Today's post is written by a guest author, Hayley Barnes. Hayley is currently a truth-seeker, deep thought-haver, career-changer, and my little sister. I asked her to write something honest about her calling journey, and it's a beautiful, different story than my own.
When I was little, it was very en vogue to have a favorite "Thing." It could be unicorns or dolphins (a la Lisa Frank) or Hello Kitty or hearts or whatever, but whatever your "thing" was, you had to embrace it and use it as decoration. If you loved unicorns, you decorated your bedroom with them, you got unicorn T-shirts, your school supplies were all unicorn-themed, and extended family members knew to buy you things emblazoned with the rare and fantastical creatures.
You were defined, as a tween girl, by your “Thing,” your emblem. Similar to the great English houses of old: Tudor with their red rose, Plantagenet with their lions, your Tween Girl Emblem™ defined you, and you'd ride into battle for it.
My problem? I didn't have a Thing.
When I was quite small, I loved Winnie the Pooh and had a bedspread with the original illustrations (not the cartoonized version, I must've been very sophisticated for a 8-year-old); I also had a 3-foot tall stuffed Pooh. But when I aged out of that, I couldn't figure out what my new thing was. My sister Amy (older by 18 months; aka just old enough to boss me around but close enough in age that we were more or less going through the same things at the same time) loved smileys. In pre-emoticon 1999, a big round yellow smiley face with simple and vacant black eyes and a parenthese smile was the thing du jour. But it was Amy's. And just like I couldn't have Belle because Belle was Amy's, I needed to find my own thing.
Whatever. Jasmine’s cooler anyway.
I have a vivid memory of shopping at the mall and seeing a section of school supplies, divided by emblems. There were pencil cases, pencils, giant novelty erasers, and trapper keepers with peace signs; then the same with smileys; a section with unicorns (and rainbows this time); and finally, one with daisies. I remember seeing the subsets of school supplies and trying to coax a reaction of joy out of myself. Even at the tender age of 9, I was a little showman. "Daisies!" I shrieked. But it felt fake. "No, that's not it," I murmured to my gangly self. I guess daisies aren't my thing. But I knew, deep down, in my heart of hearts, that I had to have something. Everybody who was anybody had a Thing. Surely no one else had to do this much soul-searching at JC Penney's. I must have a Thing. I have to have a Thing. I just don't yet know what it is.
Flash forward to adulthood.
Well, sort of.
I grew up doing theatre—my first play at 11, acting class before that...plays at school, at the local community theatres, went to drama competitions (yes, those are a thing, yes, they are as nerdy as they sound) and finally decided to major in theatre when I went to college. This was it. This was my Thing. The thing I was passionate about. Maybe it wasn't an emblem, exactly. Maybe it was much more than that. It was my passion. That was my story, and I was sticking to it.
I went to a college with a great theatre program and graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting. I was gonna be an Actor. (cue the applause)
I got an acting apprenticeship at a respected theatre after I graduated college, and I moved to New York City. It was all happening! I went to auditions, got a series of pretty terrible minimum-wage jobs to afford my apartment in Brooklyn (the way-out there part, not the cool part), I hung out with other theatre people, I got rush tickets to Broadway shows. I even got an internship at a big Broadway company. It was a dream come true!
Until it wasn't.
In high school, one of the many acting workshops I went to had a slightly different flavor than the rest. Maybe I was the only one that noticed it, but I know it stuck with me. The workshop presenter started her talk with some advice. She said, in no uncertain terms: "Don't do this job. Don't pick this career. Don't pursue acting. Unless. Unless there's nothing else on the planet that could possibly satiate the need you have, the drive, the urge to perform. To be an Actor. If there's anything—and I mean anything—else that could possibly fulfill you, do that instead."
I remember her seriousness, the hardness with which she spoke. It struck a chord in me, because I think I knew way back then: I could (probably) be happy doing something else. But I was so, so stubborn. I wanted it to be the only thing in the world that would make me happy. And so I stuck with it. Through college, through New York. And every once in a while, her voice would come whistling into my consciousness, "...do that instead."
My problem was, I didn't know what that was.
Here I was again, at a crossroads. Only this time, it wasn't daisies or peace signs or smiley faces. It was a career, or at the very least, a job.
I had worked in food service and child care, I delivered newspapers, I made coffee, I took coats. I did a lot of things that I knew, resoundingly, were not my passion. And I had done a lot of what I thought my passion was: acting. And I loved it. But the rat race, and the endless salesmanship of the product that was Me? That, I didn't like so much.
But how do you transition out of something that was your supposed Passion? The thing everyone knows you for, that defines your social circle, your college major, your current career, your interests?
There are a lot of ways to do it. I don't know what all of them are. I did it, to borrow a line from John Green, “slowly, and then all at once.”
Flash forward a bit to, well, now. I've found myself back in my hometown. I have a new job, one that I'm pretty excited about. I'm not sure if it's my passion. But it involves writing, which I'm slowly seeing as something I want to incorporate into my life more and more. And the job doesn't hit every checkbox of my perfect Dream Job. But it's exciting, and it's new, and I think it will open doors for me.
And ultimately, my big Discovery? The thing I've learned most on this whirlwind journey?
You don't have to have a passion. You can have small things that fulfill you.
You can have hobbies that make you happy, and people in your life who fill you with joy, and volunteer work that makes a difference, and if all that sounds truly depressing and you still want your job to line up with your passion? You can keep looking!
There is no deadline, dear reader. Rejoice! Life doesn't start AFTER you've reached a certain age, or gotten a certain job, or found a certain passion. Life is what's happening right now, all around you, while you're looking for it. And yes, I know, I'm not the first person to say that, and I sure as hell won't be the last. But the sooner you can take joy in the life you're living today, the sooner you can begin to craft and design a new definition for that P-word. You can decide what your passion means to you.
As for me? I'm going to keep looking. And if I decide not to pinpoint one particular thing? What a joyous journey it will have been to search along the way.
Hayley is an aspiring writer and day-job-haver who needs a creative outlet. She enjoys black coffee, interesting conversation, oxford commas, and dumb jokes, and dislikes the phrases “mommy blog” and “affiliate link.” She enjoys being nice and being snarky in equal measure; the universe is all about balance, right? You can read more about Hayley's adventures by clicking here.