Seven Ways To Live By Your Passions,
Not Others’ Expectations
January 25, 2024
Many of us live our lives to please others, to make them happy. We are often told that if we think of ourselves, our needs, our dreams, we are being selfish. We need to be practical. We need to be selfless and think of our obligation to our family, to our friends, to those at work who depend on us. After all, don’t we care about our coworkers and their families? We should want to serve those who work with us and for us. Isn’t that what servant leadership is all about?
I know this message and this story only too well. As the great-great grandson of John Fairfax, the founder of a large media company in Australia, my obligation was clear. I was the fifth generation in my family and was expected by my parents to go into the family business in a leading role. So I did my undergraduate degree at Oxford University like my dad and some other family members before me, worked on Wall Street and got my MBA at Harvard Business School. Ultimately, that sense of duty and obligation led to my being the one who launched a $2.25B billion takeover of the family business in 1987 — a bid that ultimately failed due to a combination of Australia’s recession, the company’s debt load, and, yes, my youthful inexperience and naivete.
I never once felt I had a choice to pursue my dreams. My duty to keep the family legacy of producing quality newspapers and media in Australia was clear. Didn’t I care about my family, about my country?
It is easy to paint a picture where we feel our duty, our obligation, is clear. It might be a family business. It might be the pressure from family and our community to get a high-paying, prestigious job such as being a doctor or a lawyer. But what if we want to be a sculptor, a musician or an elementary school teacher, when those around us are telling us that we could do more? We need to be practical and not so self-centered, we are told.
Here are some thoughts for counteracting this idea that living our lives to fulfill our dreams is self-centered (and not practical, for that matter).
1. First, it is our life!
We have the God-given right to pursue our dreams, our calling. We were meant to live in light of how we were designed and lean into what we are most passionate about. It is right and appropriate. We should live in light of who we were meant to be. How is that wrong? How is that selfish?
2. Examine why we feel obligated to please others, be it our family, friends or our coworkers.
Perhaps other people are telling us that it is our job, or our duty. Why is that? Sometimes those in our family have unfulfilled dreams that they hope we can fulfill for them. Sometimes our family or others feel that their legacy depends on us stepping into their shoes and carrying their dreams forward. But that is not our job. Our family, friends and coworkers have the right to pursue their hopes and dreams. And so do we!
3. Us playing small by carrying on the legacy of others does no one any good.
Over time we may well begin to feel bitter, to feel used. How can you do a good job under a sense of obligation and duty? You really can’t. It is not sustainable.
4. So shift to thinking about what you are really good at, what you are passionate about.
As you lay awake at night, what problem that the world needs help with do you feel called to fulfill? A true vision that lasts, a calling, needs to have as part of it a life of significance, a life on purpose dedicated to serving others. That makes it clear to you and to others that this may be your dream, your vision, but it is anchored in serving others. That kind of a dream and vision is absolutely not selfish or self-centered
5. Think about small steps, small probes.
You might think you don’t know what you are really off-the-charts passionate about, in areas you are great at, which the world really needs. But try something; I would almost say anything. What’s the next right baby step that you feel will take you in a direction you want to explore? It might not be the ultimate destination, but if you link enough baby steps together and progress in finding your calling, the vision you are off-the-charts excited about will happen. Trust yourself and trust the process.
6. Gather your team.
Making a shift from a life of people pleasing, a life of obligation, is not easy. There will be plenty of people who will tell you to be practical, to stop being selfish and to keep on the track of obligation of living someone else’s dream and vision. You need a team to counteract this, a team that is for you, that will help to encourage you to pursue your dream and your vision. Perhaps that team will include people who will help you bring your vision to reality.
7. Do something!
You have to make a decision today that your days of obligation and people pleasing are over. You will live today and from now on a life that is in line with your calling, I would almost say your divine calling. Making a step, however small, is a huge step, especially the first step. And for those who say you have to be practical, remember it is your life. If you would rather teach elementary school kids than train corporate executives, for instance, that is your choice. Clearly the salary and income will be quite different. But it is your life. You get to choose your path, even if that path has a lower income level.
We all want to live a joyful and fulfilled life, to leave a legacy that others can be proud of, to feel we lived a life that mattered. Living a life of obligation and people pleasing is not the way to do this. We will feel we missed out. We made everyone happy, except us. We took the easy way out. That may well lead to a life of regret, even bitterness. We don’t want to be that person or take that road. A life that truly does serve others, that in some way makes an impact for good, is anchored in our calling, our dreams, our vision. Such a vision will animate us, propel us forward and will give us a sense of deep satisfaction. A life we lived, that we chose, that makes the impact we feel called to make. That is the kind of life that we can be proud of.
- Why do you feel obligated to please your family, friends, and co-workers?
- What do you feel you are good at, what you are passionate about, and what change do you feel you can bring that the world needs? Even a few starting thoughts can be very helpful.
- What first step, however small, are you going to make today to live a life in line with your calling, your dreams and your vision? Again, think in terms of that inner sense of what next right small step you should make today.
You are more than your failures and setbacks.
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