“Do whatever brings you to life, then. Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.” ~Elizabeth Gilbert
In my twenties I achieved what many young musicians dream of. I got signed to a major label, I got to work with great people in beautiful studios, and I got to travel the world, playing my own music.
Living the dream, right?
Many things were great, but many things were eating me up, as well. The work was all-consuming, and over time my passion faded. I started to long for something else.
I needed a new dream and a new passion. So I left my band and I left my passion for music behind me for good. Or so I thought.
About a year ago, I found myself walking home from work, listening to music, and little ideas started to pop in my head—an idea for a drum beat, little fragments of melodies.
Maybe I should write these down just to see what happens, I thought to myself. I dug up my old music making software and started to play around with it.
I found an old song from the depths of my archives that I’d left unfinished years before. I started to add my new ideas into it, and to my surprise, I finally finished the song.
Then I thought I’d try writing a completely new song. I was very happy with it, so I wrote another. And then another.
I felt excited and invigorated. The entire world became a source of inspiration—a catchy slogan on a T-shirt, an interesting photo in a magazine, a silly synth sound on an old record. My notebook was soon filled with scribbles, notes, and musings.
But a small voice in the back of my mind was complaining.
What was I trying to achieve with all this? Surely, I was done with music. I had no interest in going back to what I had so definitely put behind me all those years ago.
I had a new life, new focus, new people around me. I could not see myself touring again. I didn’t harbor any dreams of being a rock star anymore.
Even though I really enjoyed the act of making music again, my rational mind felt confused and reluctant.
My mind kept producing every single reason imaginable why I should stop this music nonsense here and now: I was too old, I was too busy, I had other plans, it was all pointless and a waste of my precious time.
But the songs kept coming. The process felt easy and fun. I had never written songs as effortlessly before.
I was enjoying the process of writing songs enormously. These new songs made me ridiculously happy. I was proud of them and I felt that it would be a real shame if I tried to stop them from coming out.
So I stopped listening to all the noise in my head and realized something else instead: When stripped from external expectations, I was free to experience the simple joy of doing.
When I stopped thinking of what I should achieve with this music, I re-discovered the passion I had for it in its purest form. Doing for the joy of doing.
And it brightened up my entire world.
I realized that the passion had always been there, but it had gotten muted by my need for achievement. Striving to “make it” had distracted me from the passion itself, so much so that I’d started thinking it wasn’t there anymore.
If you’re wondering what happened to something that you used to be so passionate about, and how to reignite the spark, here are a few thoughts from my own experience.
Don’t try to achieve anything.
The world is so saturated with talk of success, which we often define in the most simplistic terms of money, power, fame, looking hot, owning stuff. Is that really what it’s about to you? Is that the real fuel of your passion, or is it something that you think your passion should give you in order to be valid?
Strip away the need to achieve anything specific or reach traditional success, and focus solely on the joy of doing.
Don’t listen to your inner critic.
We are our own harshest critics. It’s easy to look at other people, especially the ones we admire, and dismiss our own efforts as useless. Don’t judge yourself or what you’re doing. Don’t try to compete. Just do what makes you happy. If you enjoy yourself, you’re not wasting time.
Your passion is probably something that no one else is asking you to do. Everything else in life demands your time and attention first. Make sure you carve the time to do something just for you, even if you only have fifteen minutes. Your passion is valid and it deserves your time and attention.
You’re not too old.
The world is infinitely more diverse than what society makes us believe. We’re conditioned to feel we are too young or too old, too big or too small. And never enough.
You may be older now, and in many ways a different person too, but you have all the life and the wisdom that you didn’t have when you were younger. If you’re older you also know yourself better. You don’t need to be a certain age in order to do what you enjoy. You just need to make time and do it.
What if you didn’t need anyone’s permission or validation or money? What if you stripped yourself from all expectations, forgot your disappointments, and silenced all the noise in your head?
What if you didn’t expect praise, success, achievement? What would you do then?
Your passion is the thing that makes you come alive and makes you happy there and then. It makes life more interesting and worthwhile. It has nothing to do with external expectations, and it’s not about a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
When I reconnected with my passion for music, I realized that as a younger person I was too busy focusing on achieving a big dream and all the rewards that I thought it would bring me.
In the end that dream was weighing me down.
What started as a joy had turned into a grind. What filled me with excitement had turned into bitterness. What felt like a dream come true had become the source of my misery.
The following break and disconnect was necessary so that I could reset myself.
Then the passion came back despite my reluctance and doubt. And once I let it back in I saw it with new eyes.
It’s not about the end goal, it’s about enjoying the process.
It’s not about the “one day” but the life you live every day. It’s not about the praise you will receive, but the joy you will get from doing it.
That’s why it’s called a passion.