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In pursuit of a passion: The life of a generalist

We’re often told that successful, driven people are able to reach their goals because they are singularly focused toward a final goal, one objective they’re reaching for their whole life. All of their actions are taking them towards that goal, their passion pushing them through every setback. Without wanting to sound dead inside, I’ve recently been struggling to find something in my life that I could describe as my ‘passion’. What I have found, however, is that living my life in pursuit of a passion can be just as fulfilling.

Losing my way

In my younger years I had a lot of hobbies. Younger me could read any book put in front of him, staying up late under the covers to finish whatever I was reading that week. At the weekends I would stand in a field shooting arrows into a target, six at a time until I couldn’t hold my arms up anymore (I belonged to an archery club I’m not just a psychopath). Through university I became intensely focused on the minute details associated with historical events, and the immense complexity of the lives of people who died long before I was born. I think it’s clear that I’ve never been the coolest guy in the world, but I certainly had a wide range of interests.

Now we’re a few years down the line you would think I’ve read thousands of books and I’m about ready to use my archery skills to steal from the rich to give to the poor, but that is sadly not the case. In fact, last week I finished the first novel I have read in over a year. It took me two months to finish. Finishing it felt like a genuine accomplishment, and it was. Throughout high school and university there was always something to work towards, like getting my A-levels or my degree, that distracted me from my hobbies. University was a fairly stressful time, and the constant race towards some predetermined final point can be all consuming. In the last few years I became so obsessed with reaching my goals that I lost the things I was genuinely passionate about.

Trying something new

This might make me seem like I live an unhappy life without anything that interests me, but recently I’ve found it remarkably calming. Now that I have a job and am no longer in pursuit of a final goal, I can enjoy the ‘here and now’ without stressing about what I need to do next. All of my goals are confined to my work time, and outside of that I can pursue anything that takes my fancy. My main pastime has been trying new hobbies. Turns out I’m terrible at both golf and skiing but having spent a year playing pool four times per week, and I can say that I am not complete garbage. Even writing these blog articles is an outlet for me to write about things which genuinely interest me, and have encouraged me to write more in my free time as well.

As much as I can sit here and list all of the fun things I like to do in my evenings and weekends, the point is that passion for me isn’t about pursuing some final intangible goal. Although I may not be the expert in any one thing, I’ve found I can turn my hand to a fairly wide range of pursuits and pick things up pretty quickly. Call it what you like: generalist, multipotentialite, polymath, the point is that I struggle to direct myself towards one thing. The conclusion I’ve reached recently is that I actually refuse to, instead favoring having a workable knowledge of many things.

Nowadays we constantly base our perception of success on our ability to fulfill big (often financial) goals. As someone with no clear goal, am I inherently unsuccessful? The answer is of course no, and I certainly don’t feel unsuccessful. At work there are targets to meet, projects to complete and all sorts of small goals in between. But, in my personal life, I’m not focused on reaching some far off point. Instead I choose to take my experiences as they come, and I’m having an absolute ball. So, if you’re currently struggling to find a passion or establish some far away goal to reach for, I would recommend taking a step back and seeing what takes your fancy. Say yes to new things always, just don’t expect to be good at everything straight away.

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