Passion Projects

We find countless reasons to celebrate. There is a new “national holiday” ever 24 hours. Today, for example, is #NationalMacandCheeseDay. [I’ll be celebrating properly for dinner.] While these “national days” are purely gimmicky in nature and solely developed by marketers (not unlike myself), they instill a reason to enjoy life.

When we celebrate our 18th birthday, we typically mark it as the moment we become adults. And it’s certainly not as clean cut as it sounds. We don’t fall asleep as a rebellious, hormonal teenager and the next morning wake up a wise adult with a sense of purpose and a great financial fortune to pursue a certain calling. It’s entirely gradual and not gained in one moment or another.

Adolescence captures the first true transformation we’re somewhat in control of. Childhood is heavily, if not completely, navigated by our parents. However, our “teen-to-twenties” journey is rarely defined by family, rather primarily under our reign. Through our increasing independence, we evolve from being stubborn and reckless and eventually sharpen our personalities and define life’s next steps. It’s at this point in our lives, where we learn patience, sacrifice, self-discipline, hard work, and above all, responsibility.

Spoiler alert: these behaviors are hard to master in your twenties, let alone in any life decade. Each behavior is a lifelong effort that can only be understood from a matured, cultured life experience. And even then, one could argue that we never truly master things like self-discipline or patience. There are always instances that will challenge, if not disrupt, our progress.

When you finally reach your early twenties, it feels as though you’re stuck between “growing up” and “being a grown up”. We’re fresh off our educational journey that provided concrete structure and definitive growth. You graduate one grade, and you’re off to another – receiving diplomas and “checking off life’s boxes”.

After graduation, we face a giant glaring question: “now what?” Most of us start a career, but what about life outside work? What do we do with the newfound free time? After a year into any job, daily routines begin to feel comfortable and we’re well aware that those afternoon naps from college are now extinct. Then, we start to question “the next life box to check off”.

We work in order to live. We do not live in order to work. So what hangs in the balance?

I think the answer lies in a relatively new life stage that resides somewhere between adolescence and adulthood. This life stage is in being designed and refined uniquely by millennials who have differing life priorities than traditional generations before us. One of self-definition and solitude. Enter, Developing Adulthood.

Historically, society imposed a notion that marriage and kids were the automatic next box to check off post-education. You’d receive your diploma, lock down a partner, schedule the date for the wedding, pick out nursery colors, and you know the story. Life boxes: Check, check, check.

People, ones that I love, have followed this life path for years, quite successfully. That’s not to say they simply floated through life checking off the boxes with ease. Simply put, they follow a traditional, familiar road map that seems almost inherent.

Today, however, these life events are less of an immediate priority for the majority of millennials.

Needless to say, everyone’s priorities are different, but as a result of cultural shifts, traditional progression in the sense of marriage and kids has moved to the back burner while conquering career success and focusing on self-development have moved up to a full boil. There’s varying explanations for this. Perhaps, it’s because our generation has fallen deep into student debt and it takes longer to become financially secure, prolonging the ability to afford a house and provide for a family. Or, it’s that online dating has disrupted natural romance so much, that we take years swiping right before finding “the one”. But more likely than either of those theories, is that millennials feel less pressure to tie the knot because they are simply more interested in taking time to enjoy their freedom and focus energies on unique “passion projects”.

While “lazy”, “tech-obsessed”, and “selfish” are association words commonly smacked on a millennial label, the “Developing Adulthood” life stage contradicts those notions altogether. Instead of securing a life partner, we’re “securing the bag” [mom, you may have to look that one up]. We want to feel successful in a unique way, specific to our fibers. We’re focused on determining what makes us unique, which leads to questions like: What talents and self-expression tactics can I practice now before “adult-influenced responsibilities” limit my time to explore them?

Perhaps this is the essence of the epic life search to “find yourself”. Sometimes, it’s our careers that answer this quest and fill our threshold of satisfaction. But I would challenge that it’s the interests that lie outside the office that truly make the wheels in our head turn and elevate a spirit of enthusiasm. At the very core, these interests spark full-blown hobbies or “Passion Projects”.

I can count on more than my fingers and toes the amount of friends who’ve developed these passion projects. Some are even pursuing their livelihood from them. Projects such as: designing clothing lines, starting an event consultant start-up, becoming a part-time yoga instructor, creating a personalized music streaming service, making and selling their own branded products. Not to mention the many, many bloggers all creating content and pouring fresh concepts into the world. Basically, it’s uncommon to find a millennial without a “side hustle” these days.

Any of these passion-project-pursuers would agree that their projects require consistent and intentional effort, sacrifice to ensure they are properly cared for, time and resources, as well as an enormous investment, sometimes financially but almost always emotionally. (Almost sounds like raising a child, right?).

Having something you care about to the brink of obsession is lucky, but what if you don’t have a passion? They aren’t available on Amazon and certainly don’t come easily or cheaply. A lot of recent conversations with fellow millennials (cringing how many times I’ve used that word) have sparked this idea that you have to be the best at something for it to be considered a passion.

Let’s say you loved photography but always had your left thumb poking in the corner of every shot. You may not get hired to do your friend’s wedding shots but that doesn’t mean you can’t chase after it or enroll in a class, or blog about the best angle techniques, or post your shots all over Instagram (thumbs and all). Just because you’re not the Michael Jordan of photography, doesn’t diminish it as a personal interest or even a passion. Your pure interest in something is simply where a passion originates from. And we develop them all the time.

Hobbies may come quicker to you than others and vice versa. You might pick up a basketball and instantly compete with the shot-range of Steph Curry. But typically, we’re relatively mediocre at our hobbies and just enjoy them because they provide joy, comfort, or relief. You should pursue anything that makes you feel those things, regardless of natural raw talent. Often though, they are synonymous.

I recently received a letter I wrote to myself 5 years ago, when I was on a senior class retreat in high school [Side Note: Do this. Write to your future self, the reflection is incredible]. Within that letter I captured a concern that I simply didn’t know what makes me unique. In other words, I wasn’t sure what I was good at. Keep in mind, this was a crucial time when I was making a decision about college, which at that time meant I had to decide what I wanted to do for the rest of eternity [L.O.L] It was a time where we are measured up to classmates on athletic skill, popularity, book smarts, street smarts, artistic ability, etc. and I had no clue what I was the best at. I’m thankful to have realized later on that it’s not one thing that defines each of us, rather a compilation of interests and traits that continually develop over time.

I love to travel, but is traveling my hobby? Maybe, but it’s definitely an expensive one. I love playing tennis and baking, but can I ace every serve or never burn a batch of cookies again? Probably not. Because we fear failing at something, we back away from our passions. We internally argue that since we lack natural talent, our talents are too expensive, too timely, too overwhelming etc. that they weren’t worth pursuing anyways.

It’s not easy to pursue passions. It should be, but it’s not. That’s what separates the wildly successful. They consciously choose to take on their passions and ignore the criticism and inner monologues that challenge a positive mindset. Recently, my favorite quote resonates with this notion:

“Everything you ever want to accomplish in life, lies on the other side of consistency.”

It can be extrodinarily difficult to pursue something when you lack self-motivation to be consistent.

I love yoga. But I haven’t been to a yoga class in months. Why? Because I’m the most un-flexible, often un-coordinated yogi out there. I grew up dancing as a child. I stopped because I wasn’t the best in my class [My instructor also told me I had football-wide shoulders and feet like a penguin –  it’s no surprise I’m in therapy]. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy dancing, it’s that I felt if I can’t be the best at it and if I had an expert telling me I wasn’t “a match”, I might as well give up. I lowered my expectation and my efforts declined subsequently. It’s these mental blocks that encourage senseless reasons to resign.

You can absolutely pursue a passion and not be the best at it. It just has to fuel you.

We’re each here to explore what makes us unique. It’s not something we can research or something our best friend can tell us. It’s typically not one thing independent of everything else. It’s learned and felt from within. The only necessary component to pursue something is that you love it. After you realize you love something enough and commit to it, the self-motivation, discipline and consistency will be the driving forces to get you where you need to be. It doesn’t have to be on global scale to have an impact. The best part about passion projects are that YOU GET TO DEFINE THEM. You’re the creator.

Our passions are the answer to what lies in the balance. Regardless of the next life box you’re racing to check off, allow your passions to evolve as you evolve. Share them with others and remain compassionate to yourself, allowing enough fluidity in your life to accept failure and proceed anyways.


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