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One of my clearest memories from early childhood (I must have been about 6) was learning to write on my dad’s old typewriter that he used in college.
I remember painstakingly punching the letters, one little finger at a time, to compose one of my first stories — something about a mouse with no exposition or plot that ended on an awkward mid-sentence cliffhanger.
But damn, I was proud!
I forced my long-suffering mother to lay on my bed, with the lights out, while I stood wearing an old scarf over my head like a shawl (I think I was going for an old-timey granny aesthetic?), holding a lit candle and reading my story in a dramatic whisper (is it any wonder I ended up a theater nerd in high school?).
And when I was a pre-teen, sometimes I liked to sit on the toilet in my bathroom (where the acoustics were ideal, naturally) and pretend to give interviews to Seventeen about my latest accomplishments — winning that Oscar, writing that book, and my glamorous dating life, obviously.
So … is it a coincidence that I ended up becoming an adult who, you know, writes and speaks on a regular basis? Or was it bound to happen?
WE ALL HAD OUR “THING” AS KIDS
Kristen and I recently got the nicest email from someone who had stumbled upon an old blog of ours about how to survive a draining workplace. She told us that it made her realize that her toxic work environment was never going to make her happy, and that she didn’t want to waste valuable time anymore not doing what she loves.
She said that she’s had the desire to become an attorney ever since she was 14, and now at 39 she’s finally going to take the LSAT and apply to law school.
I’m super excited for her. I know that anyone who decides to follow through on a desire that’s been 25 years in the making is going to do amazing things.
A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to one of my clients, Kelly, about a similar situation.
She’s loved dance since she was a small kid — choreographing dance routines in her room was A Thing when she was growing up.
Now, after years of losing touch with what she loved in childhood, she’s decided to get back into dance by taking a dance instructor certification course.
And almost immediately after making that decision she started to wonder, “Should THIS be my thing? Should I turn this into my career?”
I totally understand that compulsion. Somewhere along the line, most of us who have struggled to figure out what to do with our lives have been asked, “Well, what did you love doing as a kid?”
But the thing is … that question, well meaning as it is, is sort of missing the deeper point.
THE WHOLE POINT IS JUST … JOY
Before I could even answer Kelly’s question, she answered it herself:
“Wait. Why am I rushing to turn this into a job? The whole reason I’m doing this is because it feels good. It makes me happy. Why can’t that be enough? At least for now?”
I couldn’t agree more.
Here’s the thing: Kids are the wisest people on the planet. Bar none.
Their wisdom is directly because they haven’t yet been sullied by the world — by other people’s opinions, by feeling the need to bend into different shapes in order to fit in, by the need to be “practical” and “realistic” and “successful.”
Kids are innocent. They have this beautiful, undiluted purity about them. They do almost everything for the intrinsic pleasure and enjoyment of it.
They inherently understand a truth that most adults have sadly lost touch with over the years:
The joy is the reward. It’s the whole point of why we do anything. Heck, it may be the whole point of why we’re here at all.
That’s why the things you loved as a kid really matter — because they’re the purest, most authentic expression of who you really are.
But like Kelly said, that doesn’t mean you should automatically jump to turning those things into your job.
WHEN DO I MAKE IT MY CAREER? AND WHEN DO I LEAVE WELL ENOUGH ALONE?
There are a lot of different ways I could answer this question, and I don’t think I can fully do it justice in a few hundred words. That’s why we have two courses and 1-on-1 coaching — because these issues are a lot more complex and personal and deserve deeper attention.
But I do think there’s one major question you can ask yourself about this:
“Will pursuing this as a job ruin the intrinsic value of it?”
In other words, will it rob this thing of its inherent joy?
For Kelly, she’s going to try dancing for a while without complicating matters by adding money and structure to it. She wants to connect with it for what it is — something that feels good and makes her happy.
And if that’s as far as she (or you) EVER goes … that’s enough. Ultimately, the point of loving something isn’t to squeeze money or success out of it. Those things mean absolutely nothing if, at the foundation, there’s no joy.
And who’s to say that everything you love NEEDS to become a job, anyway? Why do we think that somehow makes it more legitimate? Who are we trying to impress? What are we trying to prove?
If joy is really the point, then we don’t need to prove anything. How it looks to other people doesn’t matter, so long as you’re happy and content.
But sometimes it IS perfectly OK to pursue what you loved as a kid as a career, in adulthood.
If you can do it in a way that doesn’t rob you of its joy; in a way that doesn’t feel laden with pressure; in a way that makes you feel MORE enlivened and excited … then by all means! Have at it.
WOULD YOU DO AN EXPERIMENT FOR ME?
Would you try to do something you once really loved as a kid, for no other reason than it might bring you joy?
You can write a story that no one need ever read. Same goes for painting, crafting, jump roping, dancing, climbing a tree, or even playing in the dirt.
Because here’s something that most kids know, but could rarely articulate:
When you get into a state of joy, you attract more joy into your life.
Give this a try, especially if you’ve been feeling stuck, confused, overwhelmed, or lost. The act of seeking things out solely for their intrinsic pleasure boosts your attitude. It makes the world seem a little more friendly and a lot less serious. And in that state, it’s easier for you to become a magnet for other things that might bring you joy.
In other words — stop acting so much like an adult, and you might just find happiness.
What about you? What brought you joy as a kid? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
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Rachel (& Kristen)