By Brad Beckstrom
Do you have it? Have you found it? We all have one. Some long dormant or untested skill just waiting to be discovered. Sometimes we find it at a young age, then the real world, school, work, family become the priorities. As we get older, the skill lies dormant, often gets rusty like an old toy long forgotten.
Schools and family, meaning well, often steer us in a certain direction toward something that fits in a curriculum or is a “viable” skill in the working world. My parents did it, and I find myself doing it with my sons. I guess you can count yourself lucky if you have someone who cares, but all that advice is just a small piece of the puzzle.
It’s on us
It’s still on us, finding “it.”” Things you pick up on in school, your hobbies, books, or websites you find yourself going back to, these are all clues, part of your personal archeology. Ok, so I collected beer cans and read car magazines in middle school. What does that say about me? Well, looking back now, I had an early interest in design. I loved all the different labels, the uniqueness of certain can designs. I was also fascinated with cars, but not for the horsepower or mechanicals. I was interested in the design of early Mustangs, Camaros, and Chargers. Could I combine the best features of each and design my own muscle car? I certainly thought so. I was told “you’ll need a lot of math for that.” I didn’t have a lot of math. How about architecture? “Yep, need a lot of math for that too.”
I kept searching. Over the years, I learned that my passions are visual. I picked up photography in my early teens, and again, felt I had found my calling. I was told “that’s a wonderful hobby but you’ll need to study business in college.” My parents called a business degree a “safety net.” That turned out to be good advice as back then a business degree actually was a safety net. It allowed me to apply my creative talents in a 30 year career in marketing and advertising. Little did I know that my search was far from over.
I quickly learned that marketing had a lot to do with PowerPoint presentations and spreadsheets. I dealt with that, but always found myself angling for the creative positions or later, in my own agency, spending time in the art department bent over the shoulder of a designer attempting to give “creative direction” on the latest piece of beer point-of-purchase material we were designing. It took me decades to figure out that I didn’t feel good unless I was creating something. To me creative direction didn’t count, I just been testing ideas all those years.
So, did I miss out, screw up by not following my passion as an artist, as a photographer? I’d been doing what an artist would do. Testing ideas and then applying them to my current situation. At some point you have to stop testing ideas and run with them. In my case, creating every day is writing and photography. Writing allows me to test ideas and photography allows me to add the visual element that’s essential to me. It took me a hell of a long time to figure this out, to truly find my muse, but in the end it doesn’t matter how slow you go, as long as you keep going.
Let no skill go unexplored
You need to find your muse, that thing or voice that inspires you, drives you. Here are a few ways to test ideas and find your muse. I’ve included links to more detail, and a few good reads.
- Enjoy the process. You’re searching for your life’s passion, this is the fun part. The real work starts once you find it.
- Read a book every month, if you don’t have a lot of time to read get Audible or a free audio book app like Overdrive. Explore any book that interests you, fiction, non fiction, repair manuals, anything.
- Write it down. Capture your ideas in a journal or a free app like Evernote.
- Study your personal archeology, starting with childhood passions and connecting the dots to present day interests.
- Play the long game. Understand that this is not a quick process. Think of it this way, if you’re doing what you really love at age 50, you may still have half of your working life ahead of you. What would you love doing so much that you’d turn 65 and keep on going.
- Once you find your muse, you may not be very good at it at first. You are at the beginning of a journey. Make it your quest to master the skill, put some numbers to it years, work, study, passion.
- Assemble all the elements necessary to master your muse and make them part of a daily practice. Don’t forget to make health part of this. You can’t play the long game if you’re not around.
- Find like-minded souls. Finding a mentor or even like-minded individuals can sometimes be the hardest part of the journey. This comes with time, until then keep reading (books can be great mentors too), keep attending events and meet-ups, make it part of your quest.
- Make messes. When you start your art, your writing, most of your efforts will be subpar. Understand this is an essential part of mastery. Over many years, messes can become masterpieces. Take advantage of beginner’s mind and embrace the mess.
- Convergence. This is that essential moment when what you’ve mastered is in demand and allows you to earn a living to supporting your passion.
- Finally. Find what you love and let it kill you. In essence it’s better to die doing something you love then watching TV in an old age home. Start now.
Books on finding the work that you were born to do.
Born For This. Chris Guillebeau