This is a guest post by my friend Jennifer of the blog Simply + Fiercely.
When I was twenty-two, I decided that I was tired of my life and did something I’m almost scared to admit on a personal finance blog; I dropped out of university, bought a one-way ticket to London, and boarded a plane with nothing but a backpack, a work visa, and a meagre $500 in my pocket.
I landed at Heathrow after a long and difficult flight (I was sick on the plane) feeling completely lost, exhausted, and disoriented – but also happier than I’d ever felt in my life.
Despite the pitiful exchange rate, my limited funds (I realized I had enough to sustain me for exactly seven days – provided I stuck to a strict diet of peanut butter sandwiches) and the fact that I knew absolutely no one in London, I was beyond excited.
For the first time in my life, I was doing what I loved.
This was a few years before Steve Jobs gave his famous commencement speech and told us all to find what we love, but the hype was already in the air and I’d fallen for it – hook, line and sinker.
“Quit your job and travel the world!”
“Follow your passion!”
“Do what you love!”
I lived and breathed these mantras and, for the next few years, they guided my life.
Back in London, I landed on my feet, finding a job and place to live just hours before my money ran out. I spent a magical six months exploring the city and then, just as my work visa was about to expire, fate opened a new door and I moved to Ireland.
I continued travelling around the world for a few years: I taught English in China, ran with the bulls in Spain (ok – I watched!), lived in a camper van in New Zealand, and at the end of my adventures, I migrated to Australia.
Along the way, I preached to anyone who would listen that the secret to happiness was following your heart and doing what you love. After all – if I could do it, then so could you!
When I finally decided to settle down, I approached my career with the same youthful enthusiasm. Travel was my passion, so I was sure that if I made it my career, I would be happy.
You can probably guess what happened next …
When Your Dream Becomes a Nightmare
I started working as a travel agent and, within several months, I realized it was a huge mistake.
I worked long hours, but instead of helping people plan the trip of a lifetime, I spent most of my time looking for ways to compete with rock bottom internet airfares (usually finding the margin by shaving off my already tiny commission). I couldn’t share my favourite bed and breakfast in New Zealand because it wasn’t an ‘approved’ product so instead, I recommend cookie cutter hotel rooms I would never stay in myself. And to top it all off, it was a highly competitive environment where my self-worth was determined by my sales figures.
Every day, I felt like a piece of me that I loved was disappearing and slowly being replaced by someone else – someone I didn’t like. I started drinking too much and my already unhealthy shopping habits started to spiral out of control. I felt stuck, trapped, and looking back – I can see I was starting to give up on my dreams.
Now don’t get me wrong – there are a lot of travel agents I know who love their jobs, but it wasn’t right for me and this wasn’t an easy pill to swallow. I’d been so sure that I was on the right track, and realizing it wasn’t everything I expected it to be was hard to admit. This was more than a case of “I don’t like my job”; instead, it felt like my core beliefs had failed me. I passionately believed that the key to happiness was doing what you love – so when it didn’t work out as planned, I felt duped and even worse, foolish.
For the next few years, I drifted through life. I hopped from job to job, and even went overseas for a while, but when I came home I realized my problems were waiting for me and nothing had changed. Despite this, deep down I still desperately wanted to believe in the mantras of my youth. I wanted to feel truly alive, passionately chasing my dreams, like I had when I’d step off that plane at Heathrow.
Once, I tried to explain my feelings to a friend, but he looked me in the eye and told me, “Jen – is it possible you’re simply asking too much? This is life, it’s normal … it’s just part of growing up. There isn’t always magic.”
I nodded along, silently losing hope.
What It Really Means to Do What You Love
Not long after that conversation, an evening of random internet wandering led me to a blog post about minimalism. One click led to another, and without realizing it, I changed the course of my life. The full story is too long to share here but in short, as I learned to be intentional with the things in my home, I also learned to be intentional with my other life choices. I started thinking differently about my relationships, my schedule, my bank balance – and also my passion.
At the ripe old age of thirty-five, I still believe in “following your passion” and “doing what you love” – it just means something different to me now. I was never passionate about travel, just like you’re not passionate about fashion, or design, or personal finance (or any industry or hobby that floats your boat).
I’m passionate about lifelong learning, pushing myself beyond my comfort zone, and finding ways to do ‘impossible’ things. You might be passionate about sharing new ideas, finding new ways to tell old stories, or helping people see themselves in a different light.
Travel was a way I fulfilled many of my passions, but travel itself is just a pretty package. We are all full of dreams and hopes that can’t be summed up in neat and tidy boxes – and if we try to, we lose a piece of ourselves. Then we get frustrated, because we don’t have everything figured out, and we settle for a life that’s less than what we really deserve.
I’ve learned that doing what you love isn’t about tossing everything out the window to blindly chase a dream (that may or may not even really exist). Instead, it’s about showing up every day and doing something that really matters to you.
This is the difference between living for the weekends and actually living your life. Let go of the big milestones; happiness isn’t found in your wedding day or when you get a promotion. Our lives feel rich when we make deliberate and purposeful decisions each and every day to do what we love.
Again – you don’t have to have it all figured out – work a day job – but every morning decide to show up and do something you’re passionate about. Go for a walk, read a book, talk with strangers. In my case, I started a blog. I wanted to learn something new and push myself out of my comfort zone, so every evening I’d write (and I still do). It’s not easy or natural for me but I wanted to put my stories out into the universe and see what happened.
I’m still waiting to see the full picture, but it doesn’t matter. Even though I’m often scared, lost, and even disoriented (just like that afternoon at London Heathrow), I still wake up every morning with hope in my heart, happy in the knowledge I’m doing what I love.
Jennifer is the blogger behind Simply + Fiercely and creator of Thrive: Clear the Clutter + Create a Life You Love, a 30-day guided exploration to kickstart your simple and intentional living journey.