I work as a freelance copywriter and many of my clients are in the self-help industry. One of the biggest reasons people turn to self-help, especially in mid-life, is to figure out their life’s purpose. I’ve written marketing for quite a few gurus and spiritual teachers who claim to know the “secret” to discovering one’s life’s purpose.
Just like in the diet industry, where there’s no such thing as being too thin, in the self-help industry, there’s no such thing as being too fulfilled. If you’re not wildly successful, crazy abundant (rich), deliriously joyful about Monday mornings or don’t have a three-page long list of accomplishments in your chosen field, there’s something wrong with you. We are told that we should do what we love 40 hours a week, and if we’re enlightened enough, we will find a way to be millionaires doing it. We are told that we can turn hobbies into fully realize businesses with employees and 401Ks, but only if we overcome FEAR and awaken to and embrace our life’s calling.
Well, I don’t know about that. There’s a danger in turning what you love most in life into a job. Hear me out.
While I wholeheartedly agree that the world would be better off if everyone could wake up each morning and go to work doing the work they are not only good at doing, but that inspires them and fulfills them spiritually, financially and emotionally, I also think that sometimes our desire to turn our hobbies or interests into a money making venture can backfire.
About ten years ago I was flying home from a trip to visit family when it hit me. I didn’t want to do my job anymore. At that point, I had been a freelance graphic designer for about ten years and had been fairly successful. I made more money than I thought possible at that career, and I had a solid base of steady clients. But it was starting to bore me. I get bored easily.
I knew that change doesn’t just happen because you decide your life sucks. You have to take ACTION. So I went back to school and got my Master’s in ecopsychology. I chose that field because when I learned it was about the healing aspect of nature on the psyche, I was astounded that there was a field of study that put into words what I had felt for years.
One thing led to another and I ended up writing my book, “Contemplative Hiking” shortly after I graduated. At that time, I thought my life’s purpose was to show people a different way of being in nature. I wanted to share my transformative experience of contemplative hiking with anyone who was open to it. I still do. But writing the book wasn’t enough. The next step was to actually start taking groups on contemplative hikes, so I organized a MeetUp around the concept.
For three years, I led more than 70 hikes around the Front Range. The more time I spent outside, the more I wanted to be outside. I didn’t like the idea of sitting at my desk, day in and day out, writing and designing for the rest of my life. I wanted to be in the woods, teaching people how to be mindful and experience a spiritual awakening among the trees. The idea of turning what I loved into a business began to take shape. What if I offered retreats and workshops around the idea of contemplative hiking? Could I possibly turn what I love most into a way to support myself, so I could do it full time?
I did end up facilitating several workshops and retreats, but it didn’t meet my expectations as far as income. What I realized was that I could easily make decent money sitting at my desk and doing what my clients said I was good at—writing and design—but I couldn’t seem to figure out a way to make decent money doing what I loved.
Around the same time I had that realization, something else started to happen. When I took groups on the free MeetUp hikes—which I had hoped were a great way to promote my retreat business—I noticed that I wasn’t as relaxed as I would be if I were alone or with my husband or friends. I felt responsible for the people on the hike, most of whom I knew nothing about. I didn’t know about their health or their background or what they were hoping to get out of the hike. It was just a MeetUp, after all, not a structured retreat where participants fill out forms and sign waivers. I worried whether they were enjoying themselves, or if the hike was too strenuous and someone would fall ill or pass out. I worried about being late, getting injured, getting lost… Worry began to crowd out my good feelings of peace and belonging. I was ruining what I loved most (hiking) by trying to turn it into a marketing vehicle. Now, instead of looking forward to my scheduled weekend hikes, I dreaded them.
This past summer it dawned on me that I was making a huge mistake. I was ruining my experience of hiking because I was doing it for the wrong reasons. I wanted to bring money into the equation, and I had expectations of how much money that was supposed to be. I wasn’t doing it anymore because it was fun, spiritual, or because I enjoyed sharing my experience. I was doing it to get something else out of it, and that was the mistake.
I knew that I had to take a sabbatical from taking groups on hikes or leading retreats. That didn’t mean I still couldn’t go hiking. In fact, I reveled in the fact that I could hike just about anywhere because I had a good career that allowed me plenty of free time and vacation since I was self-employed. And without scheduled MeetUps, I could be more spontaneous with where I went or with whom, and for how long.
I still believe in following my bliss. I’m just a little more careful about what I drag along for the journey. I don’t have to take along a business plan, or a marketing budget, or a good mailing “list”, or a rockstar ability to network. I can just follow my bliss and see where it leads me. My bliss has led me to a degree in ecopsychology, lots of interesting friends, and a book I’m proud of. While my bliss continues to be contemplative hiking, I’m enjoying a walk along a side trail into the latest research in physical fitness and nutrition. I’m listening to podcasts, reading books, and considering—oh yes!—a way to turn this latest hobby-slash-obsession into yet another part-time job.