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Little Bird Marketing

Notes from the Nest

Are You a Hummingbird or a Jackhammer?

Date: March 15 2016

When I heard Elizabeth Gilbert’s Super Soul Sunday talk on following your curiosity instead of your passion, I immediately identified with the hummingbird:

She says, “The world is divided into two kinds of people: there are the jackhammers and there are the hummingbirds. Jackhammers are people like me. You know, you put a passion in our hands and we’re just like (insert drilling sound effect) and we don’t look up and we don’t veer and we’re just like focused on that ‘til the end of time. …Hummingbirds spend their lives doing it very differently. They move from tree to tree from flower to flower…trying this, trying that. And two things happen. They create incredibly rich, complex lives for themselves. And they also end up cross-pollinating the world. ...Because you bring an idea from here to over here where you learn something else and you weave it in and then you take it here to the next thing you do. So that your perspective ends up keeping the entire culture aerated and mixed up and open to the new and fresh. …If you do that, if you're willing to just release yourself from the pressure and the anxiety surrounded by passion and you just humbly and faithfully continue to follow the trail of the hummingbird path…one of these days you just might look up and realize "oh my word" I am exactly where I am meant to be. ...In other words, if you can let go of passion and follow your curiosity, your curiosity just might lead you to your passion.” - http://www.elizabethgilbert.com/video/

Yes! I’m a hummingbird! I’ve followed my curiosity through several careers. I’ve been an actor, a cook, a concierge, and now a coach. Ding ding ding, I am exactly where I am meant to be! And, drum roll please, I have cross-pollinated the world!

It sounded so great. I loved the idea of cross-pollinating.

Wait a minute.

I'm one of the most passionate people I know.

Am I a jackhammer?

From when I was 12 until I was 30, I was an actor. Every aspect of me breathed theater. In high school, while other people were commiserating with Nirvana, I was belting out Broadway show tunes in my bedroom. During my semester abroad in London, while my 20-year-old friends were happy getting legally drunk at the pub, I went to see forty shows at the amazing student price of just 5 pounds each. When I backpacked in Europe after college, I went out of my way to see the castle where Hamlet is set in Denmark. When I got my first cat, I named him Anton, after Chekhov, my favorite playwright.

I’m a jackhammer.

 I loved the images that Liz Gilbert set up, but I couldn’t figure out exactly how I fit in. I realized that there might be two types of jackhammers. Liz is the kind who has a passion that she will follow until the end of time; I’m the kind that has pursued passion after passion. I’m not a hummingbird; I’ve dug right down each time. I’m a different kind of jackhammer.

Just before I turned 30, my department was eliminated and I lost the day job that had supported me as an actor. That day job was not my passion, but losing it was one of the hardest things I've ever experienced. I was ashamed because it felt like a failure. I also felt a total lack of control in my life; I’m smart, hard-working, and personable...how could I possibly lose my job?

At that time, I took a good look at my life. Ultimately, I decided that I didn't want to be an actor anymore. I didn't want to have a day job for the rest of my life. I wanted to spend most of my hours doing what I love instead of just a few hours every night.

Also at that time, I realized that I had another passion.

I was passionate about food. The jackhammer that I am, I went to culinary school, aiming to eventually open a training program for home cooks. Upon drilling, I found that being a professional cook is really different than being a home cook. I'm a people person and it was painful for me to keep my head down and work quietly for hours at a time. I wasn't fearless like a lot of the cooks who start when they're younger and I found myself constantly scared of the inevitable cuts and burns. Finally, even though I had two cooking jobs, I wasn't making enough money. I'd followed another passion, but it didn't lead where I thought it would.

Having fully committed to following one passion, it can be tough to then want to do something else. It can feel like failing and having to start over. That was a waste of time. What will people think? I put all of my energy into that and now I want to do something else? What happens if I follow this next passion and it's not "the one" either?

Here’s where my breed of jackhammers can look to the hummingbirds for inspiration. There is something worthwhile here and there is also something worthwhile there. Jackhammers-of-the-second-kind, it’s okay to drill multiple holes. When you do, if you take a treasure from each big dig, it will make you rich.

For a while, going to culinary school felt like a mistake. It wasn’t. Being an actor led to being a cook which led to being a concierge, and all of those have led me to being a better coach.

There are the hummingbirds, who flit from curiosity to curiosity, nourished by each one. There are the jackhammers like Liz Gilbert, who found their passion and sole purpose early on and who will only do that one thing to great success. Then, there are the other jackhammers, like me, who will follow a passion with all of their heart until it doesn’t work anymore, and then they will follow another passion.

Are you a jackhammer or a hummingbird? What type of jackhammer are you? How has it been to what you are? I would love to know.


This post was written by Sheila Devi, a transition coach that specializes in helping clients move forward during major shifts such as relocation and job change. She helps people figure out what they really want and how to take conscious steps to achieve it. While Sheila is based in Chicago, she serves clients from coast to coast. Visit her online at www.sheiladevi.com

Want to hear from more friends of Priscilla McKinney? Hear more from this Momma Bird in her podcast, Ponderings from the Perch. Her guests cover the spectrum from leadership, entreprenuership, authenticity in business and many more self awareness moments that bring meaning to our work. 

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