It’s been a long, monotonous month. The tippity-tap of my keyboard breaks the yawning silence. It is the sound of plodding, not passion — a job that long ago became meaningless. Alone with my tedium, it crawls upon my skin, clings about my neck. My existence seems foggy and unclear. I am in suspended existence.
What happened to me?
I didn’t always feel so professionally comatose. There were other times, better times, when I felt passion and purpose. There were mornings I jolted awake long before dawn, eager for my day to begin.
But something must have happened between then and now. And I wonder if it’s even possible to regain what I have lost. Can I find my passion again?
My fingers slump from the keyboard. The silence takes over — but in the silence there are answers, answers that are perhaps willing to be uncovered. I close my eyes and try to remember the last time I felt inspired.
The Passion of a Little Child
My first and greatest passion was horses. In my mind’s eye I can still see my vast collection of Breyer horse models. I remember the flying manes and proudly bent necks of the glossy horses plastered on my bedroom walls. Of course, there was my book collection. The Misty of Chincoteagueseries, the adventures of Billy and Blaze, Black Beauty, and my favorite, King of the Wind. I read them until the bindings fell apart, immersing myself in the stories of riders who had forged deep and meaningful connections with their horses.
At age 12, I started mucking out stalls at a local stable in exchange for riding lessons. My shyness made me a slow learner, but I didn’t care. I was living my passion. I dreamed of competing in dressage and jumping shows. I dreamed of having my very own horse to groom and pamper and hug. A girl’s best friend.
When I asked my parents for a horse for Christmas, they said a definitive “no.” I cried bitterly and wrote a letter to my future self, making her promise to one day fulfill my dream.
In high school, I continued to ride as much as I could, but little by little I became engrossed in academics. I experienced conflict with the girl who owned the horses I had been riding. It happened gradually, but one day, I stopped going.
It just. ended.
High school was the time I developed anxiety and OCD. I began focusing on school because books were very predictable and something I could control. Later on, I lost my ability to touch animals because of hygiene issues, and even now I only rarely pet other people’s dogs and cats.
I know the six-year-old version of me would be very disappointed.
To this day, I don’t know what happened to my Breyer horses and my horse-book collection. Maybe I donated them. Maybe my mom threw them out. Maybe they’re still hidden in a box in the attic — my passion, waiting to be found again.
How to Find My Passion in Forgotten Dreams
I had another passion. It was my violin. I attended a live concert of Handel’s Messiah at age 9 and sat directly in front of the violin section. On the drive home, I begged for a violin. My parents must have thought violin lessons would be less expensive than a horse, so I got one. I spent hours each day, locked in my bedroom, practicing. At first I squeaked and sawed, but after some time my abilities improved.
I loved the rich, musical tones that I could produce. The earthy depth of Dvorak and fleeting magic of Paganini took me away, far away. My own little rabbit hole that I could enter, whenever I wanted.
Again, I wasn’t naturally very talented. I got lost in the music too easily, daydreaming as I played rather than focusing on form and style. I preferred to feel the music rather than work on it, and my skills didn’t improve quickly enough for me to become truly talented. I enjoyed it, though, and spent my teen years believing that passion alone is enough.
I had been planning to study music in college, but as soon as the interviewing music professor discovered I could barely play in fifth position, she all but laughed in my face. Dejected, I took a degree in elementary education instead. My violin gathered dust in its case beneath my dorm room bed.
It wasn’t sorrow that kept my violin in its velvet coffin. It was disillusionment.
Apparently, passion and dreams and hours meant nothing in the absence of talent. Or was it that I hadn’t worked hard enough? I didn’t know. Disillusionment turned to self-blame and loathing. I couldn’t bear to pick up my violin — how could I find my passion and then, for lack of effort, let it slip through my fingers?
The Death of Our Dreams
And here I am, decades later, staring down my life and wondering what happened to the little-girl joy that had me digging through horse manure and sawing away on squeaky strings. How did I lose that?
I married right after finishing my BA, and followed my new husband to the Middle East, where he had been offered a job. As a tagalong expat spouse, there were limited opportunities for me. I spent a few years as an office secretary, I helped out with some refugee projects, and then spent a few more years as a content writer. He had his dream job — but I wandered, trying to find my passion in a man’s world.
I went through clinical depression. I went through more anxiety and OCD. I went through compassion fatigue and culture shock and every emotional up and down that international living throws at you.
I started to question my sanity. My purpose in life. How did I get here? I didn’t used to be like this. If ever there was a time I needed a dream, a passion, it was now.
I reached back in time to the dreams of my childhood, trying to dig up the faintest gleams of excitement. One day, I pulled out my dusty, out-of-tune violin (which my husband had insisted I drag along to the Middle East) and tuned it. I snuggled it beneath my chin, the way I had done for hundreds of hours before. I immediately felt a crink in my neck. I tightened the bow and played a few etudes. My neck muscles protested and my bow hand felt sloppy.
Strange. The music coming from the strings felt alien to me.
It was from another lifetime, another reality. I remembered the lines so well that I barely had to read the sheet music, but something was different. The notes were too bright and high-pitched — they didn’t resonate with the dark valleys I had walked since the last time I played.
I heard a gray whisper, nagging me. It sounded like the voice of the music professor who laughed.
I settled my violin back into its velvety red case and closed the lid.
A few days later, still hoping to reconnect with a feeling of passion, I found myself watching documentaries about ranchers in Wisconsin, famous horse trainers, and equestrian sports. My brain started humming like an old projector. Well-known names, breeds, and brands resurfaced in my memory almost instantly.
Nothing was forgotten.
I found a stable not too far from our house, for even Middle Easterners appreciate good riding. I visited, watching from the fence as riders trained in ovals around the arena. I looked at them in their tight breeches and tall boots and remembered how it felt to look the part of my dream. I hoped no one would glance over at me in my plain old skinny jeans and Toms.
I talked to the lead trainer and got prices. I checked around and noted how healthy the horses looked. It was all very decent.
But as soon as I drove away, I started to have second thoughts.
You see, living in the Middle East had somehow changed me. I had Syrian friends who were refugees. I knew their stories of poverty and displacement. I had slept in their hovels with them, eaten cheap food with them, and listened to their risky escape plans. I thought about sitting on their floors again, listening to their struggle to choose between paying for their children’s schooling or their kidney medicine. I imagined the point where I would tell them how much money I was spending to ride an animal around in an oval every week.
It wasn’t a hard decision. I knew I couldn’t do it.
Perhaps finding our passion has less to do with past dreams and more to do with current reality. Like outgrown shoes, the dreams and passions that once motivated us may no longer fit. We grow. We change. We move on.
I moved on.
And I left my old dreams in their quiet graves, to rest until I visit their sweet memories again.
Learning to Find My Passion in the Present, Not the Past
The tippity-tap of my keyboard is quiet and still, but my mind is a whirr of buzzing thoughts. I am suspended in time between the girl I once was and the woman I will become.
I think of how much audacity it takes to be a dreamer. You need a whole boatload of self-confidence. No demeritorious whispers. No global awareness.
Maybe I’m too adult to find my passion in childhood dreams anymore.
My finger hovers over the “send” button. It’s an email to my boss, conveying in writing what I discussed with him earlier in the day: my resignation. It’s a very secure job, but if I stay, I will do nothing but carry other men’s thoughts and ideas in a wheelbarrow.
I’m curled up at home in fuzzy red pajamas, and and as I hit “send,” I can’t help but smile.
I have absolutely no idea what I will do next.
I feel good because it’s the ultimate vote of confidence: to quit my job and force myself to find my passion, believing that it’s there and that I will find it. Believing that there’s a purpose for my life.
Like a mother eagle pushes her babies out of the nest, it’s time for me to find my grown-up aspirations. I might never do that unless I’m forced to.
And so my mind turns, ever so slowly, like a flower looking away from the shadows into the sun. It turns away from the past, the search for a “lost” passion. It faces the future now, and looks for a “new” passion.
I know the six-year-old version of me would be terribly delighted. I may not have fulfilled her dreams with precision, but I’m letting that little-girl spirit of faith and ambition and courage live on.
As I careen wildly down into the unknown, a tingle of excitement rises in my chest. I know I’m here on this planet for a reason.
I’ve finally started to act like it again.