A friend of mine loves to ride horses. She lives on a ranch, has six horses, eighty sheep, a couple of goats, a few chickens, and five dogs. She has a full-time job to support her love and hires ranch hands to help with the day-to-day running of the ranch. Unfortunately, the ranching profession is transient by nature and most of the time there is not enough help. During one such spell when there was not enough help, I offered my services as a ranch hand for a few days. From sunup to sundown, we spent our time mucking stalls, hauling hay, stacking hay, feeding animals, running water, fixing fences, caring for animals, and getting things in order for the next feeding.
When the sun was at a high point on the second day, I stopped scooping horse poop long enough to wipe the sweat off my forehead, lean against the pitchfork and ask, “When do you actually ride the horses?” “Oh,” she said, flinging what was on her pitchfork into the pitching place then taking a moment to lean against her pitchfork, “if I’m not too tired I usually ride for a couple of hours on the weekends.”
I looked at her in amazement and thought “All this to ride for a few hours on the weekends but only if you’re not too tired?” It made me wonder, how many times have we pursued a passion because it fills our heart, only to discover that in order to get to that part of the passion which fills our heart, we have to first muck stalls, stack hay, and run water? That in order to do what it is we love the most, we have to first accept all the “other stuff” that surrounds our passion and then accept that the time spent actually doing what we are most passionate about may actually be where we spend the least amount of time.
It was the same story the brew master in Palmer, Alaska shared with me. He was living his passion. After years of planning and saving he had opened a micro-brewery and was making the kind of beer he had been dreaming of making. He took me on a tour of his small operation and as we weaved amongst the vats of brewing beer I asked him what makes a good brew master. He looked at me and said, quite seriously, “If you like doing dishes, you would be a good brew master.”
So many times we hear “Follow your dream!” as the answer to the age-old question of “What should I do with my life?” So we take the leap to do that which we love only to find out that our passions come with baggage. This is neither good nor bad, it is simply an important observation to understand and accept. If you like riding horses, you need to like mucking stalls. If you like crafting beer, you need to like washing dishes. If you enjoy performing surgery, you will want to make it a point to enjoy patients. If you enjoy teaching students, then you better also enjoy talking to parents. It is just the way of the world: our dreams are encased by “other things”.
The mistake I make, and I am pretty sure I am not the only one making this mistake, is forgetting that these “other things” are in service of our passions. I make the mistake of thinking these “other things” are distractions or, more to the point, they are dragons that require slaying. I make the mistake of resenting the dragons because they deter me in my pursuit of happiness. My focus turns to indiscriminatingly slaying dragons in order to clear a path to my passion. To find that place of peace where the rasping of the dragon’s breath is nowhere to be heard and the heat of its fire cannot be felt. That place of peace where time becomes irrelevant because I am doing what I love.
How much easier would my pursuit of passion be if I accepted that dragons are a part of the deal? That their fires will always flame up and there will always be dishes that need to be done. How much easier is the pursuit if I focus on taming dragons rather than slaying them? If I accept their presence and their role in protecting my passions from being taken for granted? That in fact, the dragons show me time and time again, the level of devotion I have to making the pursuit of my passion a priority.
And so, when I hear the heavy breathing of the dragons or smell the smoke from their fire I now try a different approach. First I accept that dragons are a crucial component of passion. I then make choices knowing that not all distractions require my attention and sometimes the dishes can wait until the morning. By making intentional decisions I have given myself the power to choose how I spend those limited resources of time and energy and can now tame the dragons to serve me while I pursue my passions.