How I Learned it’s Okay to Be Multi-Passionate

When I was 9 years old all I wanted to be was a professional baseball player. I wore my batting gloves in the house, could mimic the batting stances of all my favorite players, and went to watch my hometown team play almost religiously.

Then about a year or so later I heard myself tell a classmate I wanted to be a photojournalist. I’m quite sure I didn’t know a thing about what being one entailed but remember being captivated by a photograph taken by the same person who wrote the article about it. That’s what I want to do, I thought.

But the most prevailing theme throughout my life, at least professionally, has been the desire to become a professional storyteller — an actor. I wanted more than anything to be on the big screen and make audience members feel the same way my favorite stars had made me feel; full of hope and possibility.

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Photo by Kilyan Sockalingum

Change of Heart

So you can imagine my dismay when just a few years out of drama school I started reaching for the biographies of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy rather than Marlon Brando and James Dean as I ambled through the aisles of the last remaining book stores.

I was equally excited as I was disheartened by the sudden shift in what I loved most. I struggled to find the value in standing on a stage, while pouring out my soul unsure if the words I spoke resonated with the audience or if they even cared to find out.

Long gone were the days when I felt a monologue of mine could wake the world from its stupor of ambivalence and instead encourage them to descend the depths of their being to see how they could see, hear, contribute, and ultimately BE more.

You Sure You’re in the Right Place?

At 34 years old I was likely the oldest intern in history. I took my marching orders from someone nearly half my age who probably took quiet solace she was neither approaching middle age or nearly as confused about her path as I was.

I tried earnestly to make a difference, however small, to an Assembly Member I greatly admired.

But not long after the experience I felt my soul’s heavy pendulum swing back to my love, or rather need, to tell stories. “You were meant to do this,” I heard over and over. Crunching numbers and power lunches were as foreign to me as a Shakespeare sonnet was for others.

Each bend, every fork in the road, and all the unchartered strolls informed the previous ones and made me better not just at my craft but at life.

There was an aptitude, an ease for living the lives of others I saw but failed to appreciate didn’t come as naturally to others. I suppose it came from the years of hard work I put into getting better, but also from the unteachable qualities we all have in some form.

For better or worse my delicate relationship with the world afforded me a heightened sensitivity and compassion for the world I spent much of my life afraid of.

But I couldn’t deny the fact it made being an actor much easier.

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Photo by Eric Froehling

The Stigma of Being Multi-Passionate

As the years went on I studied productivity experts and people I admired who reached great heights in their fields. Their advice was sound but often predictable. The words “passion” and “focus” would often ring in my ears as I found myself mouthing the words with them.

But it seemed none had wrestled with the same angst I had — the restlessness that accompanies being passionate about multiple things. It was discussed as rarely as politics or religion at the dinner table and had nearly the same stigma.

It seemed strange to most people that one’s heart could be equally set on exploring two or more pursuits.

Saving Grace

The isolation I felt only amplified until I decided to do something about it around 2009. I began to look outside myself for the first time in a long time. I became so exhausted from the sound of my own voice and trying to figure out what I needed I thought it was about time I ask the same question of others.

The moment I decided to listen more than I spoke and express greater reverence for the presence of others I deepened my understanding of the hardships people all around me were experiencing.

Slowly, I began to wake from my slumber.

Before I knew it my passport looked like a collage collecting colorful stamps from the likes of Haiti, Nepal, and South Africa. I spent time with children who would never know their parents. I helped build a home for a family and tried earnestly to teach kids computer literacy skills while they pretended not to know more than I ever would about coding.

The Two Benefits

First, they made me a much better actor. My sense of self-awareness elevated but more importantly I began to operate my life from a place of humility at all I did not know and likely never would.

Second, I realized as much turmoil being multi-passionate seemed to stir within me it was ultimately a gift. It extended a flexibility in thinking a singular pursuit a straight path simply could not offer.

Each bend, every fork in the road, and all the unchartered strolls informed the previous ones and made me better not just at my craft but at life.

My training as an actor improved my ability to listen, really listen, as a former gang member I was mentoring poured out his soul in the last row of a quiet church.

My time in City Hall gave me a first hand account of the complexities and nuances that are part of running a major city. I now had greater appreciation for the difficult job public officials who are often written off have each day.

My desire to travel and explore the world alone taught me the difference between loneliness and solitude. I learned how one is about isolation — a poignant sense of separation, while the other is an invitation to return home to yourself and find the courage to explore the parts that make you whole.

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Photo by Andy Mai

Not Limiting Curiosity

By not limiting myself or attempting to dupe my heart into some conventional path it knew better than to follow, I allowed myself to take a little bit from each experience and lean into the intricacies of my being.

I am not defined by one thing. I am not defined by any thing. I follow where my heart and curiosity beg me to consider. I pursue each path as wholly as I can while not exhausting the possibility of doing the same for another.

And when that voice screams, “Pick one thing already!” I allow that sublime unrest to pass through before courageously following the next opportunity equally worth my attention.

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