The Powerful, Life-Changing Effects of Experimentation When Seeking Your Passion
“There is no such thing as a failed experiment, only experiments with unexpected outcomes.” ~Buckminster Fuller
Some of you may know my story of (finally) discovering my life passion — or at least the one I'm loving right now!
For those who don't, here's a synopsis: (There is a take-away for you at the end. If you don't want to read my compelling, mind-blowing story, scroll on down to get the good stuff!)
My Compelling, Mind-Blowing Story
After high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I was passionate about boys, clothes, and books. (Is your mind blown yet?)
Since I couldn't major in boys, and since my liberal arts college (which I selected in order to follow a boy) didn't offer a fashion degree, I majored in English Literature. (It was really called an English major, but English Literature sounds smarter.)
This allowed me to read lots of books. It also forced me to do a lot of writing, where I had a modicum of ability.
I also had an affinity for psychology and philosophy. I liked helping people with their problems and yacking about the meaning of life. But by the time I discovered this, I was well into my major and felt it was too late to change. Plus, all of the good philosopher jobs appeared to have been taken.
Once I graduated, I still had no idea what I wanted to do. I toyed with the idea of law school, but only because it sounded prestigious and I could wear classy business suits. But I had no real interest in law.
As good fortune would have it, I saw an ad in the paper for an entry level job in the public relations office of Macy's. This seemed right up my alley — fashion,writing, and (I assumed) glamor.
The day I interviewed for the job, I remember taking a peek at my application when my soon-to-be-boss left the room. She had written: “blond, timid” at the top. Stellar credentials. I have no idea why I got the job, but I did. Maybe she thought she could walk all over me. She was right.
A Grand Experiment
I didn't know it at the time, but this first “real” job was a grand experiment.
Having had no direction or inspiration in high school or college for what my passion was, I just bumbled around and followed my nose, relying on what I thought would be “fun” as my guide. Frankly, I didn't know passion was an option.
But fun isn't a bad guide, and much of that first job and my subsequent PR jobs was fun.
- I got to meet interesting people and work with the media and celebrities.
- I got to write and work on creative projects and events.
- I was around fashion every day.
- I became less timid and more blond, gaining self-confidence about my skills and my hair.
- I eventually landed in New York where I did all of the above at a higher level with more responsibility and a little more money (which I promptly spent on clothes).
Through my experiences in the fashion PR world, I learned that I like working in teams, I like helping people find solutions, I like the creative process of taking a project from beginning to end, I like being a communicator — a funnel for ideas and information.
But I also learned what I didn't like.
- I didn't like the hard-nosed, often abrasive personalities that seemed to be attracted to retail (not all, but many).
- I didn't like the 9-5 grind and often having to work evenings and weekends for someone else to help make them more money.
- I eventually didn't like the superficiality of the fashion industry and promoting the latest trend as “the most important thing of the season.” Tell that to the homeless people on the streets of New York.
The Sieve of Experimenting
Through the grand experiment of my first career, I put my skills and experience through a sieve and learned what I did and didn't want to keep. Through the process of elimination, I was closer to my passion, but not there yet. I wasn't really actively searching.
After a few years in NYC, I moved back to Atlanta to start a family. At that point, I took another leap of faith and began a new chapter of experimentation.
I started my own PR consultancy so I could have the flexibility to be with my new baby. It was scary to launch out on my own, but safe enough since there was another income to fall back on. And it worked out. I was able to pick and choose my clients (in the arts, education, law (ha!), and other less fluffy disciplines).
I loved being my own boss.
I love the flexibility of working from home.
I loved being able to work with clients who matched my interests and felt more “meaningful.”
I knew I never again wanted to be employed in the traditional way.
Of course, I wouldn't have known these things had I not experimented with being a consultant. So now I had more information to draw from.
But within a couple of years, babies 2 and 3 came along, and I back-burnered my career to focus almost exclusively on raising children.
I threw myself into child-rearing with a fierce passion, born as much from a desire to create for my kids the childhood I didn't have, as from a love of singing Barney songs and being Room Mother of the Year. But I did all of that and more.
Experimentation with Purpose
I learned one hugely important thing during the grand experiment of raising kids: don't allow your work (especially if your work involves giving a lot of yourself to others) to squelch the flame that burns inside of you for your life passion.
There are seasons and reasons in life for many things, but if you aren't living your passion in some small way, you will feel disoriented, disconnected, and restless. If you don't know your passion, you must keep experimenting.
During those child-rearing years, although I didn't have a lot of spare time, I tried my hand at drawing, volunteering in various capacities, serving on the board of arts organizations, running a small antiques booth, taking classes and workshops, and other mini-experiments that kept the small flame of passion flickering.
It wasn't until my first child left home, and I had a huge gap of time on my hands, that my focused experimentation began in earnest — experimentation with a purpose. And the purpose was to find my passion.
All of my previous experiments helped me tremendously in learning what I did and didn't want for my life. But there was no structure or plan to my experimentation. I didn't have a name for what I was doing. It just happened.
Once I had the time (and took the time) to proactively learn more about myself and focus my experiments in areas I was clearly suited for, then I finally uncovered my passion (coaching, blogging, writing, helping others find their passions). I learned that experimentation is even more valuable when you lay the groundwork first. (I created a course based on this groundwork if you are interested.)
Your Take-Aways (Finally!)
So what can you learn from my story here? Damned if I know. Your story could be entirely different.
But perhaps you see some similarities in your own life experiments and the search for what makes you come alive, your passion.
If, like me most of my life, you don't know that you should be actively looking for your passion, you should be. Life is just so much better when you live it through your passion — whether in your work, your hobby, or some form of recreation.
So I've distilled what I've learned here in some handy-dandy bullet points that might resonate with you. Here's your take-away:
- Life in itself is one grand experiment. Everything you do and have done in the past is information that teaches you something. Pay attention.
- If you haven't already done so, look back over the careers or jobs you've had in the past. Put them through the sieve and find out what you want to keep in your life.
- The path to finding your passion in life is not linear. It shouldn't be. Life and experience are your teachers, so you must go down different trails to learn. Don't avoid the trails. Experiment every chance you get.
- Sadly, our time on Earth is limited. Make the most of your time by focusing your experiments in areas where you have at least an inkling of your interest and skill. If you need to do the work to learn more about yourself, check out my Discover Your Passion course. This is the work I did to find my passion.
- Once you've found your passion, whatever you do, don't stop experimenting! Who says we can have only one passion in a lifetime? Or that your passion may not lead you in different directions? Plus, experimentation can offer its own set of thrills and pleasure.
- Shift your perceptions of “trying something out” as a waste of time or a delay in getting to what really matters. Trying something out could lead you to what really matters, and it may not be what you think. As Shakti Gawain says, “this or something better” could be happening for you right now.
What have been some of your grand experiments? How have they impacted your life? Please share in the comments.