Ask JKE is our monthly advice column written by Jackie Kai Ellis. Submit your questions anonymously here.
Like you, I have several passions. It’s hard to pick one path. How did you build a life and career that encompasses everything you love?
I believe every single person is multi-passionate and multi-talented. Even those who seem to delve into one subject their entire lives must have many other things they love—I’m sure of it.
We all have hobbies; we love our families well; we are skilled admirers of art, nature, or other passionate people; and, if we are lucky, we also love our careers. We are multidimensional humans who devote long hours to playing instruments but are never called musicians, who write poems but never publish them, who cook elaborate dinners but will never be chefs. And though our passions don’t always have a title, we still pursue them. Perhaps the fact that we don’t get paid for them is all the more proof that we do them for pure joy.
In the last decade, I’ve noticed that creating an all-encompassing, passion-forward career has become a more prevalent goal in our culture. I see many inspirational quotes about this on Instagram, and many multi-hyphenates being put on pedestals for their breadth of work. I have turned a few of my passions into titles, and this career path suits me well as a person of all trades but a master of none. I must say, however, that over the past few years, I’ve developed a slightly different (and still evolving) view on combining life, career, and passion.
A number of years ago, I went through a period when my energy (and subsequently my passions) had run a little dry. I did not honor the time I needed to rest, and instead tried to force myself into another career choice. I felt I needed a job that encompassed everything I loved—one that could even reflect my identity. For me, this put an incredible amount of unnecessary pressure on what proved to be an impossible task: impossible, since our lives are so multi-faceted, and titles themselves are quite incompetent at representing the whole of us. The more things we are passionate about, the harder it is to find one career to encompass it all.
I did build a career that involved many things I loved—though I did it by picking one path at a time. I was a designer, and then quit to study pastries. Over the course of almost 20 years, I opened businesses based on these skills, and when the business was sustainable with an amazing and capable team working on my behalf, I explored other passions, like writing a book. It wasn’t until I sold my bakery that I could make more room in my life to explore other things, like product design or even writing this column.
I could have stayed with any one of those careers for much longer, but I love variety, and, at times to my detriment, I get bored easily. So I made choices to leave careers seemingly early, when it made no traditional or practical sense to do so. I decided to eat canapes throughout the evening while others were enjoying a long steak dinner. It was a conscious decision I made because it suited me. I had the stomach for the uncertainty that career changes bring; I had a team of people I could rely on when I needed help; and I had the opportunities—so I made room in my life to say yes to each one.
Things are a little quieter again now. I’m saying no a lot more; I’ve made room for rest. I’ve made room for my family and I’ve decided to sit down for a steak dinner, for the most part, because it tastes good to me right now. Sometimes I still hanker for a new creative project; I still get restless to start another career, and it makes me wonder if I see my career as my life, or merely as one passionate part of a multidimensional existence.
I don’t have the answers, but the last many years have taught me this: I simply don’t need to encompass all my passions in my career, because they already encompass the rest of me.