We’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a million times: “Do what you love.”
And I get it. I do. If you follow your heart, and you lay the brickwork down for your dreams, you’ll spare yourself the 9-5 grind and endless future under fluorescent lights. You’ll show them. You’ll show all of them! And as long as you do what you love, everyone will shut up, see where they went wrong, and get out of the way.
But here’s the thing about that: by doing what you love, you’re bound to come up against circumstances that act as barriers; that make you work for that dream and that goal, and make you question basically everything you hold dear (dramatic, but true). And if you’re up for the challenge, your dreams will come to pass, and that work won’t feel one bit like it. But if you’re not, you will pine for the days of doing anything but what you thought you loved.
Think of it like this: when it comes to doing what you want to do, it’s important to act, not react. “I’ll show you how valuable Elle Woods can be!” may be the best line from Legally Blonde (which is a boss movie, if you ever want to talk about it), but if Elle had actually only reacted, she’d come away from Harvard bitter and unhappy with her choices and who she had become. Yes, she got into Harvard so she could end up with Warner, but she stayed in law because it was what she loved – even though it challenged her at almost every level.
Elle Woods is actually a terrific character to think about in terms of the journey to becoming who you are. Judged because of her looks and her past, she vows only to work hard and prove she belongs amongst the school’s best and brightest – to better herself, instead of lashing out at others. She doesn’t listen to those who don’t believe in her, and she doesn’t accept the harassment she’s subjected to at the hands of her boss. Instead, she uses it to fuel her drive, and walks away as the head of her class and one hell of a lawyer.
Yes, Elle Woods is fictional, but the lesson she presents is not: staying true to yourself saves you from breaking down to fit into a mold that will only confine and hurt you. We’ve all tried to bend and change to fit into categories, but we eventually hit a wall when we realize we’re meant to grow differently and to be ourselves. And growing is scary. To leave what you know, or to abandon a plan to follow what you love can feel lonely and impossible. But you’d be surprised at how much easier it gets when you actually do it. Your circle changes, your mindset changes, and you change – but for the better.
And by doing this, you’ll be happier. Your friendships will evolve (and some will fade away) and your sense of self will improve. Before you know it, you’ll look at your dreams and actually know how achieve them, instead seeing them as untouchable entities you can only graze. All this by embracing who you are and what you want; all of this by deciding to act – by taking a course, or going back to school, or trying to write, or attempting that comedy open mic. If you want to change the way you dress, do it. If you want to dedicate your life solely to music, do that. Provided it’s not hurting anybody else, doing what makes you happy will – cliché alert – set you free. And through that freedom, you will discover even more about yourself, and even more jobs and skills and careers to try.
And if anybody objects? Just keep on going. In time they’ll see just how valuable Elle Woods can be.