What Happens When You Choose Passion Over Fear
Last year at this time, I was in a meeting. This isn’t surprising because I was always in meetings at my corporate job. My team and I sat around a table in a small conference room. We were discussing how our group fit within our larger business unit and whether we had a “vote” or a “voice” on specific issues. This would be a reasonable enough conversation to have, except we had been having the same exact conversation for over a year.
I could hear an internal voice whisper to me, “You are not supposed to be here.”
I silently replied, “This company has been really good to me. I make a lot of money; I have great benefits. Sure, I haven’t been inspired in a while, but I should be happy to have this job.”
The voice, let’s call it my higher self, challenged me “Is there another position in this company that you would find more inspiring?”
Surely I should be able to think of some role that would be more appealing than my current one, but after considering for a moment, I realized there wasn’t. “No,” I conceded.
“What do you think, Lisa Marie?” An actual voice, a co-worker, asked me — jolting me out of my inner dialog.
“I need to connect with my counterpart in the organization so we can plan a collaborative workshop where we can prioritize requirements and get on the same page with a unified vision,” I spouted on autopilot.
This response seemed to satisfy my team, although frankly I wasn’t sure what I even said or meant.
“You’re right,” I said to my higher self. “I’m not supposed to be here.”
In his legendary interview with Bill Moyers in The Power of Myth, author and mythologist Joseph Campbell says: “If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on kind of a track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are — if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.”
I was definitely not following my bliss. I started to think maybe I should give it a try.
Now, instead of getting up early to embark on my 75-minute commute to work, I get up early to read and write. I’m home to make my two kids breakfast, pack their lunch, and see them off to school. They are thrilled to have me around. I am too. I’ve had to rush off to work for most of their lives, so I appreciate the opportunity to spend the morning with them.
Once the kids are out of the house, I settle in to write. I always dreamed of being a writer, but it never seemed feasible or economically viable, so it wasn’t something I had pursued. Now, I sit down to write my first book. A draft is due to my publisher in just a couple of months. Those are words that I never thought I would say. I smile every time they leave my lips.
After I write for a couple of hours, I head out to teach or take a yoga class. When I return, I plan out the workshops that I’ll be teaching this week. One is a corporate mindfulness workshop and the other is a goddess yoga workshop. I’m living the life of my dreams.
This didn’t happen overnight. Looking back at journals from 2013, I had described a life similar to the one I am living now. However, as the breadwinner of my family, it seemed risky. Then in 2015, I got divorced and needed the financial stability of my career more than ever. In 2017, I again documented my intent to leave the corporate world to write, teach, and speak. I gave myself five years to make the shift. I made the leap in 2019. Three years ahead of that schedule, but six years after I first identified my goals in 2013.
When I started to tell the people close to me that I was going to leave my job, they became uneasy. My friends were worried about what I would do for money. And honestly, I was too. Though I had savings, I was nervous about blowing through it. I decided to ask my company to be laid off with a full severance package. When I told my friends about my plan, they thought it was crazy. I would be both showing my cards and asking for something my employer had no reason to provide. “Why would they pay you to quit?” they asked. However, I knew the company was trying to find efficiencies and bring in more junior employees. Asking to be laid off was my first step in choosing passion over fear.
When I first asked to be laid off, our human resources department said no. They suggested that I look elsewhere in the company for a more preferable role. I tried again. This time I showed my boss how my position could be eliminated by better distributing my work. He agreed. This felt like a sign that I was now on the path to bliss.
Though I secured a temporary income stream, I was still aware that my disposable income would not be the same — maybe ever. I would need to make some lifestyle adjustments. There would be no more boxes from Amazon and Rue La La. I considered the quote from Fight Club, “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.” I knew that I didn’t want my life to be about the accumulation of goods and money. It should be about pursuing my passions and exploring my creativity. I wasn’t going to wait until I was 59 and a half (or whatever age it is) to cash in on my 401(k), I was going to follow my passion now.
Though I had a plan to leave my job, I didn’t have a plan for what was next. One evening, I was taking a romantic candlelit bath with my boyfriend. Right then I declared, “I’m going to start a blog about goddesses and create a goddess yoga class.” I explained my ideas and how I wanted to help women take inspiration from ancient goddesses and apply it to their modern-day problems. I wanted women to remember what it felt like to be a goddess — sexy, empowered, wise.
My boyfriend is very pragmatic and methodical. After all, he’s an engineer and a patent attorney. I might as well have just told him I planned to breed unicorns, and he would have had about the same reaction. Instead, and maybe because I was soaking naked in a candlelit tub, he said, “That’s a good idea, honey.” That was all the encouragement I needed.
I began to write. At first, I was hesitant to reveal so much of my personal life. I live in a conservative town in the North East. I wasn’t sure if I wanted my kids’ friends’ moms knowing so much about me. I planned on writing about relationships, sex, and spirituality. I was initially reluctant to share my stories, but I knew my writing needed to be authentic. I’ve always been a private person, so sharing so much personal information caused some fear. But again, I chose passion over fear.
I wasn’t following a plan for success, as I had been my entire life; I was following my heart.
In the interview with Moyers, Campbell tells us to “follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.” And that’s precisely what happened. I started to connect with people on Medium, Instagram, and my community who were interested in what I was doing. Opportunities began to appear that I never thought possible. This happened because I decided to get out of my comfort zone and start doing the things that I found interesting. It seems so obvious that this is the approach we should take, yet it’s often the one that we’re most reluctant to pursue because of the fear of the unknown.
My boyfriend is amazed that my bathtub intention has led to classes, workshops, and even a book deal. I couldn’t have planned this course of events if I tried. I wasn’t following a plan for success, as I had been my entire life; I was following my heart. Rather than take a path that seemed like a reasonable approach (many suggested I find a different corporate job closer to home), I took a route I found compelling. I followed my bliss.
Ask yourself: If time or money weren’t an issue, how would you spend your day?
And just as Campbell states, life has become a refreshment. I am no longer looking at the clock, wondering when the workday will end or counting down the days until the weekend. In stark contrast, I wish there were more hours in the day to write, plan classes, and create workshops.
While I’m not making anywhere near as much money as I was making at my corporate job, I serendipitously received my first book advance right after I received my last severance check. This was just about a month’s salary plus benefits, but I still take it as another wink from the universe that I’m on the right path.
Here are some things you can consider to get on the path of bliss:
Identify your bliss
I was recently at a dinner party, and I was telling a friend about Campbell’s philosophy that one should “follow your bliss.” She asked, “How do people know what that is?” She confessed she wasn’t sure if she had any passions.
Unfortunately, that happens. When we trek down a path toward money, status, or safety, we forget about the things that light us up. Ask yourself: If time or money weren’t an issue, how would you spend your day?
That’s what I asked my friend. She replied, “gardening.”
That’s where she should start. Often to get through our day, we focus on the immediate task at hand. Our perception of what is possible narrows. Interestingly, once we start on this path of bliss, our vision expands. We find more things that are compelling that we want to pursue. Opportunities begin to appear.
Manage your money
When you choose to follow your passion, be prepared not to make as much money (at least initially). Before you embark on the path of bliss, consider paying down debt, building a savings account, and simplifying your lifestyle. Many are hesitant to take this step. In her book, Everything Is Figureoutable, Marie Forleo suggests we replace the word “can’t” with the word “won’t.” So instead of telling yourself that you “can’t follow the path of bliss because of your lifestyle,” see how it feels to say that you “won’t follow the path of bliss because of your lifestyle.” It’s a small distinction, but an important one. You can follow your passions, or you can have a lot of stuff. Either way is fine, just make it a conscious decision.
We can generally recover even from the things we fear most.
Keep your fears in perspective
Are you interested in following the path of bliss but are afraid of the uncertainty it entails? Try this exercise I adapted from Tim Ferriss’ fear-setting exercise. You might see that your fears aren’t as devastating as you believe.
- Describe the absolute worst thing that could happen if you followed your dream. Really — the worst thing you can imagine.
- What is the likelihood that this would happen, with 1 being highly unlikely and 10 being sure to occur?
- What are the steps you could take to recover from your worst-case scenario?
- What is the potential upside of taking the risk? List everything you can think of, such as financial freedom, giving back to the community, creating a lifestyle that is aligned with your values and interests, etc.
This exercise often shows us that we can generally recover even from the things we fear most.
I’m beginning to see more people following their dreams and putting their current lifestyle and happiness ahead of a potential, promised one. This is evident with online entrepreneurs, digital nomads, and indie authors — to name a few. I don’t know if I’ll ever make the same amount of money that I used to make at my corporate job. I don’t know if that’s necessary. Of course, there is always a risk when we try something new — things might not work out the way we want. Life is like that. However, I know that in 10 years, I would regret not pursuing my passions. And to me, that was a far greater risk.