An essay about pursuing your passions by James Bonner

Pursuing Your Passion: How to Turn Your Art into Your Work | Personal Growth, Purpose, and Fulfillment

Think of a work of art. I’ve been writing since before I can remember. I’ve been writing professionally (although sub-standardly) since I was twenty. I’ve spent countless hours penning articles, columns, short stories, and reviews for newspapers, magazines, literary journals, and blogs. I’ve even hurried through a languorously written novel. There have been times when it felt as if the words were passing through me and onto paper as swiftly and flawlessly as if I were translating thoughts from somewhere between instinct and ambition. And there have been times when writing has met me with resistance when the writing felt like work.

These times, it’s the process that softens the lines between art and work, finding the perfect word, shaping the ideal sentence, and polishing a paragraph; every one of us has a similar process when practicing something we love. For you, it might be writing or another craft, your focus might be marketing, digital art, or management (developing people), how you interact with people, farming, communication, computers, or research. When exploring your passion there are no distinguishable lines between work and art. The Latin for work is ‘opus.’ An opus is a great masterpiece, a composition. Through work we create and express ourselves, it’s how we contribute. Work is how we make a difference and introduce ourselves to the world. When we refuse to work, we refuse to acknowledge our contribution, worse, we refuse to recognize our purpose.

Our society’s segregation of art and work and our disdain and resentment for working, in coalition with the declining importance of certain cardinal prerequisites, are at the root of many escalating problems that we misattribute. The connotation of what it means to “work,” has become a negative one. The context in today’s world has developed into thinking of work merely as a way to “pay the bills;” and a way to control and manipulate us. There is a pseudo idea that work, and art, are different things, and that work might interfere with the practice of one’s art. Our mindset of what is possible and what it might take to create or build one’s life has shifted to the idea that life shouldn’t be “wasted,” working.

Our culture is in the habit of reinforcing the negative connotation. We are encouraged to be whatever we want until we try to do and to be whoever that might be, and then we are told “that [it’s] not practical.” Instead of blaming others, finding comfort in bitterness, and forswearing any effort that might be necessary to change not only our circumstances but those of future generations-washing our hands of accountability and lying in wait for someone else to take responsibility for the residual consequences do need to turn our focus inward to the process of developing ourselves.

The fact that we have to work is not the problem, and it’s not even among the many Problems. What is most attributable to our disdain for work is our unwillingness to explore who we are and apply the effort to become that person. There isn’t an industry or a job that didn’t first develop from passion; that realization should present an opportunity for many of us to pursue our passions more smoothly. Humankind’s purpose precedes us, our purpose compels us to discover who we are and what our passions might be. Learn how to develop ourselves via our art, and figure out how to become an artist, and that will pave the way to build a career on behalf of that art.

Many of us are waiting for someone to tell us it’s OK to be who we believe we already are, without exploring our reasons for wanting the opportunity. An artist who has a responsibility to humanity understands that responsibility and will practice their art for the betterment of humankind. An artist knows, too, that the enrichment of mankind, although constructive, is not the reason for exploring their art, their work. It is in the act of creating the opus, despite purpose, and despite how the world might benefit from that purpose, that is behind both the desire and the need to work.

In my late teens, I was as unhappy with expectations and conformity, policies and procedures, and being practical and duteous as anyone. I, too, wholeheartedly believed that life was not meant to be wasted working. I didn’t want to go to college and study marketing or business; no, I wanted to be a writer. However, I was told pursuing a career in writing was impractical. At some point during my sophomore year of high school, I was introduced to psychology. I started to pursue the idea of becoming a clinical psychologist. Going into college, assuming writing wasn’t an option, I thought I wanted, instead, to help someone explore their troubles and their traumas. Until I realized, late in my education, that the expectations of our society, the practice of therapy, and my expectations of providing healthcare without the use of meds, didn’t mesh well.

What I wanted was impractical instead I quested in discovering the next best thing. I knew that I didn’t want to spend my life doing conventional work. I wanted to create my circumstances. I didn’t want to have to climb a ladder, wear a tie, or sit in a cubicle. I didn’t want to play the game. I also didn’t want to wait for life to happen. I was eager to start my life. Although, I didn’t know how (and I wouldn’t until well into my thirties). After realizing what I wanted from my life, I expected everything would fall into place. And the course of my life would eventually start to make sense. It took me twenty years to recognize that I spent twenty years looking for the finish line, without running the race.

One of the reasons people are conditioned to hate work is that we’re led to believe that if you find a role to play, stay on track, and play the game then you’re running the race, and it’s not true. We’re encouraged to give up on our dreams. I neglected to follow my passions. I ignored what inspired me. The one thing I knew I could contribute selflessly to society, I sold for a seat at the table. I was running, I suppose, but I was running in the wrong direction, so like everyone else, I wasn’t going anywhere. I wasn’t learning, I wasn’t developing, and I wasn’t exploring, at least not in a way that would fulfill me. And if that’s the case regardless of the work you’re doing the only benefit to this society is that you’re fulfilling your function as a cog. You’re not contributing, you’re being managed.

After generations of being shaped to work thoughtless, miserable jobs, we’ve evolved to spend lifetimes ignoring the benefits of discovering and developing our passions. Of course, we believe that life is wasted on work. We’re all walking in life, jumping into place when we’re old enough to join, and playing the role handed to us. We blame the system, but we have no one to blame but ourselves for not acknowledging our reality, escaping the procedures, and working through our resentment. Pursue whatever work is meaningful to you; whatever art is meaningful to you. Our art is our work. Our work begins (our life begins) when we pursue our passion; we must acknowledge, pursue, develop, and explore who we are to figure out how to bridge that gap between art and work. It’s our responsibility to align who we are with what the world needs.

I set out when I was twenty to establish my place in the world. In a world I had no clue how to maneuver. While I tried to figure that out, in the meantime, I continued working the same jobs in the same familiar industries, working my way up a ladder that I didn’t want to be on, and largely because it was comfortable, it was easy. Over the years, I oversaw the marketing for an art gallery, served as a tour guide and host on an excursion train, operated packing machinery for a warehouse’s graveyard shift, completed date entry for a publishing company, monitored the front desk as a night attendant at one of Anthony Bourdain’s top ten favorite hotels in the world, worked in eight different bookstores (including my own), wrote a music column for a newspaper, probed as a staff writer for a magazine (as well as another newspaper), penned book reviews for a journal, and flirted with freelance photography. In a sense, I was hoping to slip into place somewhere. The only things that came close to realizing my passion were, of course, my writing gigs. ‘Close,’ because, at the time, I was focused on the product of my writing, not the process. When your focus is on the process you’re exercising passion. When you focus on the product your experience is tainted with doubt and struggle.

Despite every attempt to find a role in the system that was merely tolerable, I was only taking on more stress, frustration, and unhappiness. At the peak of what could have been a sensible career, when I was managing a Barnes & Noble in Montana’s heartland, all I felt was intermittent emptiness and anger. I was trying to go through my unhappiness hoping that I would come out the other side content. It took much longer than it should have, but I realized something needed to change, for my well-being. I thought a lot about what brought me here and what to do to reinvent myself. The first real progress I made was realizing I needed to slow down. I started meditating, the benefit of which was immeasurable. I explored things about myself that had been buried or ignored and after unraveling many of these latent issues I was afforded a degree of clarity.

I gave my notice, sacrificing money and convenience for the sake of my sanity, and revisited the goals of my childhood. Taking the first step alone granted me peace of mind I hadn’t known in decades. I took a part-time job that allowed me to devote most of my time to self-reflection and exploring my passion. It might take a while to dismiss the conventional wisdom that years of societal expectations imprinted on you. You will challenge and question yourself and it’ll take longer than you expect to see even the most gradual returns, nevertheless, the benefits are not only immeasurable, and yours, but are universal, and socially preserving. I’ve heard a popular story in different contexts of my life. A young girl struggled to keep up with her peers in school, she had trouble staying still and often disrupted class. At the school’s breaking point, the little girl’s mother was asked to remedy the girl’s growing problem, so the girl’s mother took the girl to see a doctor.

The girl and her mother sat across from the doctor talking about her issues, in the meantime the doctor observed the girl’s behavior. Eventually, the doctor asked the girl’s mother if they could step outside to continue the conversation, leaving the girl in the room. The doctor turned the radio on his way out. Once the girl’s mother and doctor left the room the girl was out of her seat and dancing around the office, the doctor stood at the door watching her through the window. The doctor turned to the girl’s mother and said, “There’s nothing wrong with your daughter. She’s just a dancer.” The girl grew up and after a successful career dancing, she choreographed many of the greatest musicals in history, including Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, Cabaret, My Fair Lady, and Gigi.

Think of a work of art. Imagine approaching your life as that work of art, The psychology of work considers the process of becoming; it describes the soul’s journey. I made the mistake of waiting for my life to start, telling myself it would begin once someone gave me the opportunity. When no one jumped at the chance to offer an opportunity, and, while waiting, I spent years wondering what I was doing wrong. Those who succeed only do so because they focus on the process. They think of life as a work of art.

A work of art that’s never complete, always in the process of creating; by realizing their passion and exploring that passion. The difference between a life of monotonous misery and creative self-expression is the process of exploring your art, whatever that might be. Jim Carrey explains, “ You can fail at what you don’t want, so we might as well take a chance on doing what you love.” The language Carrey chose to get that point across is interesting. A reflection of our mindset today. He says, “ Take a chance …” but you’re only truly leaving it to chance if you give up or worse, you never actually start. So, again, think of a work of art.

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