I remember the moment with icy clarity. I was sitting in a Women in Science luncheon at a Very Fancy Hotel during a Very Important Science Conference. A panel of professional scientists was discussing work-life balance, and one woman cracked a joke that ended my career in research psychology:
She said, “I think about data when I’m brushing my teeth.”
And I thought: I NEVER think about data when I’m brushing my teeth.
And I know right now that I never will.
It’s not that thinking about data while brushing teeth is a prerequisite to becoming a great scientist. It’s that I’d be competing for jobs and funding against people who think about science every spare minute of every day.
You’ll always be one step behind if you only think about your profession when you’re getting paid to think about it.
While in college, I discovered I had a preternatural skill for acing biology exams that I hadn’t actually studied for. But just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you should choose it for a career path. The ranks of any profession are filled with a whole lot of mediocre, average people who are good at what they do.
The upper echelons of any profession, however, are full of people who think about what they do while brushing their teeth.
“Passion” is not trite, prosaic, self-helpy fluff invented by Oprah. It is a tangible, monetizable resource. All those minutes and hours you spend thinking about your passion will help you create new ideas, solve problems, inch you towards greater heights. Passion translates into practice. Practice translates into excellence and expertise. Excellence and expertise boost your bottom line and further your career.
Maybe you think “there’s no way I can make money at what I’m passionate about doing.” I promise you that someone else shares your passion, and they are already making money at it. (I dare you to Google it.) And if by some cosmic glitch they’re not – then cha-ching baby, you’ve hit upon a niche where you can be first in the category – entrepreneurial gold.
What is the next step? I bet you already know. I bet it’s been a pebble in your shoe for awhile now. You’ve considered it, maybe even researched it a little during your lunch hour or while the baby napped. You just haven’t done it yet.
Your passion is there to help you, not to haunt you.
You know those thoughts about living your dream swirling in your head? Take the first step toward making it real. Right this minute. Then devote that teeth-brushing time to thinking about the second step. Then the third. The fourth. Turn those thoughts into a gold mine of your own making by directing them toward action, toward planning the next step. And don’t forget to execute. You know what you need to do.
Spit out the toothpaste and START.