Have you ever met someone who’s always known what they wanted to do?
They were 5 years old and sure they’d be a writer or a nurse or an engineer, went and did exactly that, and are still doing it to this day?
You probably have.
And while those people didn’t set out to make the rest of us feel bad … it sort of happens inadvertently, doesn’t it?
Liz Gilbert (the author of Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic) calls these people “jackhammers.” As in, they drill down with mega-focus on one thing that they’re really passionate about and they hammer away at it forever. She’s a self-admitted jackhammer, herself, when it comes to being a writer.
She gave a talk a few years ago (definitely worth a listen) about how she mistakenly assumed that everyone was like this. Not only did she realize that she was dead wrong, but she had no idea how badly non-jackhammers often feel about themselves.
There are a whole lot of us who think there must be something wrong if we don’t have an all-consuming passion that we’re mega-focused on for our entire lives.
We feel like there’s something they (the jackhammers) understand that we haven’t figured out yet. And we can spend years (if not decades) feeling frustrated and hopeless about our search for an all-consuming passion … but never finding it.
But as it turns out, jackhammers are actually really rare. Liz concluded, and I totally agree, that maybe 5% of the population fits the jackhammer bill. The rest of us? We’re something else entirely, and it’s nothing to feel dejected about. In fact, it’s arguably even more fascinating.
WE’RE ALL A BUNCH OF HUMMINGBIRDS
Before you get annoyed at the frilliness and girly-ness of being called a “hummingbird,” just chill out for a second and let me explain.
Hummingbirds move around a lot. They flit from place to place. They don’t settle into anything for too long. Wherever they find themselves at the time, they’re absorbed in that fully … until they move to the next thing.
But it’s hard to accept a life like this, at first.
Most of us are attracted to the idea of being a jackhammer because it feels refreshingly simple.
Take my client Sophie, for example.
All she’s wanted is to just figure out the one thing she’s passionate about so she can focus on that forever and stop having to think and worry about what she’s going to do next.
And I’ll admit, doing one thing, with mega-intensity forever, would remove most of the thought and angst we feel about figuring out “what’s next.”
But Sophie isn’t a jackhammer. She’s a hummingbird. She feels the inclination to evolve often, and doesn’t actually want to commit to one thing forever.
So I asked her:
“What if it was OK to just do something you’re interested in for now instead of forever?”
That made her pause. Because she’d felt, up until now, that unless she committed to something forever, she was doing this whole “passion” thing wrong.
She admitted that she was definitely attracted to the idea of “for now” instead of “forever” … but it was scary. She had a lot of concerns:
- What if people think you’re a jumbled hot mess with no sense of direction?
- What if a hummingbird’s résumé doesn’t look as logical as a jackhammer’s and no one wants to hire you?
- What if you flit around so much that you can’t even call what you’re doing a career at all!??
Here’s how I answered that.
BEING A HUMMINGBIRD MAKES YOU INFINITELY FASCINATING
My grandma was a hummingbird.
This lady was not your typical grandma, either. She took belly dancing classes in middle age. When she was in her 50s, she went back to school and got her Master’s in Psychology. She could repair car engines. She traveled around the world solo when she was in her 70s.
She was a badass woman. And endlessly interesting because of all the things she’d done and seen in her life.
I made a new hummingbird friend recently, too.
This woman is in her mid-30s, but looks a decade younger (hummingbirds age well, too, it would seem). She’s one of those people you could hang out with every day and never stop learning something new about her. She’s moved to a new city every other year since she graduated college. She has a degree in physics, but she’s also studied philosophy at the PhD level.
She’s taught college. She’s worked in straight-laced corporate. She does competitive archery. And she also owns her own web development firm, with ten team members under her … and doesn’t even have a degree in web development.
Oh, and another of my favorite authors, Diana Gabaldon, is a total hummingbird.
Diana is the author of the Outlander series. But she didn’t even start writing those books until she was in her 40s. Before that, she got degrees in ecology and biology and zoology. She taught university, wrote computer programs for avian researchers, edited a software magazine, and wrote Disney comic strips. And then she wrote a #1 New York Times bestselling book series that then got turned into a Golden Globe nominated TV show, all because she was curious about whether she could write a novel (it turns out the answer was yes).
HAVE I CONVINCED YOU YET?
Hummingbirds are really cool people.
They don’t just understand one thing. They understand almost everything. They dedicate their lives to just following what they’re curious about at the time and trusting that it will take them somewhere interesting and worthwhile.
They may not have a “logical” résumé or career trajectory, but they don’t really care because they’re too busy doing what interests them. And honestly … no one else cares, either. Most people are too intrigued by hummingbirds to judge them for not being jackhammers.
Whether or not I’ve convinced you, I was able to convince Sophie.
Sophie is well on her way to becoming a very well-rounded hummingbird. Right now she’s getting a higher degree in philanthropy, but she’s thinking about simultaneously becoming a financial advisor.
Why? Because she’s really curious. She thinks it could be fascinating to help people through financial planning. She’s done the research, and her interest is piqued.
She’s made peace with the old idea that she has to do “one thing” forever. She’s actually excited about just pursuing what intrigues her, for now.
And if she finds out she’s wrong about her next step? I’ll let her explain:
“If I’m wrong, then I’m okay with that. I’ll search and find what is right. I’m strangely okay with that feeling. I was terrified of being wrong, but after our talks, I just don’t see it as that big of a deal anymore. I want a LIVED life, not a planned life.”
AND IF YOU ARE A JACKHAMMER … THAT’S OK, TOO
There’s nothing wrong with being a jackhammer. If that’s genuinely who you are (like Liz Gilbert, who’s made a great life being a jackhammer), then keep doing you.
We can all be alluring and fascinating and inspiring, in our own way.
But don’t fear being a hummingbird.
If you can follow your curiosity over and over again, you’ll always feel passionate and inspired, regardless of what you’re doing. And you’ll probably be the most interesting person in the room, every time.
Are you a hummingbird or a jackhammer? Let me know what you think, in the comments!
Rachel & Kristen