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Why You Should Find A Good Passion Project

It can be scary to put yourself out there. Sometimes we put our dreams on hold because we don’t want to risk embarrassment with our colleagues. This is especially true in the era of social media. We work to create a carefully cultivated professional image. What if we have a dream that doesn’t fit well with that professional image?

I thought about this disconnect the other day as I was enjoying Michael McKnight’s article about his quest to hit a home run at a major league ballpark. You can read the story here. It’s a fantastic tale about a man chasing his dream. McKnight documents the enormous work he put into the chase (admittedly, he does get paid to produce a great story out of the chase) even though there is no point to it other than fulfilling his own dream. I suspect that they’re a lot of people who would call the whole thing a waste of time.

One line in particular stood out to me. McKnight is discussing how he swings a bat each night in his driveway, hitting balls into a practice net. He tells his neighbors that he has joined a men’s baseball league rather than sharing what he is actually doing. He says, “The truth would only bring more questions.”

That’s really the crux of the issue for most of us. We have dreams. We just fear being judged because of those dreams. How many lawyers secretly want to be actors? Or comedians? Or play in an athletic league? And, many of us are doing just those things, but we don’t often share the experiences with people in our career because we fear being judged.

I think most lawyers don’t like to fail. But, by their very nature, most passion projects result in lots of failure.

One of my dreams was to try stand-up comedy. This year I got the chance. I agreed to MC a fundraiser and part of the night was 20 minutes of stand-up. I spent a lot of time writing my own material, testing jokes on people, writing and re-writing until I had material I liked and a good narrative flow. I was nervous about performing. And you know what? I bombed. I got some laughs, but overall it was a dud.

You know what else? I am really glad I tried it! Oh, I certainly wish it had gone better. But, I agreed to the whole thing because I wanted to fulfill a dream of mine. That it didn’t turn out perfect doesn’t matter to me. I failed at it, but I did it. I won’t spend the rest of my life wondering what if.

McKnight’s story has a happier ending. After initially failing and thinking he had missed his chance, McKnight was offered a second chance in a different stadium. On day two he hit a couple balls out the park.

Like McKnight, I spent time last week with a lawyer who just returned to acting. He had been in theater in college, but gave it up to devote more time to law school. After law school he found himself too busy with his practice to make time to act. Now he has decided to make the time for his passion project. I loved his energy and enthusiasm as he was telling me about his last play and all of his auditions.

There is a good argument to be made that these passion projects keep you balanced as a person and will, therefore, make you a better lawyer. But, honestly, I don’t think it matters if your passion project makes you a better lawyer. What matters is whether it makes you a better person. You get one run through this life; why not make sure you are at least taking a crack at fulfilling your dreams?

I can’t promise that others won’t judge you for chasing your dreams. Some people will criticize and some will not. After my performance I had several people congratulate me on having the guts to perform. I had others ask why I would bother with all that work.

When you follow your dream, some of that criticism will flow from jealousy that they are not pursuing their own passion project. Your critics, though, won’t be around you forever. At some point you have to make peace with how you’ve spent your life. So, grab a baseball bat or a script. Or write that poem, book or joke that’s been rattling around in your head. You might make your dream happen or might fail trying. But, either one is better than wondering.

Oh, and if you happen to write some great jokes, can you send them my way? Apparently I need some much better

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