These are the words spoken by Steve Jobs on June 12, 2005 at a ‘commencement address’ he gave at Stanford University.
Jobs dropped out of college, and in so doing, he tells the story of by dropping out of doing classes that he was bored with, he was able to drop in on classes that inspired him. At the time, he had no idea how these classes that he chose to drop in on would ever help him in the future… that wasn’t why he was choosing them, he chose them because he felt passionate, interested, or intrigued by them.
Stop trying to connect the dots now…
Jobs said “You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards.”
As parents, Lizzie and I have always encouraged both our sons to choose the things they love to do and that this be there priority. Of course this needs to be balanced with life’s realities, which requires them to at times be doing ‘other things’ that will earn them enough money to be able to continue to pursue that which they love.
It’s balance… not easy, maybe even sometimes not practical, but putting in the effort to figure it out, is certainly an intentional choice that will allow them to, for the most part, be engaged and living their life in flow, rather than existing each day in monotonous and soul destroying work.
Bring on the arguments…
(1) But what about the money?
I’ve thought deeply about this, and what arguments might be offered to negate this optimal thinking around pursuing our passions. Of course money is always something that would surface. Surely there’s the argument that you won’t be able to pursue your passion because not all passions will earn you money, and therefore you’ve got to take a job outside of what you’re passionate about so that you can feed, clothe, and shelter yourself. And I say, fair enough. But that’s not an end game… it’s a support game. Play it so that you build your experiences, strengths and opportunities in what you’re passionate about.
(2) Not all passions can be careers!
Another argument that is similar to the ‘you need’ money thinking, is that pursuing your passion is not practical because not all passions will ultimately lead you to be able to create a career out of them. My argument is why does it need to be a career? Sure, ideally that would be wonderful, but Steve Jobs’ message to the college students was to be relentless in pursuing your purpose, your calling, your passion, because as you’re pursuing it, even though you may not be able to connect the dots at the time, you’re gaining invaluable experience in life skills that at some stage in the future you will more than likely utilise and be able to look back and say… “Oh, now I see why and how that was so important to me!” Maybe not every passion will be a career, but perhaps the pursuit of your passion will help you discover a career that you didn’t even think possible.
(3) It’s ok if you don’t have commitments
Another argument is that this is OK when you’re young and don’t have commitments, but just not practical when you’ve got a mortgage and a family to support. Once again, I agree that this is certainly not going to be an easy choice and I’m certainly not advocating giving up everything that provides you with a sense of security, however, what I do suggest is that if you’re not at least pursuing what inspires you, what feeds your soul and creativity, there’s a big chance that your family, despite you providing for them financially and security wise, are probably not getting the best of you because your life is missing that something, and the treadmill of work that doesn’t inspire you, is slowly sapping your inspiration and sense of well being. A mindset shift toward looking at how you might bring some balance back into your creative soul by defining and pursuing (incrementally at first) opportunities to learn and do things that you enjoy, that you have always wanted to learn or do, is the first step toward who knows what. If you don’t at least start, the ‘who knows what’ can never be given a chance to appear.
(4) I don’t have a passion, purpose or ‘calling’
Yep, I reckon this is the biggie for many of us. So maybe forget the words for a moment, a look at it a bit more practically. Instead of passion, purpose or calling, why not start with what you’re interested in doing, what you enjoy doing, what you would enjoy learning more about or to build your skills in?
Start by answering that and let your passion, purpose or calling find you.
This isn’t ‘soft’ thinking. It’s the opposite… it’s tough. It takes courage. It takes support. It takes stepping out on a limb that might seem a bit wobbly at first, but so long as you approach it practically, balanced, and with the understanding that you won’t be able to connect the dots immediately, who knows what you might have learned, have done and be doing in a few years time that you never conceived even possible.
What do you need to drop out of, so that you can drop into now to start living an even more happy, flourishing and prosperous life?