5 Methods for Persisting in Your True Calling
Previously on Pygmy Nuthatch (say that out loud in a gritty voiceover voice), I talked about the importance of persistence in the quest for realizing creative potential—powerfully illustrated in the story of Ray Kroc as portrayed by Michael Keaton in The Founder.
But that brings up an equally important question: how do you know what to persist in? How do you discern the difference between valiantly charging forth to pursue your passion and just banging your head against a wall?
Here are five methods I use for finding and persisting in the work that you’ve been called to do.
1: You’re already good at it
This sounds like a blinding flash of the obvious, but I think it’s very easy to get sidetracked by pie-in-the-sky ideas of what you want to do next and lose sight of what skills you already possess. If you’ve already been recognized for being good at X, and especially if you’ve made money doing X, then it’s a strong sign you have a solid future in that role. Even if it’s not really want you want to be doing ultimately, it could serve as an important springboard into that job description.
For example, if you’re a programmer who really wants to be doing UX design, focus on transitioning your programming work to front-end projects where you can work closely with top UX designers. Learn from them, build up a solid UX-focused portfolio, and then start to market yourself as a UX designer with strong programming chops to execute those designs.
2: You keep coming back to it
One of the best ways to find out if you really love doing something is to stop doing it. Take a break. Put it on the back burner. Give up.
I think it’s healthy to allow your life to breathe…to let seasons come and go naturally. For example, I spent a lot of time last year on a live setup for my electronic music act, but this year I moved and am currently without a music studio (home-based or otherwise).
But I’m not freaking out about it, because it’s a different season of life now. I’m focusing on Pygmy Nuthatch and a few other projects instead. If electronic music is really my jam, it’ll bubble back up to the surface when the time is right.
3: You find yourself intensely studying similar work by others
This is how I discovered I really wanted to master creating online video content. I’m a big fan of YouTube and regularly watch a bunch of shows on that platform (mostly focused around movies, TV, and geek culture). What I found is that as I was watching stuff on YouTube, I began to get a taste for what sorts of format or production styles I liked, which in turn fueled a desire in me to experiment and try out some of those ideas.
If you find yourself just naturally soaking up creative energy from folks you admire in a particular field, then it’s likely you’re supposed to head in that direction.
4: Opportunity knocks
It’s important to stay open to what comes your way. Ten years ago I got a job working in downtown San Francisco. Sounds dreamy, right? I _hated_it—at first. It didn’t fit my “life plan” at all at the time I got the offer, but once I got used to the long bus commute out of Sonoma County and found my bearings working in a fast-paced urban landscape, I discovered…that I really liked working in The City!
Today I work out of a fun cowork office in downtown Portland, and I can thank that out-of-the-blue opportunity ten years ago for setting me on this path.
5: You’ll never know if an apple is ripe ‘til you bite it
As the song goes, you’ll never know if a fire is gonna burn ‘til you light it. Perhaps you haven’t found your real passion in life simply because you haven’t tried it yet! That’s why I think it’s a big mistake for young people barely out of their teen years to jump right into a college major or some set-in-stone profession. My belief is it take years or even decades to uncover what you’re really good at and what you love doing. You might be in your 30s or 40s before you get there.
So try lots of different things. Try different industries, different crafts, different locales on Planet Earth! Don’t listen to the haters (or the voices in your head) saying you’re a flake and a looser because you can’t hold down a typical job for 5 straight years. You weren’t born in this day and age just to fill a role somebody else thinks you should be filling. Live a life that’s true to your own nature.
The only direction in life that matters is forward. Never backwards. –Henry “Pop” Hunter
As the hero’s journey of Luke Cage teaches us, persistence sometimes requires that you to flex your faith muscle. You can read that as a spiritual directive or in a more prosaic sense, but the fact is there’s immense value in taking that one more step forward towards your dreams, even if you see no circumstantial evidence that you’re on the right track.
Take a step forward, and then another, and then another. Write that next blog post. Post that next video. Send that next job proposal. Move to that next city. Your true calling in life will never materialize if you simply stay where you are and do nothing.
Creativity flourishes in movement.
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