The passion myth and why “selling out” is totally fucking fine

This is me, self-liberating from all the bullshit

I check in on Yelp at a coffee shop in Dallas, Texas called Mudsmith and take the last window seat. Mudsmith is decorated with taxidermied deer heads and they use that typeface that you’d expect from a tattoo parlor or punk band from the 90s. Surrounded by MacBooks, oversized sweaters, and lattes with foam leaves, I sip my oolong chai and stare at my computer.

I’m enjoying that special kind of contemplative alone time only afforded after you’ve taken a massive life detour and can finally see yourself clearly.

“You can be anything you want!”

“Follow your passion and the money will follow!”

“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life!”

Those are the most prevalent pieces of advice I received as a child, adolescent, and young adult. Even now, I catch myself repeating this shit during moments of self-doubt and identity confusion. I’ve spent the entirety of my 20s trying to nail down my passion and thus stop needing to search for it.

It’s exhausting.

I’m fucking sick of trying to follow whateverthefuck my passion is this week and I’m starting to realize that following passion is not very good advice after all. Especially for me.

I am a very passionate person. About a lot of things. Sporadically. Until basically right now, I’ve considered this a really unfortunate personality trait. Without getting into the details of the 4-page resume I condense to 1 before submitting anywhere, let’s just let the record reflect that I don’t stick with anything.

If you’re like me and have to ask yourself what you’re passionate about, you probably don’t have a passion. You probably have a lot of different conflicting interests, some of which sometimes feel like life passions, but most of which definitely are not.

And apparently, as I’ve recently discovered for myself in a burst of uncharacteristic clarity, this is totally fine.

I find this new perspective quite liberating.

One of my passions is health and wellness, so I did what I always do and I followed that passion and completed a 6-month online program to become a certified health and life coach. By the end of this post, you will understand this was a funny little thing for me to do.

But one thing I internalized during my training was the power of reframing. Reframing is when you take an otherwise negative situation and flip it around until it looks positive. A reframe helps us see how even our most nonsensical and seemingly unfortunate choices and circumstances are actually leading us toward something greater.

As I type this from a coffee shop in Texas, skipping the health coach conference I came here for, I’m forced to come face-to-face with the fact that my life has taken a massive passion-filled detour the last 2+ years. But it’s actually a really good thing because I get it now.

During my detour, I founded a nonprofit yoga mat company, became a certified yoga teacher, worked as a yoga teacher, worked in marketing at a yoga studio, become a health and life coach, worked as a health and life coach, become certified in plant-based nutrition, started a plant-based meal prep delivery business, and taught myself the basics of computer programming and app development in a lame attempt to enter the field. I’ve also made basically no money unless you count the 3 months I worked in nonprofit finance and most nights I questioned my life purpose. Classic Ashley.

Was it all a waste? Hardly. I needed all those passion-fueled busts to lead me right here.

Last week I sat down with the founder of the nonprofit I currently health coach for, and she asked me off the cuff why I got out of real estate if I was doing so well. I heard myself reply with this rehearsed self-righteous bullshit I didn’t even know was still inside me until I heard myself say it.

I said stuff about the commission structure being obsolete and unfair and how I made too much money for what I actually did and how it felt like I robbed clients of their rightful home equity. I said stuff about how it wasn’t fulfilling or helping people in the way I wanted and how I was too young to sell out.

I couldn’t shut up.

I sounded so sure of myself.

But none of it was true.

I wasn’t lying. I just wasn’t telling the actual truth. I was saying what I wanted to hear and what I thought she wanted to hear and what I wanted so desperately to believe and what I always say when asked this question.

I left our meeting asking myself, why did I really quit the lucrative game I was winning, and why couldn’t I bring myself to admit it, whatever it was? What no-bullshit answer was I afraid to say aloud, even to myself?

I lost my passion.

I got fucking bored and figured it was time to move on to something more fulfilling, more driven by passion. The fun part of learning the gig, figuring out my ideal marketing strategy, and crushing my goals was over and I was left with just the daily grind and no big Why for doing it.

I have a habit of putting all this pressure on my career to complete me, to make me happy. But the truth is that given the nature of my passions, my career will never complete me or be the one thing to make me happy. But I hadn’t realized this yet.

So I quit.

Morality was the excuse I manufactured to explain why I didn’t have the passion. Passion was the thing I’m conditioned to think I need in a career. My career is the thing I’ve convinced myself will make me happy. Passion. Follow your passion. Follow your passion and you’ll be happy.

So despite landing among the top 20% at my office and making more money than I ever had, all while working part-time, I convinced myself that I needed a career I could be more passionate about.

How awful.

I recently had a revelation.

All of this passion-seeking fanaticism is not only bullshit, but it is also downright toxic to internalize as truth if, like me, your top character strengths include creativity and love of learning.

My VIA Character Strengths Survey results

My most recent passion is Positive Psychology because it’s literally the science of being happy, a state of being I have yet to figure out. Similar to how my passion for yoga led me to become a yoga teacher and my passion for health led me to become a health coach and my passion for SCUBA diving led me to work at a dive shop, my passion for Positive Psychology is leading me to get my master’s in it. Getting another humanities degree is not a strategic career move or a savvy investment in the common sense of the word, but I can’t stop myself from doing it. I’m obsessed and I’m following my passion.

According to Positive Psychology, there are 24 core character strengths that every human on earth recognizes, possesses to some degree, and mutually admires. There’s a free test you can take to find out yours, but my top strength is creativity, followed by forgiveness, love of learning, love, judgment, and curiosity.

What does that mean for the ideal direction of my life, especially my professional life?

To begin, I’m finding that it’s not wise to put that much pressure on my career to make me happy, and it’s not necessary to define myself by what I do for money.

As a creative, which I mean in the loosest sense of the word because writing and cooking are the only overtly creative endeavors I indulge–unless we count the Sculpey clay I pressed around silverware the week I quit my nonprofit finance job back in April, or the semester I spent in art school that first year of college when I probably should have studied math or political science or business or physics, instead of smoking weed and drawing faces–I find it easy to get passionate about things and let my imagination run wild with ideas. I’m the Idea Queen.

My creativity manifests itself through problem-solving. I love to think, dream, and think of new or novel ways to do things. This is evidenced by my various entrepreneurial endeavors, which are more compulsions than anything else. This brand of creativity is a useful skill to apply to a lot of things, and it’s quite fun to be this way, but creative thinking isn’t a career in and of itself. “Starving artist” is a thing for a reason. Being passionate about creativity means being passionate about the process, not the outcome.

And that’s precisely where I run into trouble.

For example, I was passionate about the process of FlowMats, but once the creative process ended and the daily grind of business set in, coupled with the fact that I don’t even make any money doing it, you can bet I was over it. The passion evaporated. A similar thing happened with real estate in 2015. And my Russian dumpling food cart in 2012. And teaching yoga in 2016. And most recently, health coaching.

Once the creative process ends and the learning plateaus, I get bored.

Like all my creative conquests and interests, even my most passionate urges and endeavors disintegrate, manifested or not, and I unapologetically abandon them and move on to the next. But when a new one emerges, I can’t even trust that it’ll stay because they never stay. This leaves me feeling simultaneously excited and scared. I put a lot of pressure on my passions to stand the test of time.

To make matters worse, I periodically find myself with days upon weeks upon months without a spark or urge to create or think or explore, coupled with that sinking feeling that I’ll never find my one true passion.

Those are the times I Netflix binge really embarrassing shows like Hart of Dixie, which I hope you either love or have never heard of, or less embarrassing shows like How I Met Your Mother, which I hope you have. I watched all 6 seasons, one episode after another while biking on my stationary bicycle in an unventilated garage in the heat of a Sacramento summer. That was right after I’d lost my passion for real estate. Good times with no regrets and buns of steel.

When I require my work to be fueled by passion, and my passion is the manifestation of my creativity and desire to learn, and my creativity and attention is intrinsically fleeting and forever grasping at new ideas, then I will always lose passion for my work and I will be forever unfulfilled.

Expecting my work to be passion-fueled also ignores the fact that whether I’m teaching yoga or health coaching clients or running a vegan food delivery service or selling real estate or slinging yoga mats, I have to sell either myself or a product. Unless I’m trading time for money at a 9-5, any business built on passion eventually reveals itself as what it is at the core: sales.

Following passion is flawed advice for a creative who loves to learn. The logical thing to do is to pursue bearable work that makes the most money in the least amount of time, thus relieving ample time to explore passions without the pressure of “following” them. That way, the income stays constant while the passions can come and go.

According to research in Positive Psychology, in order to feel fulfilled we need to use our top character strengths on a daily basis. For me this means I need a creative outlet and to always be learning, and that it’s best to keep that separate from my line of work.

If everything is sales at the end of the day, then I might as well sell the most expensive thing I possibly can so that I don’t have to sell too much of it to get by. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think the best way to truly follow my passions is to “sell out” and get back into real estate.

I can’t think of a better way to free up my time to do what I love.