This is the most terrifying thing I’ve had to bear in months.
I take a few deep breaths. I fiddle with the dishes. I pace my 396 square foot apartment. I wonder what errands I can go run. I’ve put this off days. Hell, I’ve been putting this off my whole life.
Three months ago I got a phone call from my boss. He tells me my contract is going to run out. They don’t have enough work to keep me on.
“Your last day will be September 30th,” my boss says. I’m thinking, “I’m going to be in Brazil October 1st.”
I get to Brazil with one of my best friends, Paul. We arrive in a sleepy town called Florianopolis. One night, we’re sitting by the lake. He asks me what I want to do when I go back home.
“I don’t know,” I tell him.
“Dude, everyday down here you wander around talking to strangers. The first day you walked into a woman’s shoe store and asked the cashier on a date. Without speaking any Portuguese. I don’t know anyone who loves social interactions as much as you.”
I feel my throat tighten. My heart quickens.
“Then you go back to the hostel and write. Why don’t you just do that? Write about what you love to do?”
A few weeks later I’m back in the US, staring at my computer screen, afraid to push a button. And I realize why I have spent so much psychic energy hiding what I love to do from myself.
What if people hated it? I could be rejected in 1000 ways and not blink. But when you do what you care about publicly, when you give your best effort in the thing you take the most pride in, you’re exposed. I’m opening myself up to be crushed.
I promised I would do it today. I paced around all morning. Ran errands to distract myself. I’ve done every chore I can think of. There is no more hiding.
My adrenaline is pumping. My hand hovers over the track pad. I close my eyes. I punch down. Then I run away from the computer squealing. I need to be far away to resist the temptation to cancel.
The pinwheel scrolls.
Fifteen months later, everything has changed. I write for a living. I’ve written duds. I’ve been downvoted into oblivion. I’ve been told my writing is shit. That I’m a complete hack.
But I’ve also heard from people who tell me my writing has changed their lives. People who have been inspired to quit their jobs. Or ask the girl of their dreams out on a date. My clients pay hundreds of dollars an hour to hear the thoughts that I was too afraid to share publicly less than 2 years ago.
And if you’re where I was, thinking about doing what you love, but terrified of how people might react, I will tell you this:
It is so worth it.
If you’re still looking for that thing that lights you up, my experience has taught me a few things about how to find it.
1) Look to where you fear judgment
Often times what we would love to do is hiding in plain sight. But we care so much that we hide it from ourselves to avoid trying and failing. Instead, we purposely choose things we don’t care about. We protect ourselves.
If you’d rather feel alive than protected, ask yourself, “What pastime are you afraid to share with the world? Where do you try to be perfect before anyone can see?”
If you’re terrified people might not like it, that’s a good sign. It means you care.
2) Ask yourself: “Where do I have a backlog of unpublished work?”
When I published my first piece on the Internet I had a backlog of 100’s of half written pieces. I still do. Dead giveaway.
Where do you have a horde of half-finished, unshared projects? Have you learned a bunch of songs halfway through, tinkered with a bunch of machines, sketched a dozen paintings?
If you are nodding, I have one assignment for you. Finish one. Pick one that scares you. Share it on Facebook. Do that, and I’ll bet you find your passion.
3) What do you see yourself doing one day, when you have it all figured out?
I fantasized about one day being a writer. I’d see myself in this earth-toned room typing away. Then I’d imagine myself at a book signing. People were thanking me for my books, telling me how they changed their lives. I was 100% sure this was inevitable.
Except I hadn’t published a damn thing.
Where do you see yourself once you feel secure enough to focus on what you really love? Move in that direction right now.
The truth is, you WILL NOT suddenly start doing that thing when you’re finances are better or life is more stable. What’s stopping you is not the timing. What’s stopping you is fear. You start today or chances are, you’ll never do it.
4) Do what you think about in the shower
Your shower is your laboratory. It is the place your mind is most free. Where does it go?
I talk to myself in the shower. I talk through conversations I should have had. I imagine stories I will experience. Sometimes I imagine I’m Jon Snow, Billy Pilgrim, or Yossarian and play out how I’d handle things in their positions. I shape my life into narrative.
Discover where your mind goes in the shower. It holds the clue to the activities that offer you the greatest freedom and creativity.
(FYI: I wrote this post in the bathroom. Then I came back and typed it out.)
5) Forget what you’re good at
In the age of 80/20 analysis spurred by Tim Ferriss, the popular advice is to focus on your strengths. If you’re good at it, you’ll like it.
I’m going to take the contrarian stance. Forget what you’re good at. What you’re good at is often an accident. You didn’t choose that thing. Your parents, your teachers, your peer group encouraged you to do it for their own motives. You kept on that road for their approval.
Get back to what you love. Even if you’re terrible at it today. What distinguishes world-class talent is not initial skill. It’s how much work you put in. Better to be motivated by the joy of an activity than the knowledge that it comes easy to you.