“It is only by following your deepest instinct that you can lead a rich life. If you let your fear of consequence prevent you from following your deepest instinct, then your life will be safe, expedient and thin.”
– Katharine Butler Hathaway
In the 1991 movie “City Slickers,” the tough-as-nails cowboy played by the late Jack Palance engages Billy Crystal’s character – mired in a mid-life crisis – in a discussion about life and happiness.
“The secret to life is only one thing,” says Palance’s wise and wizened cowboy, Curly.
“What?” asks Crystal’s character.
“That’s what you’ve got to figure out,” says Curly.
I’ve seen the movie more than once, and I always get a kick out of that line: It speaks to the idea that one secret to happiness is to find something you’re passionate about and then to doggedly pursue it.
Good advice, I believe, but easier said than done.
To me, it seems a two step challenge. First, you have to discover your true passion. Then, you must muster the courage to pursue it.
Some people make the discovery at an early age; equally important, they act on it.
In his autobiography Lucky Man, the actor Michael J. Fox says he knew as a youngster that he wanted to be an actor. Indeed, by age 14 or so he was starring on Canadian TV, and then at 18 he skipped college to move to Los Angeles to pursue his passion. He was enormously successful.
Similarly, Larry King’s 7th grade yearbook announces his life ambition to be a “radio announcer.” According to King’s autobiography, A Remarkable Journey, a father figure brushed aside King’s talk of working in radio, urging him instead to accept a job working in his factory after high school. King ignored the advice and pursued his passion, becoming one of the great media personalities in U.S. history.
While not everyone who pursues his or her dream ends up happy, at least they took a shot. Most of us never even chase the dream.
For some of us, we never discover our true passion; for others, we find the dream but not the courage to pursue it. Either way, we’re usually too busy playing out roles expected of us: getting married, working a regular job, paying down a mortgage, raising children.
Of course, there are great joys to be had living a simple life, finding stable work and raising a family. It’s the life I’ve chosen, and the rewards are many. Also, not all passions require running away to join the circus or abandoning your day job: it could be as simple as learning to play a musical instrument or diving into that hobby you’ve quietly dreamed of trying.
Whether the dream is large or small, it’s worth pursuing, as it is the very act of living. My wish is that we all find the courage to discover and pursue what is truly, deeply in our hearts.