. I do my best thinking and problem-solving while dancing. Not to mention I’ve met a whole new group of beautiful, badass women who enrich my life.
So that’s my story. Now seek out your own passion. Create the time. Find what fulfills you. Give yourself permission to own it.