Dear Fran,

I decided to write after another long day where I left work feeling depleted and questioning why I'm even getting out of bed in the morning.

Suffice it to say, I do not like where my life is, and I cannot find a way out.

To give you some back-story, I was put in a position in my freshman year of college where I had to choose my major and my eventual line of work. I was 20 and had no idea what I wanted to do, so I decided on video game development because it was a big hobby. Five years and two degrees later (BA and a MS), I'm in that field and don't want to be here. I'm stuck behind a desk, work absurd hours, don't find my job fulfilling, and keep seeing depressing similarities between myself and Edward Norton's character in Fight Club.

Worse still, I have no idea what my “passion” is and can't find it.

I've taken personality tests (INTJ 5 years running!), career finder tests (which tell me I should be either an artist or a chemist; go figure), tried almost every “find your passion” exercise on the internet, consulted friends, and I can never get a single, unified response.

I don't know where to turn. To that end, I'd like to enlist your help and see if your fresh set of eyes can see a pattern in some of the hobbies and personality traits I'll list below.

  • I like to write, but can never seem to finish a project because I keep shifting between novel, short story, screenplay, comic, and other genres. This has been a hobby since childhood, but the inability to finish stories started around college.
  • I like to draw (on paper or the computer), but get discouraged because I can never get my drawings to look how I see them in my head. I've been sketching and drawing since childhood, but it's never been a serious pursuit.
  • I love animals but have never been able to get my own because I spend too much time at work.
  • I love to learn and would have stayed in college for at least two or three more degrees if I could have afforded it.
  • I'm super organized and efficient. (Skills that benefit me in my game dev management work.)
  • Working behind a desk (and in a standard 9-to-5) saps my will to live.
  • I've worked as a (seasonal) actor in a theme park's Halloween event and loved it.
  • My tastes can be extremely varied. I get an equal amount of enjoyment from going to the symphony and a roller derby match, for example.
  • I have no idea what I'd do if money was no object.
  • I'm naturally creative, but I can't focus it to a single medium. Interior design and architecture interest me greatly, but so does digital painting, sculpting, and building with Legos.
  • I could keep going, but I'm sure you can appreciate my frustration. I don't know what I want, but I do know what I have now isn't it.

    Any advice you can provide, no matter how small, would be appreciated.

    Regards,

    Confused

    Dear Confused,

    Interesting letter. You sound like an intelligent, creative, and accomplished person, and let me assure you that you have plenty of time to find your “passion.” In fact, my first piece of advice to you is that you try to accept that you have many “passions,” not just one. This is a good thing, not a bad one. In fact, you remind me of myself. As a young person, I too loved to draw, write, play the piano, and act, and felt frustrated and confused a lot of the time about which of these interests I wanted to pursue.

    Now it sounds to me as if you’re supporting yourself with your job as a video game designer. So, for right now I think you should stop taking personality tests and career tests and “find your passion” tests, stop looking for unified patterns in all the talents and interests you have, and, most importantly, stop consulting your friends.

    Think about it. For one thing, how would your friends know what you should do with your life? This may sound like a strange statement coming from an advice columnist, but remember: Advice is cheap. It’s cheap because the person giving it doesn’t have to live with the consequences of the advice—you do. And the person giving the advice may not be able to separate his or her own talents, interests, and biases from the advice he or she is giving you.

    Instead, I think you should find your passion by getting into a “process” rather than worrying about an outcome. Here’s what I mean. Choose one creative endeavor at a time, and pursue each one by getting into the process of pursuing it.

    For example, let’s say you decide you want to pursue writing. (Disclaimer: I’m choosing that because that happens to be my passion.) You could:

    • Sign up for a night course in creative writing, the short story, novel writing, or personal essay writing. Most community colleges offer these kinds of courses—and they’re often quite good. I’ve taught them myself.
    • Start a blog and stick with it.
    • Read a book on writing, such as Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, or Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, and actually do the exercises the author suggests. Or try a book on writing prompts, like Bryan Cohen’s 1000 Creative Writing Prompts: Ideas for Blogs, Scripts, Stories, and More.
    • Read a basic textbook on the “craft” of writing. One serious one on “fiction writing” that I like is Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft.
    • Come to my blog, The Bruised Muse, where you can also find some writing exercises. Do them, too.
    • Start a new story without regard for how it’s going to end. Just explore. Do you think writing is easy, and that writers learn to write easily and without pain, and arrive at the task of writing complete with the ability to finish everything they write? No way. My goodness, I published three novels, but I have three more sitting on a shelf that I couldn’t finish. I don’t even want to tell you how many short stories I’ve written that I couldn’t finish or ended up not liking!
    • The point is to just get started on something and see where it takes you. Remember: Any creative endeavor is a process, not an event. If you’re focused on the outcome, you’re not in the process. In fact, if you’re focused on the outcome, on fear of rejection, or on the applause you hope to get at the end, your creative muse may very well rebel and simply shut down on you.

      But once you get into a process in one “passion,” you may find yourself figuring out ways to incorporate another of your “passions” so that you can do something really spectacular. I think of a woman who came to one of my creative writing workshops at one point, and now she’s making documentary films.

      Another thought I have is that maybe, since you seem to be doing so well in game development, you can come up with an idea for your own business in that arena and go the entrepreneurial route, which is its own creative endeavor.

      Now, I’d like to spend little time on some of the words you’ve used. I am firmly of the opinion that creativity itself is healing and that any creative undertaking you embark upon will be healing. I am, however, somewhat worried that you use words like “depleted” and “having trouble getting out of bed.” You might want to talk about these feelings with a therapist, but in any case, I would encourage you at the same time to pursue your creative endeavor.

      I wish you the best,

      Fran

      Read More from Fran

      Creativity and Healing: Let the Little One Inside You Sing

      Have a question for Fran? Email questions@themuse.com

      Photo of man thinking courtesy of Shutterstock.