Does Your Passion Show Through?

by A Manly Guest Contributor on September 13, 2010 · 46 comments

in Money & Career

Editor’s note: When I came across Bruce Swabb’s introduction in the AoM Community, I took note of the fact that he had quit his accounting job to live on a sailboat. Duly intrigued by what had brought him to this decision, I invited him to share his journey to finding his vocation with AoM ‘s readers. The result is this article; thanks Bruce.

My father had a tremendous collection of National Geographic magazines. So many, in fact, that he had them bound in volumes, each containing six monthly magazines. Within these heavy leather bound treasures, I traveled the world.

I was particularly interested in any article related in some way to sailing. Typically, the sailboat was simply the author’s mode of exploratory transportation to faraway islands. I loved to study the boats and to imagine what it was like to travel great distances by sailboat.

Many of you may have been following, along with me, the chronicles of Robin Lee Graham, the kid who set out in the late 1960’s to circle the world in a small sailboat. He in fact did become the youngest person to single-handedly circumnavigate the earth. Robin’s journey totally captivated me as a young boy of eleven years. I anxiously awaited the monthly arrival of National Geographic in hopes that there would be another installment of his travel diary. His adventure was recounted in the book Dove.

I have to credit this childhood wanderlust for planting the seeds that would shape the direction of my life. Growing up in dusty Oklahoma might seem to be an obstacle to a young sailor, but the local lakes provided plenty of opportunities to learn basic sailing.

After high school I pointed the compass toward the ocean by enlisting in the US Coast Guard for a four year hitch. Finally, I was totally immersed in all things nautical. It proved to be a rich experience, and of course it forced me to grow in ways I couldn’t have foreseen. I certainly recommend such an experience for any kid who feels that he’s not ready for college.

After my time was up, I went back to Oklahoma to college, and began the process of “conformation.” It was time to sort out my spot among the masses who make this big wheel of our culture and economy turn. Many things interested me in college, and I found that economics and accounting were not nearly as distasteful as I expected. And accounting graduates were certainly getting high paying jobs, along with the engineering grads. So it was – go out and get the jobs most in demand that pay the highest salaries. Good, solid decision.

Now, twenty three years later, I have awakened from what I consider a long slow nightmare. Not so much different from the dreams in which we realize we went to class in our underwear. Those years were spent attempting (sometimes desperately) to succeed in our complex little capitalistic culture. I love capitalism and the freedom we have to choose our careers. We are blessed to be able to start a business from scratch if that is what we desire. You can be a bus driver, a doctor, or the owner of a tattoo parlor. Go for it!

My epiphany was that I was working extremely hard at a career in which I had very little genuine interest. Zero curiosity. When was the last time I stayed up late at night reading the latest developments in my profession? And in a business in which the rules are constantly changing – that is a problem. It was doubly exhausting to summon the energy required to be excellent at my profession (and to be perfectly candid with myself, I never did achieve this).

Every minute of the day behind my desk was one in which I wasn’t where I truly needed to be. Resentment started to grow unconsciously, deep within me. As much as I truly love people (and many of my clients and coworkers were very dear to me) I think the bitterness was somehow apparent to others, even though I thought I could suppress it.

As you already know, it is impossible to be the best in such a circumstance. I have a tremendous amount of strength and work ethic. But I realized I was never going to succeed. The money was always very good, but no matter how much I made, there was a need for ten percent more. So much energy was required to pull myself to work, and to stay abreast of this dismal work (I worked with many who truly loved the work, and they were the successful ones), there was nothing left for company politics, or for sustaining relationships outside of work. Keeping my marriage afloat was just about all I could manage, and it was beginning to take on water.

Something had to give, no matter the financial consequence (isn’t it usually the fear of the financial unknowns that shackle us to a job we shouldn’t be in?). It was time to pull the plug and let the chips fall where they may. I garnered the faith to overcome fear. To have faith that I could heal myself and my most important relationships, and that I could find a path that would enable me to work with joy and provide for my family.

So I had a new litmus test: this next thing you do must be so interesting to you that you will stay up all night learning about it.

I am writing this message to my fellow travelers on a rainy morning at anchor in Newport, Rhode Island aboard my 46 foot sailboat, Airielle. I decided that I could get passionate about taking people sailing and exploring. I knew I could teach them about sailing and navigation and weather. I knew that I would relish getting to know these people as well – free of politics and title. I decided to start a sailing charter company this past winter. Each charter has been so unique, which is wonderful. And rewarding! What a pleasure to get to know the people who’ve come aboard my boat. The energy is there. The litmus test passed.

A good friend of mine mentioned a philosophy he had read which generally stated that the world wants you to follow your passion and dream, and that when you do, the world will flow to your doorstep to support you. This same buddy also reminded me of the saying that one should “leap and the net will appear.” To which I would retort “I’m still waiting for the damn net to appear!” I can report at this juncture that as I have awakened from my bad dream, I feel that the world has its arms around me, as if it had been patiently waiting for me. Old connections and new have blossomed as if to say “welcome back old friend.”

So to whom am I writing today? I suppose I am writing to two people. To the young man who is searching for a career path, I would say find your passion first, regardless of the financial prospects. And I’m writing to the man who may have followed a similar path to mine, and finds himself a bit lost and spiritually broken. To this man I would say that the world is waiting with loving arms for you to awaken. To him I extend a hand to join me on my sailing ship – to breathe and explore.

{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Victor September 13, 2010 at 10:44 pm

This was beautifully written and very inspiring.

This type of article makes you stop for a second and think about your life and where you’re heading.

Victor

2 Splashman September 13, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Great perspective, thanks. Couldn’t agree more.

Just wanted to add that for each of us, there are times when we don’t have the choice to do a job we are passionate about. At those times, we have to accept where we’re at (for the moment), and get the job done no matter how boring/crummy/unfulfilling it is.

The point Mr. Swabb is making, I believe, is that we shouldn’t ever accept that this current boring/crummy/unfulfilling job is where we’re going to be five years from now. Even if we are stuck for a couple years, we can take steps NOW so that in five years, we aren’t still stuck. The classic example is of the cab driver saving to buy a restaurant. He’s working hard and working well, but his mind is never far from the future he has mapped out, and what he needs to do to get there.

3 Leif September 14, 2010 at 12:08 am

Guy # 2 here. Great article, thanks. Now I’ve just got to find something to jump for.

4 Callum Yocius September 14, 2010 at 12:48 am

Im a young man (just turned 23) and Im reasonably sure Im not meant for a regular 4 year college job, as much as i would enjoy the money from one. I have two things Im equally passionate about. the first would definitely have to be cars, in particular classic American cars, especially old muscle cars, and even the exciting new cars coming to market. My friends always ask me first if they have a question regarding anything automotive, cause I also dabble a lil bit in import stuff. but the other thing is traveling, adventurously. If i could I would go out, with a film crew of some sort, on a budget, which the trip would be centered around, and film me doing some sort of an adventure, such as doing a walk about in Australia, or backpacking across Europe, or skydiving by the Black Hills, or rock climbing in the Rockies and bungee jumping and zip lining, exploring a jungle etc….and then somehow making a show out of it. but the classic car industry is pretty well winding down it seems, and im reasonably sure I dont have the finances available to produce a show of that nature. so for the moment Il just have to suck it up and stick it out as a bloody cashier at wal mart i suppose….

5 Kevin September 14, 2010 at 1:09 am

Great article, struck a chord with me.

6 Kash September 14, 2010 at 5:37 am

Hi Bruce,

Great article and very well written. I’m a 24 and am the ‘young man searching for a career path’ – I want to find my calling to make my spirit soar and your article has inspired me.

Brett, I don’t know how you do it but you seem to pull out just the right articles for me to read!

PS. Good luck to Callum – it would be really interesting if you could combine both your passions somehow!

7 Bastian Kröhnert September 14, 2010 at 7:07 am

Awesome! Thank you so much. Just sent out an email to the German coast guard. ;-)

8 mars September 14, 2010 at 7:10 am

Bruce,
This is a very inspiring article to which I can relate. After high school, I had no clue on what course to take in college. I figured that whatever I choose, I would eventually learn to like it and perhaps excel in it. And so, I picked something in line with mass communications (most of my high school friends chose this course). Unfortunately, I was not a born performer and I don’t take joy in these kinds of things.

After a year, I shifted out and transferred to Political Science. Being educated mostly in the natural sciences, I have very little knowledge on the social sciences and so, this course enticed me to increase my understanding of politics and philosophy. However, after a few semesters, I found it very hard to engage myself in my subjects. I have to force myself every time to study. My other classmates seems to handle our lessons with breeze.

I took extra subject (biology and chemistry) to “detoxify”. I was really good in the sciences, particularly biology. I could easily ace an exam with relatively less effort. I guess I could say that this is my passion.

Now that I am on my fifth year of college and would be graduating this March, I am planning to go to med school. I had to take a lot of extra science subjects causing me a year of delay, but I guess it is better than being stuck in a Political Science track to which I have no passion at all.

Callum,
I sure hope you could follow your dreams. Many professors at my university are able to pursue their passions, though they may be very different areas of interest. There is one who have a PhD in Chemistry (regularly delivers talks in conferences) while at the same time teaches Spanish. Another has a degree in Physics and is also teaching English courses. There is also a Philosophy professor who is also an avid birdwatcher and teaches a Science appreciation course. Finally, my Chemistry professor is also a professional dancer. Perhaps, you could incorporate your interest in some other activities that would be (as of now) financially sustainable.

Good luck.

9 David September 14, 2010 at 7:59 am

Damn, now I gotta look at what I have been doing with my life.

10 Alex September 14, 2010 at 8:21 am

Excellent article, at an excellent time for me. I’m just getting out of the Navy, and some big decisions are heading my way. Thanks for the insights.

11 Daniel Putman September 14, 2010 at 8:29 am

Bruce,

Great article, very encouraging! I know what I really want to commit my life too, but for me and I think most people, that thing is something that takes months/years in the making. Your article really encourages me to go for it. To keep fighting through the obstacles.

Thanks/very well written!

12 Seth September 14, 2010 at 8:40 am

I’ve recently realized that I’m drowning in my current job and have to make some changes, which are even harder to do w/ a 2 year old and my wife due in 5 weeks. I’ve started exploring things to help me find and pursue my passions and this article fits right in at a perfect time. Much respect to the author for what he has done and more so for taking the time to write about it – a great inspiration.

Good luck to all who are in my boat!

13 David September 14, 2010 at 9:20 am

That’s it – I quit.

Not today, certainly. I have souls who depend on my check, but I quit in my heart and will use the income here to get me to where I really want to be. I’ve been doing what I don’t want to do for 30 years – since I was 17 years old – and it’s time to stop.

Thanks for finally giving me the impetus I need to make this change.

14 Tyler September 14, 2010 at 10:31 am

I recently went through a rough patch trying to figure this out. My wife and I went the safe route, chose to finish my masters in landscape architecture and I regret the decision since I still have no interest in it, plus we’re stuck in Kansas :)

But, after some soul searching and advice from friends I realize that it is only 9 months and once I’m done I have a degree and the chance to get a job to support myself while figuring things out more or move on to something truly great.

Callum, I’m with you on the car and travel thing, though I’m more on the modern aspect. I really wanted to get into automotive journalism but what I figured is that if I really want it, blogs are free and I can test myself to see if it really works before I drag my family through poverty. Anyway, you have interests that can meld easily but I’d go after the components that make up these careers, photography, journalism, videography, etc. All these will get you the skills to create that job or make yourself highly marketable.

The key to any enjoyable life is living it with intent. Never coast when it comes to careers.

15 Tom September 14, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Great post!
Thank you so much for writing this.

16 Rory September 14, 2010 at 1:27 pm

Great post!

17 Bruce September 14, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Callum,
Keep after that classic car dream. You mention the market has dried up – this is a result of the economy. I know many artists as well as folks in the boating and horse industry. Everything seems to have dried up – but all those industries, including the classic car business will cycle back up. Heck, if you can fix cars and trucks, while pecking away at your first love (and keep the quality of your work top notch) you can pursue this dream.

18 Bruce September 14, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Splashman, I surely agree that there are times when one must stay the current course in a job. I did that for a number of years. But please don’t come away with the idea that I had everything lined up before I leapt. Financially, I have a mess on my hands – but the interesting thing is I am not feeling the (financial) panic I thought I would experience. Haven’t got it figured out, but I have a strong sense that by making the move, my wife and I will find a way to get us through the lean times.

19 Bruce September 14, 2010 at 1:46 pm

Seth and David – good luck to you two. The great thing is that you are thinking about your situation. And you have a forum like this – keep listening to your own subconscious mind – as this is where your answers ill develop. Got to cut out a lot of noise though!

20 Keegan September 14, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Very inspiring article, i myself joined the coast guard because i didnt feel that college was the right step at that time. I enjoy being in the Coast Guard and have learned a lot about myself and the world, but im still trying to find my dream job.

21 Bill September 14, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Holy crap, those paragraphs starting with “My epiphany was…” and ending with “…a path that would enable me to work with joy and provide for my family” state with amazing and startling clarity the exact place where I currently am in life. Wow.

“I was working extremely hard at a career in which I had very little genuine interest. Zero curiosity.”

Check.

“Every minute of the day behind my desk was one in which I wasn’t where I truly needed to be.”

Check.

“Something had to give.”

Check.

“this next thing you do must be so interesting to you that you will stay up all night learning about it”

Damn. Nail. Head. Hit. Directly.

22 Andy September 14, 2010 at 8:27 pm

Great article. Definitely good timing for my life, thanks

23 john September 14, 2010 at 8:56 pm

Mike Rowe, from the Dirty Jobs television show has a video on you tube about passion in life and the pursuit of it. One of the happiest people he has ever met scrapes up road kill for a living.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-udsIV4Hmc

24 Sean Lee September 15, 2010 at 2:22 am

Thank you so much for writing this. It’s very calming to know I’m not the only one who wonders “how do I want to fit in this?”

25 Benjamin van den Hout September 15, 2010 at 10:37 am

The philosophy of following your dream (and the universe supporting you in that once you start doing it) is a central theme in the book ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho (http://www.amazon.com/Alchemist-Paulo-Coelho/dp/0061122416/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1284561323&sr=8-1). I can highly recommend the book, I re-read it once every few years just because it strikes a chord with me and is beautifully written. I wouldn’t be surprised if your friend got that particular part of philosophical wisdom from this book :)

26 Rob September 15, 2010 at 12:22 pm

Crap, and I just started a new job…

27 Michael September 15, 2010 at 1:26 pm

Been a CPA for coming on 20 years. Currently, a Controller. Hate every waking moment of it. Haven’t read accounting literature for, well, 20 years. Bust my ass 10 to 12 hours a day for a CFO title. Not working, so far. Probably, because I haven’t read accounting literature in, well, 20 years. I’ve always been fascinated with boxes. Wooden boxes, to be exact. Trunks, sea chests, tool boxes. I think the world needs another wooden box manufacturer. Thanks for the article.

28 Joe September 15, 2010 at 1:28 pm

This one hit me right between the eyes.

Personally, the trouble is figuring out what my passion actually is, and having the drive to follow through.

I’m 24 years old, and I’ve found it enormously frustrating to not have any single thing I can point to as my passion. Everything is just there. I drift between casual interests, and rarely apply myself enough to ever accomplish anything.

The last real passion I had was a near obsession with airplanes as a child. I would sit for hours playing Microsoft Flight Simulator, flying my Cessna from New York to Florida. Just…flying. I would come in from a summer night and build airplanes out of cardboard scraps from around the house. I would cut special slots for flaps, ailerons, the rudder and the elevator. Then I would manipulate the control surfaces, and be absolutely amazed when they worked as I planned. By my freshman year of high school I had some training with an RC plane. But then the guy training me left town, and the hobby just drifted away. I thought I wanted to be an aeronautical engineer, but I never had any natural talent in math, and never applied myself enough to develop what talent I did have. I haven’t flown an RC plane, built a model, or studied a book about airplanes since. The thing is, i doubt I’m interested in those things anymore. But it is the systematic way in which I researched, enjoyed, and experimented as a child that I wish I could discover again.

This was a wonderful article and significant food for thought. The next few weeks are going to be a time for serious self evaluation.

29 John September 15, 2010 at 2:58 pm

Great article Bruce. Would you post a link in the comments to your charter business; I’d like to check it out. Thanks.

30 Jesse September 15, 2010 at 9:23 pm

Thanks, and Slainte!

31 Andrew September 16, 2010 at 4:06 am

Funny that I should come across this post at this particular time. It’s 4am and like usual, I’m sitting about wondering to do with my life. After a short stint in university before dropping out, and a 1 year college degree, I find myself at the age of 22 without any job experience and without any solid education.

I enjoy a lot of things, it’s hard for me to determine what I would consider my passion. One of them involves opening a game shop, which can be a risky attempt even in the best of times. I suppose I’m afraid of failure and being unable to support myself and a family in the future, so I keep pushing myself into more profitable, or at least stable, jobs.

32 The Wingnut September 16, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Joe,

You might want to look into flight school, and expand into full-size airplanes and not just RC.

Even if you decide that flying commercially isn’t for you, a pilot’s license is life-long, and the training and knowledge you recieve will impact other areas of your life.

I haven’t flown in nearly 3 years, and so am out of currency, but I work at an airport, and I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t hear my instructor’s voice telling me something about my job.

At some point I’m going to get back into it and perhaps own my own aircraft, but until then, the children need food and diapers.

Take care, all!

jj

33 Joseph Warriner September 16, 2010 at 8:11 pm

I just started boat building school ion Maine, through the same sort of revelation….and even though I haven’t got the money factor figured out all the way, but with faith and some hard work everything is possible. If you can look foward at looking back on a descision and know that you’ll love even still. You know its a good one.

34 Jack September 17, 2010 at 12:52 am

I must change my life…

35 Michael September 17, 2010 at 8:41 am

This is a very timely article for me. I have some thinking to do.

36 Nick September 17, 2010 at 11:40 am

To those of us that are lost,

I used to think that not knowing my passion was a problem. My perspective is shifting to the journey. I’m realizing that the pursuit of my passion is an exciting adventure. Simply trying new things and reading different subjects opens up new options you didn’t even realize were out there. I find new blogs, books and people all the time. I started thinking of my confusion about what I want to be as a positive curiosity toward life. Note: During your journey, try not to think about consumption and material possessions. They will distract you from finding fulfillment in what you do. Now I just need to take my own advice.

Thanks for the inspiration.

37 Greg White September 17, 2010 at 12:28 pm

When I just graduated from college a number of years ago and was looking forward to have an exciting and enriching career, I couldn’t understand all those stories about how successful lawyer quit his job to open a small liquor store and the like. Now, that I begin to wonder what’s really in my job for me I think I understand those stories better…

38 Jeff Baker September 19, 2010 at 9:54 pm

Excellent article, very timely and beautifully written.

@ Callum: I just turned 30 this September and am still searching for that path in life that will take me where I want to go. I’ve gone to film school (got my BA), worked in the dive industry, as a Crossfit coach, Nightclub security and God knows what else. I hold down three jobs just to survive in a town, so beautiful it breeds complacency, and I need to shake myself free.

I suppose I suffer from the fear our generation has of ‘working without a safety net’. Reading the many articles on here of all the great men, willing to risk it all when it was required, have been very inspiring to me.

My plan is to go to Grad School for a degree in Nursing, possibly my PhD, and tie it in with remote and expedition medicine. Like you and like Bruce, all I ever wanted to do was see as much of the world as I can before I die. To do that and provide a much needed skill for those who don’t have access to good medical care is a calling worth heeding in my opinion.

I guess what I mean to say is, take heart in your passions, don’t waste your time at Wal-Mart, I’ve spent to many years doing the same thing. Do some research, take a leap when it feels right and don’t be afraid of failure. We fail so that we may learn to succeed.

I wish you adventure and success.

39 Paul September 21, 2010 at 1:55 am

This kind of story is always nice to read, and while I do think one should try to do what makes one happy for a living, it can be much easier said than done.

For one thing, it can be difficult to know what your passion is. Examining my life, right now the things I like to do best are reading and writing, video games, and studying Japanese. But I’m not sure if any of those are things I’d want to do for a living or if they’re just hobbies…

Second, even if one pinpoints one’s passion, it may not be an attainable career. There are plenty of aspiring artists, musicians, and writers out there working as waiters, because they’re not easy jobs to become successful at. As much as I like the idea of doing what you love, one also must eat.

40 Owen September 22, 2010 at 5:37 pm

This is truly a fantastic piece of writing. It echoes the sentiments of many articles that I have read before, but is written with an honesty and purity that I can really appreciate. Having just graduated from college, UVM to be specific, with a degree in engineering, I fully understand the position of standing at the brink and hoping that a net will be there when I leap.

I have been struggling for months to try and find an engineering job around Burlington. Nothing has panned out and I have to wonder if it’s because I don’t really want to find something. If my heart isn’t in it, then the arms of the world won’t be open to me, so to speak.

I’ve been lucky enough over the years to be able to try a number of passions. I spent a few years working as a mechanic, even moving to CA to go to Wyotech. I have been doing competitive ballroom dancing for the past three years and recently I have gotten into photography.

Much like Paul said, it can be quite difficult to turn a passion into a career. I actually have two small business, one for teaching ballroom dancing and the other to sell photographs. These are more fulfilling to me than any engineering job I have ever heard of, but they certainly aren’t keeping a roof over my head. It’s a shame that it is so difficult for people to pursue that about which they are passionate.

Regardless of this, I loved this article. I will come back to it, many times I’m sure, whenever I feel as though I have drifted off course. I think this is a wonderful forum and I thank all of you for your comments and wish you all the best of luck!

41 jojo September 23, 2010 at 10:45 pm

Passion won’t net you much cash. Most of the time anyway.

42 CMan September 27, 2010 at 2:52 pm

Bruce,

Are you still in Newport. As it did with many others on here this article struck a chord. I live in Newport and would like to take you out for some drinks/conversation! How do I get in touch with you?

43 Steve G April 1, 2013 at 9:44 pm

What I think is great about AOM is the articles past and present. While this article is 2+ years old, I am new to AOM and just discovering it, at the right time in my live (Middle Aged?). Timeless. I agree with all the sentiments here. I am a manufacturing finance guy and feel my job is going nowhere. I have no interest, other than the occasional feeling like I’m helping in some way, but that’s only occasional. I’ve spent 6 months on a transatlantic voyage on a Navy vessel when I was in the Marine Corps and loved it. I’m feeling the sea calling me back but have zero sailing experience. I don’t know what I can do from here but this article has given me inspiration to look. Thank you for this.

44 James Smith September 3, 2013 at 6:16 am

I can relate. In my late 30s, I resigned from a 13-year career with BM to teach martial arts. In no more than a year, had the largest school in Arizona.

Eventually, a divorce caused me to close the business. I was still loving the teaching but was tired of being an unpaid clerk for the government.

After some stints of temp work to build the kitty, I started teaching sailing while living on a 25′ sailboat. I was never so free and so happy.

45 Jackson Tie January 4, 2014 at 9:10 pm

Good article! It’s very inspiring. Thanks for sharing your experience.

46 Gary February 11, 2014 at 10:15 am

Thank you very much for the inspiring words.

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