I’ve always had mixed emotions about making New Year’s resolutions. Formal or not, we all vow at some point to change something at the start of the New Year. And you know the old standards – lose weight, stop smoking, work less, etc.
You know what else is often on that list? Get a new job. More specifically, there are lots of people, parents included, who vow that THIS will be the year they decide to follow their passion. And honestly, whether it’s a new year or not, we’ve all heard some variation of this over the years:
Do what you love.
Follow your bliss.
What’s the one thing you’d do for free? That’s what you should be doing the rest of your life.
This attitude is a far cry from the generation of many of our own parents and grandparents, when doing what you loved for a living was often a luxury, and still is for many folks. But that’s not the reason I’ve given the notion of following one’s passion the side-eye.
I’ve personally always wondered, “What if you don’t have a passion? What if you really don’t know what you love to do?” And then lo and behold, while on Christmas break, I discovered that Elizabeth Gilbert had given a talk about this very thing.
And what she describes so beautifully is the difference between those of us who are jackhammers and those who are hummingbirds. Stay with me…
Jackhammers definitely know what their passion is, and they often identify it very early in life. They are intense, focused, and even sometimes bordering on obsessive. And they’re, well, passionate.
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Hummingbirds, on the other hand, fly from flower to flower, finding interest in a variety of things. They’re life paths often appear random and less certain. But Gilbert suggests that these hummingbirds are indeed following something – their curiosity, and that curiosity just might lead them to their passion.
All of this got me thinking about not only how I see myself, but how I see my daughter. It also made me wonder what we could do as parents to help nurture our little jackhammers and hummingbirds. So, I thought I’d share a few insights that I hope you’ll find useful.
When Your Kid’s a Jackhammer
Jackhammers need love, too. Self-love, to be exact. I’m pretty convinced my daughter is a jackhammer, and her passion is art. That girl of mine would draw, build, and paint from morning to night, if I let her. Time goes out the window when she’s creating, and I’ve seen her obsess over one line for hours. This is not uncommon behavior for jackhammers, which means they can often be VERY hard on themselves.
As their parents, we’re excited and proud to see them so engrossed in something that makes them happy, but we also have to watch out for signs of perfectionism, which can lead to unrealistic expectations and negative self-talk. I think it’s also important for us to teach our jackhammers how to take a break, and take a look at what else is going on around them.
When Your Kid’s a Hummingbird
Hummingbirds need room to fly. In case you’re wondering, I identify as a hummingbird. I can’t recall one single moment in my life where I was certain enough about any one thing to call it my passion (with the exception of Gabby.)
I LOVE writing, and it’s been a common thread throughout most of my life, but I hesitate to call it my passion because I think the word itself necessitates a level of commitment which makes uncertainty impossible. I do believe, however, that writing will lead me to my ultimate passion.
Anyway, I was always envious of people who know what their passion was, and I’ve often felt a lot of guilt and shame for not being able to identify mine. My guess is that if you have a hummingbird, they might sometimes feel this way, too.
So I say, double up on the encouragement and be careful with the judgment. Let them know that you’ve got their back, and when it looks like they’re just trying out everything under the sun for two weeks, and then on to the next one, remember, (to paraphrase Elizabeth Gilbert), it’s just a little cross pollination that they’re adding to the world.
One is not better than the other, but one will probably be a little easier. Let’s face it, discovering your passion and finding a way to make a living from it is a pretty sweet deal. And as a parent, you might lose a little less sleep at night worrying about your child’s future.
But if you happen to be the parent of a hummingbird, I think it’s important to prepare your child for a world where he or she might be looked at with some skepticism. It’s our job to help our kids feel secure about who they are and also have faith in their unique interests and abilities, not matter what they are or how long it takes for them to be discovered.
Passion at Work Can Sometimes Be Overrated
Your child’s passion does not have to turn into their job. Not everyone can turn their passion into their livelihood, and not everyone wants to. And there’s at least one person who thinks following your passion is bad career advice, based on the fact that if you’d do it for free, you’re probably doing it anyway. Valid point.
Teach your kids that even if they can’t make a living at their passion, it might be the thing that motivates everything else they do. For example, their “day job” might be the means to supporting their passion.
At the end of the day, we just have to let our kids know that they are loved and supported no matter what.
On that note… where my hummingbirds at?