What happens when you have a passion, but you’re not any good at it?
I’ve been mulling this over a lot, lately. (More than usual, which is already fairly frequently.) I’ve been mulling over a lot of things lately, but this is one I keep coming back to.
Does it count as a passion if you’re not actually good at it, you just love it? Is that the sort of passion you should try to pursue, really? If you know that it’s not something anyone will ever pay you to do?
When I say I’ve been mulling this over “lately,” I mean over the past few months. It’s always something that I’ve wondered about, but it came up in a discussion on characters like Jo March and Anne Shirley, who are told during the course of their stories that they ought to stop writing those dreadful novels and “write what they know.” (I’ve never actually read the Anne of Green Gables books, so I might be misrepresenting, but this is what a friend told me.) She took umbrage with the idea that writers must “write what they know,” as it seemed particularly female writers were the ones that got saddled with that criticism. If a girl wants to write gothic novels or penny dreadfuls or sensational melodramas, the world should let her, she argued.
I can’t argue against that, honestly – people should write what speaks to them! I just took something different away from the criticism itself. I think possibly these fictional female writers got in to situations that mirrored situations their creators found themselves in: I assume (perhaps wrongly) that once upon a time, Louisa May Alcott was told to “stop writing your silly sensational novels and focus on writing what you know” herself. I can’t fault her for incorporating that reality, that criticism in her narrative, if she herself once heard it. Given that what she delivered once she took this advice to heart is an American classic, it’s possible the advice was not misguided.
But that’s the thing: what if Alcott’s passion was truly writing sensation novels, and she was just terrible at it? Obviously she wasn’t a terrible writer, so it’s not as though she was completely wrong about her gifts – she wasn’t secretly an amazingly talented accountant instead and on the wrong path completely.
But I think there’s something to be said for wanting to be good at something in a particular way, which then blinds you to what aspect of that thing you might have a real talent for. What if you’re someone who wants to write novels, but you should be writing travel guides? What if you’re someone who wants to write a blog about cooking but should be writing romance novels? What if you want to sing country music, but you should be focusing on jazz? What if you want to play the piano but you’d be amazingly good at the bass guitar?
This of course leads to the inevitable worst-case scenario: what if all you’ve ever wanted to do was sing, but you’re not actually that good of a singer? What if all you’ve ever wanted to do was perform, but you’re unsuited to it? What if maybe you might be good, but you’ll never be good enough? You just don’t have that something that comes with being innately good?
What do you do then?
Is it possible you just haven’t found your niche? Should you decide to figure out where your talents actually lie? What if you work hard at it anyway and find out you’re just not ever going to be good enough at any of it – what do you do then? Is this the sort of passion you ought to pursue? Is this what people mean when they say “follow your passion”? Do you keep trying to fight to make it work? What do you do then?