A book loving girl of 5 has now figured out that books don’t just pop out of heaven, but that people write them.
And these people are called, writers.
After knowing this, her destiny is changed. She knows she wants to be a writer and that she needed to be a writer and that she was born to write.
At 16, she pledged and vowed to God that she’ll write all her life and never, ever give up this vocation.
From the beginning, this little girl knew that all she wanted to do in life was write.
She got a day job as a diner waitress and worked all day and then came home smelling like other people’s french fries. And then, the waitress got to her real work: Writing.
Rejection letter after rejection letter kept pouring in. Until, one fine day, she published her first book.
Yet, it wasn’t like she can rely on her art to pay her bills. She continued her day job even after her third book was published.
But with her fourth book, she got her break. It was a massive success. People kept talking about her and her writing. Her struggle was recognized and seen as an inspiration to “never, ever give up.”
Then, people started to ask her to come and inspire other people. She went on stage and kept preaching every single time: Follow your passion. Follow your passion. Follow your passion.
But does this knowing-what-you-want-to-do-with-your-life-at-kindergarten happen often?
At 5, I wanted to be an astronaut. At 8, a teacher. I joined a music class at 11 and all I dreamed of was becoming a singer and performing concerts.
At 13, I was all into Science and wanted to be a doctor. But I chose to study Accounts, Economics and Mathematics at 15. Then, I switched my college major to Psychology.
Most of us don’t know what do we want to do with our lives even after we’ve graduated college. In your 20s, your career aspirations change by the hour.
Every adult goes through this phase where he or she struggles to find their “life purpose” or their “passion” or their “calling.”
What do adults like you and me do when we struggle with this existential crisis?
We listen to motivators like that little girl who has “made it.” We find stories of people who never gave up and became an “overnight success.”
People who just came into the world and announced, “This is what I’ll be doing for the rest of my life” and stuck to it.
Maybe another tab is open in your browser about an under resourced small town boy who made it to Harvard.
But let me tell you right away something that you’re soon going to realize: It’s possible not to have a single “passion”. It’s possible that there is no “one thing” you were born to do.
When you realize this, you’re going to get pissed off at everyone who told you otherwise. You’re going to regret buying those quick fix solutions about chasing your passion and hurl abusive YouTube comments at people who told you “If you can dream it, you can have it.”
Just like you, a woman was pissed of at the successful writer we’ve been talking about. She looked for some guidance that does not paraphrase the same “passion” bullshit she has heard all her life.
After that passionate writer wounded up repeating the same things, she went and wrote a letter to her on Facebook out of frustration.
At that time, she had no idea she’s altering Elizabeth Gilbert’s beliefs drastically.
Gilbert has made the mistake of assuming that everyone has a passion and everyone can find it and pursue it with fire in their bellies and a soul-revolution in their rib cages.
The author of Eat, Pray, Love, comes on to stage and apologizes for the millions of people she has left behind when she urged people to “follow your passion.”
The World Is Divided Into Two Kinds Of People
Do you believe that the world is divided into two kinds of people?
People with 24654 unread emails and people who check their mail every 20 minutes. People who set their alarms to 8:00AM and people who set it to 8, 8:15, 8:30 and 8:45. People who open Chrome and a new tab opens and people who open Chrome and 30 tabs start loading.
But there’s also another not-so-funny and non-tumblr category of people.
Gilbert calls these people jackhammers and hummingbirds. Archilochus, the Greek poet, called them hedgehogs and foxes.
A fragment of Archilochus’ poem, goes like this: “The fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows only one thing.”
Hedgehogs and jack hammers are the specialists. They have unwavering central focus and never-dying passion for what they do.
But this deep ended knowledge of just one subject makes their perspectives narrower. They do simplify problems. But their solutions are derived from a limited source, which makes their predictions less reliable.
Biologically speaking, the hedgehogs species are less adaptable to change. But in the real world, they succeed because of their strength to concentrate.
Who are these hedgehogs and jackhammers? The gynecologist you go to when you have an itch. The PhD psychologist who can relate your itch to the brain traps.
These are the people who know more and more about less and less. These are writers like Gilbert and dedicated artists who have been practicing since they were at a single digit age.
And you need them, whether you accept that or not. You’d rather go to a cardiologist when you have a stroke rather than a physician, right?
But we also have the foxes and hummingbirds, who are the generalists.
These are the people that learnt to draw a human body but not the face. The people who can be your plumber on a Sunday and the one who makes DIYs on YouTube. These are the people that have led their lives following not their passion, but their curiosity.
They have switched jobs and studied, experimented, learnt multiple things. The generalists tend to form their perspectives based on the plethora of experiences that they had in their lives.
They know that just one “big idea” is not responsible for any outcome. Their predictions involves multiple causes and a pinch of luck – they are mostly right.
Biologically, foxes are flexible to change. They’re openness to learn new things allow them to thrive in any kind of environment.
Foxes know that a happy life is a balance of fulfilling work, good relationships, healthy body and everything else.
Who are these hummingbirds and foxes? These are the top-rated CEOs who need to manage work, people and innovation. The manager who needs to listen to the labor forces and also understand his boss.
These are artists like Da Vinci who not only painted the Mona Lisa but was also a genius in engineering, botany, history, mathematics and literature. He was, in fact, notorious for holding thousands of different jobs in his lifetime.
You might know Shakespeare as only a writer but he possessed an extraordinary knowledge in agriculture, Latin and politics too.
So, which one could you be?
The Generalized Hedgehog
The modern world requires you to excel in something. You’ve got to choose a major in college and study, perform, work in one specific field for the rest of your life.
But if you’re anything like me, one profession doesn’t quench your thirst for a happy life.
And also, if you stay in only your core competency, you’re only going to get diminishing returns. The value of your specialization might go on decreasing as innovations in technology increase.
I don’t mean that you should drop out of your college and do different jobs and barely survive. I urge you to do is find a sweet spot.
Try to find something that interests you other than your specialization. Learn about its key ideas and get back to your specialization.
Instead of killing your curiosity, try to nurture it.
Maybe you already have a job, a PhD and something that you excel at. And if it serves you, please keep at it.
But bring along your curiosity. If something sparks up your interest, go ahead and learn it. Have wonderful new experiences. With the internet, doing all this in a budget and according to your time is so much easier.
You know what’s gonna happen once you do that?
Da Vinci’s knowledge about botany and mathematics glorified some of his paintings. He applied them rigorously into his specialized art.
Shakespeare’s writing was greatly influenced by his grip over agriculture and politics.
Gilbert, in her hummingbird speech, also mentions that generalized specialists carry their experiences around from tree to tree, from flower to flower, pollinating everywhere.
This makes their lives blossom with flowers and makes them excel and stand out in their area of expertise. It’ll make you see something you saw daily with new eyes.
And what have you got to lose, anyway? You didn’t pledge allegiance to any one interest. You didn’t commit lifelong practice to it or quit your job.
If you find it too hard, just read a book about something that you’ve been curious for.
So, tell me, what new thing are you going to approach next?