By Reese Fernandez-Ruiz
Warning: Venn Diagrams ahead
When I was younger, I thought that I really wanted to 1.) graduate with honours, 2.) get a high paying job in a multinational corporation, 3.) climb up the corporate ladder, 4.) go for an MBA or further studies, and 5.) build my own company to be my own boss. In that order. And that is a perfectly good path. I know lots of people who are on this path and they love it! But I came up with this roadmap not because I felt passionate about it, but because I thought that it made the most sense.
See, I did not have the connections, inheritance, free flowing allowance, or the luxury to figure myself out and eat, pray, love. Nope. Earning a stable income was not a personal goal, it was a requirement for survival. Literally. So early on, I conditioned myself to choose the most stable and less risky path.
But life happened during college and utterly disturbed me. Ateneo’s “Men and Women for and with Others” happened. Philosophy, Theology, Socially Oriented Organizations, and Gawad Kalinga happened. I started reflecting and discerning a lot and realised that this is what I really want (that dark pink area in the middle):
The Venn Diagram of Finding the Passion You Can Pursue in Life
I got incredibly fortunate to find this in R2R (Rags2Riches, Inc.) almost right after college, while working as Program Assistant for the Ateneo School of Government’s Youth Leadership & Social Entrepreneurship Program. I stuck to one thing for 8 years. And I love it! BUT. That is not what this article is about (I’ll write about that in the future). This article is about identity and about how doing what you love (or having your own pink area in your Venn diagram) is not equal to finding or defining yourself. I wish I knew this earlier. I mean, I knew this conceptually, but concepts are easy, living them is harder (guess the Hamilton song reference).
Note to self: Your passion and the company/business/activity that manifests it, are parts of you. Do not get lost in it.
For the first few years (and until now), the company was growing, surviving, and learning. It needed my focus and dedication. I thought I could not afford to do anything else. I mean, sure, I went on vacations, watched a lot of TV, watched TED talks, joined some workshops and events. But mindshare-wise, I did not allow anything else in. No side hustles and no unrelated intellectual curiosities. And to a certain extent, that was okay. I deeply believe in the company’s mission after all and we were trying to solve a social problem that we were passionate about. It truly deserved focus and dedication.
But this is what happened to me: I focused on my work in R2R and unintentionally made it define me. I never allowed myself to feel that I deserved credit for anything in R2R but at the same time, I did not know what I was good at (or good for) without it.
After a few years of this kind of mindset, my Venn diagram looked like this:
The Venn Diagram Of Getting Lost
It was incredibly lonely to be that little dot lost in that big wonderful thing. And yes, it looks like a pimple too (haha). For good reason. My situation was not helping the big wonderful thing that I love.
I stopped learning, listening, and growing outside of the work I’m passionate about. And that did not help the work I’m passionate about.
How did I realize all these? Well, for one, I was no longer curious and could not remember the last time when I was. I was no longer fascinated or impressed with anything. I would travel for work but won’t have that wide-eyed wonder anymore. I would meet really interesting people but I won’t be interested.
Because I got too caught up with what I love doing, I forgot how to appreciate it or anything outside of it. I became almost like a snob who thought that I knew it all, and I have been there and done that. Yet strangely enough, at the same time, I felt inadequate and undeserving. What a weirdo.
It all caught up with me about a few months ago (or maybe creeping up since a few years ago) when we had to go through the biggest challenge that we have ever faced in R2R (another story for another time). At the same time, I got pregnant. These two huge milestones shook me. This combination was new to me. Because I lived inside my own mental solitary confinement for so long, I suddenly did not know how to move forward. I was not able to practice the mental and emotional agility that comes with opening up to the world. So the feelings of inadequacy came back. I repeated the vicious cycle.
But instead of drowning in it this time, I decided to get out of it. I am going to be a mom (thank you mommy hormones too, I think you helped)! And R2R’s challenge is about to become its biggest breakthrough! I could feel overwhelmed, but I should not drown, and I must not stop.
So recently, I started opening my world again to the different areas in my life that needed to grow. Instead of being a little dot (or pimple) within my passion, I am my own person with a bigger purpose and my passion has a life of its own too. I am part of it and it is a part of me. And this kind of relationship enriches us both (come to think of it, same principle applies for other kinds of relationships). It kind of looks like this now:
I think doing what you love is still important. It is one of the best ways to live. Yes, still look for that pink area in your own Venn diagram. It will be challenging, and it will be worth it.
But your personal WHY is bigger than that area and even bigger than your passion – so find a WHY that transcends the roles and encourages you to express and manifest your purpose in every aspect of your life.
This article was originally from Reese Fernandez Ruiz, and is reposted with permission.