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Real Time with Bill Maher
Interviewing Tracee Ellis Ross
On My Book Redefining Realness
Finding it isn’t like bagging an expensive trinket; it’s like leaving comfortable, familiar terrain behind us and throwing ourselves into the sea. Many of us avoid taking the plunge. We turn away from the ocean.
—Martha Beck, on finding and following your passion
In the last few weeks, I’ve been asked in conversations with the ones I love one question:
How did you discover and connect to your passion?
Each time it was posed to me, I wasn’t able to answer. And now I think I’m ready to cross that intersection of purpose and passion, and hopefully help you get on that same road.
Through my work on the blog and my book, I’ve come to break down my passion as writing with the intention of sharing my most intimate feelings and experiences in the hope that they will inspire those who read my words.
That is my passion, and luckily, when I’m writing I connect with the flow of everything around me. Whether it’s a blog post or chapters from my book or Tweets and Facebook posts, emails and chatting with people, I know that putting words down and sharing those words is what I love to do.
One of my friends tearfully said to me over pizza and wine the other night, “I have no talent: I can’t design or sing or perform or write. I have no gifts – so how do I know what my passion is? How do I contribute and try to make a living doing what I do when I don’t know what my passion is?”
I was there to listen. I had no answers, but it sent me home with a mission, a quest to find that answer for her through my own experience and share it because I feel we’re in a new place, where we all thrive to create, we want to give our best selves over to our passions and we want to share our gifts with the world.
“We are here to find meaning. We are here to help other people do the same,” Hugh MacLeod of gapingvoid says. “Everything else is secondary….Belief in humanity and human potential excites us.”
This friend, a thoughtful, caring woman who just turned 30, recently quit her job in fashion to return to school. But she has since realized that what she’s studying is not what she loves. She’s afraid to drop out because she’s afraid people will see her as an aimless, 30-year-old wanderer.
She’s been extremely hard on herself, beating herself up for taking such a risk and has driven herself to the throws of anxiety because she’s desperate for answers.
It was imperative for me to let her know just how courageous she is: this girl left the status quo of her daily life by quitting her comfortable corporate job in an effort to tap into her full potential. That’s a bold move that many people would not take (and many people can’t because they have to make money to survive) but she put her ego aside (she’s waiting tables to pay the rent) and returned to school so she can figure out what she really wants.
“I thought I wanted to do this one thing, and now I realize that I hate it. So how do I find out what my purpose is when I don’t know what my passions are?”
“I was here about three years ago,” I confessed to her, “At the exact same place as you and I sat down and made lists, which brought me clarity.”
We settled our bill and headed over to my house where I shared this list-making tool, which I like to call the Passion-Purpose Matrix. It’s a tool that helped me pinpoint where my passions and my purpose intersect, and it helped me reshape my entire approach to my career and the gifts I’ve been given.
I encouraged her to pull out a sheet of paper when she gets home, and separate it into three columns for three lists:
1. Write down everything you’re good at.
2. Write down everything you enjoy doing.
3. Write down everything that makes you feel as if you’re giving back, anything that gives you a sense of purpose.
From those three lists, look for the thread that makes them similar, the common theme between all three and highlight those similarities. Amongst the highlights, you’ll find the matrix of your talents, happiness and purpose that will lead you to your passion.
Let’s use me as an example: I’m good at writing, I enjoy sharing ideas with people, and I feel purposeful when my ideas and experiences relayed through my writing inspire people, making them feel as if they’re not alone and that someone else has gone through what they’ve gone through.
My friend said that she loved baking and giving the things she creates to her friends, and she also loves styling people, helping them put their best front forward to the world through their clothing.
“That’s excellent!” I said. “Why don’t you ditch the graduate program and use the money you were going to spend on getting a Masters degree on opening your own clothing boutique where you attract customers to browse and shop with free baked goods: ‘Come in and have a free cookie!'”
I was just brainstorming, being a bit silly, having a bit of fun with the idea. But…
“I can’t do that,” she said. “I don’t have the money to open my own shop. New York is so hard for small businesses. How am I going to do that?”
This is resistance.
Resistance is the most crucial and difficult step in following our passions. It’s a combination of our doubts, anxieties and fears. It’s the little voice inside of us (or the voices of even those who love us most and worry about us) that says: Who do you think you are to believe that you can do this? That you’re deserving of this? Shut up and get back to your cubicle?
In finding your passion, you must turn down that voice, the one that Martha Beck calls, Yeah-but: “The ‘yeah’ pushes us toward our passion; the ‘but’ stops us dead in our tracks.”
My friend has identified her passion, the one thing she knows will fill her up while also sharing her gifts with the world, but now she must have the courage to listen to herself and allow her dreams to come to fruition. She must go with “yeah” and leave the “but” in the dust.
I have faith that she, and all of us, will take the plunge into pursuing our greatest passions and tapping into our purpose.