Connect the Dots and Find Your Passion

Six years ago this month, my (now former) employer was making plans to buy in a contractor to build a staff intranet system, and, on looking at those that had been proposed so far, I felt sure I could build it myself so I volunteered to. The task was well outside of my mainly administrative job description, but the company agreed to let me have a go. I was to build the system and then train every member of staff to use it, a task for which contractors had been quoting thousands of pounds to set up. Shortly after I had taken the project to completion, I asked my employer for a pay-rise… and was turned down. I also asked about promotional prospects, and was told there was nowhere to go from my current pay grade. Very soon, I was back to admin tasks and one day stood over a photocopier making three copies of 450 job application forms, wondering what on earth I was doing with my life.

Right there, at the photocopier, I realised I was wasting time. Life was passing me by, and all I had to show for it was a lot of ‘what ifs’ about the extent of my capabilities, and all I saw in front of me was years of working to make other people more money than I could ever dream of having myself.

That same day, I handed in my notice and became self employed. Around a year later, I had reclaimed my happiness and began realising my dream of being a writer, and I have never felt more fulfilled.

I don’t want to say ‘quit your job now’ or claim everything has just fallen into place and that I took the easiest road, I certainly did not. Deciding to follow my passion was an enormous leap of faith, and as a family, we continually have to make a lot of sacrifices. All because I decided that doing what I loved was more important than a regular, secure job with a great salary. I have a great, supportive husband who believes in me and a family that appreciated and have been inspired by watching me reach for what I wanted in life. We have good and bad months and many times where we have to rob Peter to pay Paul. I have yet to carve out a decent living with what I do, but I know for sure that this is what I’m supposed to be doing and have never been happier in my work and life in general.

It’s scary when you feel like your life has no purpose or direction, and this is as common a feeling in midlife as when you were just about to leave school or university. You’re not alone; but believe it or not, making a conscious decision to find your passion can and will change everything. It’s like discovering yourself, after years of wondering what it was all about. When you know what your passion is, you feel motivated, inspired, and very soon, you begin to recognise the road you want your life to take.

So, how did I find mine?

When Steve Jobs addressed graduates at Stamford University in 2005, he talked about connecting the dots from your past in order to help you discover your future – ie looking for the common themes in everything you’ve done so far, because recognising those themes will help you to see your path more clearly. He said, ‘You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.’

When I look back over all the jobs I have held since I was sixteen years of age (I am forty-five now), this is what I see:

16 – my first job was as counter staff for a fast food company. Bosses soon noted I had ‘the most cheerful disposition of all front-line staff’ and moved me to running fun, children’s parties within months of my working there, for no advancement in pay or position.

17 – I went to work for Virgin Records. A year later, the company sold my division to another company, and I was sent to all the new, local stores to train the staff in Virgin Records procedures, for no extra salary, but a pat on the back for being ‘a good, helpful people person, able to communicate at all levels.’ After discovering my salary was significantly less than the new staff I was training, I left.

19 – I began a three year apprenticeship in Housing for a local authority. During that time, I saw a gap in the help and advice available to homeless people under the age of eighteen, and began to write and compile a booklet packed with information for this age group, which was later published under the council’s name. For my efforts, I got a pat on the back and a mention in the staff newsletter.

My 20’s – After a career break to have a family, I went to work as an auxiliary nurse on an acute, Coronary Care ward. Several times I was chastised by the ward manager for ‘being too cheerful and happy on a ward full of people who were dying.’ I was often found making very poorly patients laugh during the most difficult and worrying of times – an almost sackable offence.

In my 30’s – I went to work for a pharmaceutical company, in an administrative role, and ended up revamping the very serious staff newsletter to include some comical articles. I was later chosen as an ambassador for the company’s efforts at ‘cheering up the workplace’, attending seminars as their representative, and coming up with all kinds of activities to make everyone’s working day more fun. This included holding inter-store competitions, with the winners having the Head Pharmacist wear an apron and make tea for them all for a day. At the same time, I began helping to organise and plan the locum pharmacy rota and very soon, I was saving the company a lot of money by managing it myself, reducing their reliance on agency locums and – you guessed it – there was no pay rise.

In my 40’s – came my final office job, which saw me build a functional and informative staff intranet system with humour/lunch-break fun pages. Included was a series of ‘Staff Look-a-Likey’ photos, which regularly saw senior members of management pictured beside cartoon characters then closely resembled. I saved this company thousands of pounds, for no pay-rise, but everybody loved the new intranet.

What are the common themes?

A sense of fun, a desire to make people laugh and to help people and an endless ‘offering of my creative skills’ for no additional financial reward.

The result is clear. I am, and always was meant to be, a writer.

Yes, there is a sense of irony in there, but ultimately, I can see that I had a lot of creative potential and have been giving it away to others for years. That is what a writer does: he/she gives you their heart and soul, pouring out their innermost thoughts in a public arena so that you might use it, abuse it or simply overlook it if it isn’t for you. What a writer does is give, give, give and many of us can only hope to receive. Because contrary to popular belief, being an author doesn’t pay all that much until you are very successful. But I have found my joy at last, realising that all these years when I have been giving my best for little or no reward, I’ve been preparing for the tough, financially crippling time I am faced with now as I work hard at my passion: writing books, that get rejected a lot 🙂

But I’m having the time of my life.

So, how can you find your passion?

Look for the common themes, connect the dots of your life and allow yourself to focus on the fun stuff. It’s about deciding what you would do if money were no object and taking steps to make it happen. Many friends and family members have disagreed with what I am about to say, but life really isn’t about the money when you have found what you really, genuinely love. They say it is folly, and that you have to work to live.

I have to ask myself how many people are telling themselves that that they’ll go after what they want when they have more experience, more money, or more time. But the truth is, that will never happen because all of these excuses are really masking the true culprit here, the brick wall between them and living the life they want: fear. And it’s only when you recognise and move past the fear that you can really start to live.

Go search for it. Make your long, laborious list and look for the common themes. It is right in there, among the worst and most seemingly insignificant jobs and experiences you have had, I guarantee it.

And if you feel inspired by my blog, perhaps you might reward me by purchasing my brand new comedy novel? You will find it here: Heather’s New Book

I did get bolder as I got older 😉

Heather Hill
Mum of five (not the band), I am an author and comedy writer based in Scotland, UK

6 Responses to “Connect the Dots and Find Your Passion

  • Heather – you are Awesome!!
    I took the leap of faith, and I am living my dream of being a writer too.
    Let’s meet up fellow pea in a pod!
    I’m off right now to buy your second book.
    Sending you laughter and smiles!!
    Deborah X

  • Great article Heather well done and well done in life we writer people try to fit in but we’re just too radical!

  • Terry Tyler
    ago2 years

    This is a really good article and great advice, though one can only follow one’s dreams if one has a) stowed away plenty of money first or b) someone else to pay the mortgage, alas!

    My sister in law is currently encouraging my teenage nieces to do similar, forgetting the fact that if it wasn’t for my brother supporting her, she’d be living in a bedsit and eating gruel (not sure what gruel actually IS but you know what I mean!).

    I’ve read blog posts by people querying whether giving it all up to write will be financially viable. For 99.99999% of people, the answer will be a resounding ‘no’. It depends what your priorities are, though, indeed. I’d rather have less materially and my time to do what I want, like you!

    Having been a little negative (and please forgive me for that), I must say that I love the advice about joining the dots – it’s so true. I remember doing similar when I was about 38, and realised that marketing might be my skill. I never did anything about it (until forced to do that very thing to sell my books!), but it’s SUCH a good way of discovering what you really want to do. All the best with the new book, sure it will do really well for you! 🙂

    • Thanks Terry, I do get what you are saying. In my own case, with a large family to support and a job in the city, I lost a lot of my salary in child care and travel, so quitting my job wasn’t as big a hit to the finances as it would be now, six years on and with only one child left in high school. I do think people shouldn’t hold back though. Somehow, you find away and having a supportive family does help enormously. I’ve been very, very lucky.