A red-headed woman in a suit jacket with black, plastic glasses and a white shirt, holding red flowers

An excerpt from Liz Forkin Bohannon’s Beginner’s Pluck: Build Your Life of Purpose and Impact Now (copyright protected Baker Publishing Group)

After my illustrious childhood theatre career peaked with my riveting performance as A MOTH, I started exploring my other options and took up gymnastics. I have a distinct memory of sitting in my friend Lauren’s bedroom in the fifth grade, admiring her gleaming shelves of gymnastic trophies, plaques, ribbons and medals. I’d get a burning feeling of jealousy while staring at her accolades and hearing her humble brag about her pre-dawn practices. I dreamt about what it would feel like to love something that much

While I was working on perfecting my back walkover in Level 3 gymnastics at the local YMCA (completely average, one might say), Lauren was practicing her back tuck with a private coach at a fancy gym across town. By the fifth grade, she was a Level 8 gymnast, and word on the street was that Level 8 was “Pre-Olympic.” 

I, on the other hand, at my first competitive gymnastics meet, completely blanked while running my little heart down the vault mat and did the wrong trick altogether during my maiden vault competition. I did a “squat-through” instead of the requisite front handspring. 

You know what doing a squat-through when you should have done a front handspring earns you in a gymnastics meet, no matter how dang good that squat-through may have been executed?

It earns you, an awkward 10-year-old in sparkly spandex and braces (on only her two front teeth! This should be considered cruel and usual preteen punishment), the opportunity to stand in front of a crowd of strangers and friends, while, one by one, the judges hold up big fat zeroes on their scorecards. 

Cover Image via Elle Communications

That’s what it gets you.

I remember staring at all those zeros while I tried to smile and hold back tears, as I mentally compared my line of zeroes to Lauren’s gleaming shelves of trophies and wondered if I would ever find my thing. 

Throughout the next 10 years I found myself on a similarly unremarkable trajectory: I liked school and was smart, but nowhere close to valedictorian. I could carry a tune but didn’t love choir enough to put in the effort to learn how to read music. I tried out for the soccer team and did actually barely make it, only to fracture my elbow when I got really bored during a game and started practicing my pirouette turns and took a cleat-induced fall, as serious athletes do.

I wondered if I would ever find my thing. 

I was not on a promising track to find my thing. The thing that would light my little heart on fire. 

As I left behind visions of literal trophies and awards and progressed toward adulthood, I started to think that because I was clearly not extraordinarily passionate at any one thing, this would certainly preclude me from living an extraordinary life. 

I wonder if you’ve ever felt the same pang of insecurity and shame that comes from recognizing you might be semi-decent and enjoy a few things but that you haven’t yet found your thing

I seem to meet a lot of people plagued by this same insecurity and it’s got me wondering: Where exactly it is that we get the idea that we need to have our thing? Did it emerge around the same time as this notion of a soulmate

I started to think that because I was clearly not extraordinarily passionate at any one thing, this would certainly preclude me from living an extraordinary life. 

Perhaps without articulating it, do you secretly believe that your purpose and passion is a singular “soul mate” out there waiting for you to discover it? That there is one path that will lead you into its awe-inducing, fix-all-of-your-problems, forever-embrace? 

Looking back on my journey, I think I did believe that. And in retrospect, it’s easy to see what an unproductive, anxiety-producing load of crap that is. To believe that your passion and purpose exists, fully formed “out there” like the handsome Italian moped-driving love interest in a straight-to-DVD Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen movie, and is waiting to be found is a kind of lunacy. And it puts an awful lot of pressure on you to make the right step and get the right degree and open the right door so the stars align and you can, in a cinematically glorious moment, Find Your Passion Under the Tuscan Sun

I am here to tell you: You will never find your passion and purpose. There. I said it. You’re probably in shock and maybe a little bit angry because you did not splurge on a hardback book only to be given the news that you’re never going to find your passion and purpose but it’s true.

Because your passion and purpose isn’t out there, buried like treasure or hiding behind a tree. It’s not waiting for you to open the right door or peek under the right rock before it jumps out at you like you’re playing some cosmically cruel game of hide-and-seek. 

Your passion and purpose isn’t out there, buried like treasure or hiding behind a tree.

Passion and purpose are not an object of desire or hidden treasure waiting to be discovered. They are a canvas that is waiting for you to get the first splatter of paint on it. They are a blank computer screen that needs about 100,000 words on it to make a story, but (because of math and stuff) you can’t have 100,000 until you have 10,000 and you can’t have 10,000 before you write the first word. 

Passion isn’t a preexisting condition. A life of purpose and passion can’t be found. It is the result of being brave, curious, and dare I say, plucky? You do not find your passion and purpose. You build it. 

What are your thoughts on “finding your purpose”? What has been your journey is pursuing and creating passion in life?

Image via Tony Li for Darling Issue 21

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