At the start of each new year in elementary school, my parents let me pick an after-school activity. Whether it was an art class, sports team, music lessons – my curious little mind got to explore a new hobby that sparked my interest. Never did I choose an activity based off of what I thought I was naturally good at. Most of us don’t even know what we’re good at when we’re only 7.
Then came junior high and high school, where it began to become more clear that I was never going to be a track star (I have a giant hurdling accident-induced scar on my right shin to prove it), but found my forte in music – specifically, show choir.
I happily jazz-squared my way through high school, finding joy in performing, but knowing after graduation I would hang up the sequins. I was good, but not good enough to pursue music or dance as a profession, so I shut the door on my short-lived show choir career.
Now at 26, I miss it desperately.
Do I wish I was a 26-year-old back in high school show choir? No. I’ll be perfectly fine never having to glue on another pair of fake eyelashes. But it’s more the act of pursuing something for no other reason than pure joy that my heart aches for.
You get to a point in your life when you realize that everything you do is working towards some end goal. If you take the traditional college route, it begins that first day of your freshman year. Every single class you take is working towards your degree. Your degree, towards a job. Your job, towards your livelihood.
Even the activities outside of class and work, all towards some goal. Clubs and organizations, to pad your resume. Workout classes, to stay mentally and physically fit. Hanging out with friends, to curate community.
Sure, a lot of the things you do day-to-day bring you joy (I sure hope so), and you might genuinely enjoy your classes and your job. But when’s the last time you took a few hours out of your day to do something solely because it brings you joy, or makes you feel like your truest self? Something you’re not even conventionally good at.
I used to write songs. Painful, early Taylor Swift country-inspired songs that would give you (and me) incredible secondhand embarrassment if I ever played them for you. The lyrics were elementary and the melodies were composed of different variations of the four simple chords I could play. I knew those songs would never leave the pages of my journal or the walls of my bedroom, but creating them made me happy.
But at some point during college I just stopped. I got busy, and classes and activities took precedent. Those songs weren’t going to help me land my dream job, so I couldn’t justify spending time on them. And most of all, I didn’t consider myself that good at songwriting anyways. So I put down my guitar pick and focused on my future.
We’ve become so obsessed with defining what we “are” and what we “do” by our careers or area of study. It makes sense, right? Most of us spend the majority of our time in our jobs, so it only feels natural to define yourself by what you spend most of your time doing.
That leads to our identities being tied to our professions. The thing that pays our bills. That for most people, isn’t their end-all-be-all passion in life. This can then lead to an internal guilt-trip that you’ve chosen the wrong career-path if you don’t jump out of bed every day, headed to work to pursue your life’s calling.
But what if we changed our perspective? Who says you have to be an expert at what you “do”? Who says what you “do” has to be your 9-5 job? Why can’t your job just be the thing that pays your bills, and your “do” be the thing that brings you joy?
It starts with picking up the guitar pick, or paint brush, or tap shoes, or tennis racket, or whatever activity you’ve deemed yourself “not good enough at” to pursue beyond an extracurricular activity. Or maybe it starts with discovering what that is for you.
A few months ago I had of a “quarter-life crisis” where I realized I’d buried myself in work for the past 3 years and lost a
little bit lot of myself through defining who I was by the success of my business. Yes, I enjoy what I do and it brings me happiness most days, but it’s not me.
So I picked up my guitar, started rebuilding my finger calluses and writing again. And with my widened vocabulary and matured perspective on life issues, I wouldn’t cringe if I was forced to play some of the songs in public.
Will I be knocking down the doors of record labels passing out my demo? No. And that’s the key to doing something that reminds you of who you are – there should be no ulterior motive other than pure joy.
But the next time someone asks me what I do I can tell them, “I run a business and I write songs” and totally and completely own it.