“Jessi, you put a semi-colon where a colon should be,” Andrew said as he scoured my html code for mistakes.
“How do you know that?” I asked, staring at the code and scratching my head like a primate.
“I made a BMX website last year,” he replied. “I had to kind of figure it out.”
This conversation took place in a high school computer class. In NINTH GRADE. It blew my mind that this kid had already managed to create his own website; we’d just gotten a computer two years ago, and needless to say, I was fairly tech illiterate.
Flash forward to tenth grade. After taking a high school film class, Andrew makes the declaration that he’s going to pursue documentary filmmaking as a career. Flash forward another two years and we’re taking a Septa train to our college orientation. Andrew’s been accepted to the film program. Flash forward to sophomore year and Andrew has already begun freelancing. He googled “invoice” to figure out how to bill his first client. Junior year, he studies abroad in Rome while I’m in Edinburgh, and when I go to visit him, he declares that he’s going to take his passion for filmmaking and travel and fuse the two.
Flash forward to now. Today. He’s a successful filmmaker based out of Brooklyn, and he travels the world making documentaries. He’s always known exactly what he wanted and was willing to do the work to make his vision a reality. There is no “break” in his world. When he’s between assignments, he’ll go down to the local bike mechanic and ask the guy if he can do a mini-doc on him. I’ve always been astounded by his stamina, his sheer passion for what he does, his unwavering decisiveness and his ability to focus on his objectives and to see them through.
I was not like this. I was a far cry from this, to be frank. I loved the arts and the humanities, and divided my time between writing poetry, journaling, painting, singing, and photography. I followed my whims with rough abandon, excited by the opportunity for a novel pursuit. I changed majors three times. I pursued literature and critical theory because I liked to read and write. Period. I gave no thought to how I would apply these skills and passions to a life pursuit. I was going to be a writer. Going to be. Everytime I sat down to write, I decided that I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t read enough. I didn’t have enough life experience. My prose style was overwrought and if I just waited long enough, everything would click into place.
Meanwhile, my friends narrowed their scopes and began to pursue distinct careers. I wandered from job to job, aimless. I wrote and painted at night, but without context. I was too fearful of rejection to submit my poetry to lit mags or submit my art to galleries. Of course they won’t accept it; it’s not perfect, and why would they accept anything less than perfect? I metaphorically shot myself in the foot more times than I care to admit, and at the root of this self-sabatoging behavior was a lack of confidence, a false belief that I simply wasn’t good enough. I didn’t see it that way at the time; I felt that if I put something out into the world that didn’t meet my impossibly high standards, I’d have failed. What I failed to do, however, was internalize the fact that refusing to take risks was an even greater failure than falling short.
I can blame my lack of focus on my multi-faceted personality, my refusal to eliminate options, and a lack of sustained interest in occupations. Truly, I was suffering from a fear of commitment, an inability to see projects through to their ends, and a lack of faith in myself. Only after stepping back and confronting my demons was I able to make this realization. Now that I’ve finally seen the forest for the trees, I’ve begun the process of moving forward and taking control of my path rather than letting it control me. Throughout this process, I’ve come to realize that finding your passion and pursuing it is less about forcing yourself to choose a direction and more about confronting your shadow and seeing yourself for who you actually are. How can you possibly expect to carpe diem if you don’t know your ass from your elbow? How can you expect to light the world on fire when you question the legitimacy of your own voice? When we feel lost, it’s usually because we haven’t bridged the gap between our authentic selves and our imagined selves. We’ve yet to “do the work” of exploring what causes us shame and suffering. We have yet to incorporate our shadow selves and allow them space in our decisions and pursuits. What we deny tends to manifest in dangerous ways, and the longer we ignore this confrontation, the longer we perpetuate endless cycles of stagnation and listlessness.
Accessing the shadow is a long and arduous process, and its incorporation doesn’t happen overnight. The first step is recognizing that it exists. The second is realizing that you have the fortitude to hear its messages and come into alignment with who you are and what you’re capable of. Andrew didn’t question whether or not he’d be able to make it in the film industry. He didn’t let a lack of basic knowledge dissuade him. He didn’t question whether or not his films were perfect before he released them into the world. He didn’t question himself. He was willing to put himself out there and learn as he went. For some, incorporating the shadow is like second nature. For others like myself, it’s a conscious process, and a liberating one. At thirty-one, I finally feel as if I’m taking the reigns. Better late than never, I keep telling myself. If you’re reading this and you feel as if pursuing your passion simply isn’t in the cards for you, I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. Take a step back. Face who you are, and not who you would like to be. I wish you the best. I wish you liberation and agency.
Long Live the Pursuit,