How To Get Involved With Your Passions

A recent post on Ask MetaFilter asks:

How do you cope when you seem to be surrounded on all sides by ineffectiveness and apathy?

In his question, jmnugent talks about his frustration at seeing his work and ideas not coming to fruition due to the apathy around him. He feels that not many people “care about quality work” and only does the bare minimum, and is finding it hard to be passionate when it seems no one really cares.

There is quite an animated discussion over rewards for efforts, living on principle, and the value of ideas. In the middle of all this comes the true question: How does a passionate person get involved with other passionate groups and people?

The main answer is that you have to go and look for those groups and people – expecting them to look for you will not yield much. You may be lucky and get discovered, but – like being rich, being famous, or finding the love of your life – a lot of it requires effort. Along the way you’ll also need to earn trust, work on communications skills, and do the work without blame or worry on someone holding you back.

Fortunately it isn’t that difficult to get started. Here are some starting points (as posted by me to jmnugent’s question) on getting involved with other passionate people: (click on the More link)

Follow every lead

The thing about opportunities for passionate people is that once you find one, you end up finding a million more. All you really need to do is follow their lead.

Use Google (and other search engines) to the fullest – you can search blogs, books, and scholarly articles too. Find websites related to your passion, then find out who they link to and who links to them. A lot of those websites are communities, with members and resources, so you’re already in luck. Look for related discussion on blogs – often, the referenced websites and the websites of the commentors can also be useful sources. Look for Wikipedia articles on your passion, and follow links to referenced websites and related topics – more sources! Also, join email lists for your interests; often a lot of opportunities get passed around their members first before reaching the public.

A big thing that organizations and people with passion are doing is setting up a presence on social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace. Get an account at either website, add your friends, and start investigating for related groups and profiles. Plenty of passionate people and organizations have created their own MySpace profiles to promote and network – add all that interest you, and keep up with their activities through their bulletins and blog posts. There are also groups you can join, and you can find related profiles by going through their Friends list. While personal profiles on Facebook are meant to link people that know each other (random adding is discouraged), various groups are available to connect people with similar interests together – from a group created by an NGO to promote its activities, to a special interest group on an issue like conservation or public health. LiveJournal is primarily a blog host; however, one of its strongest draws is its Communities, which are essentially a cross between a forum and a shared blog (depending on how the group owners and members use it) and can encompass many topics. Get an LJ and join some communities – if there isn’t one, start one!

The Internet, though handy, is obviously not the only source for information. Scour magazines and newspapers for related news reports or events. Most community publications would have some sort of a What’s Happening section for their area; read and check out some events, even if they don’t seem directly related. Academic journals are a very good way to stay informed on the latest research in your passion, as well as the people involved (more leads!).

Keep an eye out for flyers and posters in your community. Independently-owned shops are an especially good source for promotional material on communal activities. If you can’t afford to buy books, papers, or magazines, head to your local library – besides free reading material, they often have plenty of information about community activities and local issues. The librarians can also direct you to related resources if you ask.

Once you find one lead, follow all connecting leads – you’ll be surprised where you’ll end up. My United Nations trip came from a random serendipitous foray through blogs. What will you find?

Put yourself out there

If you want people to notice you, you need to make yourself available for noticing. There’s no shame in blowing your own horn occasionally.

Those leads you researched and followed, the events you’re going to? Use those times to mingle and get to know people. Bring some business cards, or more informal name cards (like Moo cards), and pass them out to the people you meet – and don’t forget to collect contact details too! Then follow up afterwards, even if it’s just a quick email to say “hi, it was nice to meet you”. A lot of people don’t bother following up, so you will definitely be remembered for doing so.

Writing is a very good way to get yourself noticed. You don’t necessarily need wordsmithing skills; just passion, dedication, and effort. The most common way is through blogging – either through starting your own blog about yourself or your passion, or by contributing and commenting to blogs on those topics. If you already have a good collection of resources and information about your passion, considering making a proper website. You can also combine blogs and general websites – having the foundational content (resources, 101s, links, etc) as pages on the website with a regularly updated blog for latest news and discussion. A good example of this is No Media Kings, a blog and a fully fledged resource website on independent media. Another possible option is to write a manifesto ChangeThis manifesto, a website that publishes specially formatted PDFs on various topics related to business, culture, technology, and other issues. Some popular manifestos include Hugh MacLeod’s How To Be Creative and Seth Godin’s The Bootstrapper’s Bible.

If ink and paper is more of your thing, consider making a zine. Zines are independent self-published magazines – not typically glossy or professionally made like their commercial counterparts (though some can be), but often very earnest in its passion. Zines can be about anything, and can look and feel like anything you wish. Zines don’t typically make money, and can be a losing venture (especially if you’re not based in North America and need to cope with exchange rates and postage); however, it is a good experience to make, publish, and distribute zines. The Book of Zines and ZineWiki have plenty of resources on zine-making, while ZineStreet has links to distros and stores to buy and sell zines. If you want to expand your publishing horizons, consider independent publishing – making your own book. Who knows – your book may be picked up by a mainstream publisher and reach a wider audience!

Use the media to your full benefit. One of the easiest ways to get published in the newspaper is to write a Letter to the Editor, usually about a current issue that concerns you, or a response to a news article. Letters to the Editor often generate good discussion and can include responses from people directly affecting the issue, such as government ministers or corporation executives. If you write often enough, you can develop a positive reputation as a prolific letter-writer. Many papers and magazines also accept contributions; contact the editors and ask. Some cities have community radio and television stations that accept programming from the public, or highlight local ventures and events. Often different media places will scout for people to interview for various topics – if the topic suits you, volunteer yourself! It’s a great way to get noticed, and it is fun to see yourself quoted in a news article. You may even get picked up for further articles, or be contacted by other interested people – even if just to say hi.

If there are reputable awards and competitions that you are eligible for, go and apply! Get your friends to nominate you if necessary – to be less sketchy, go for the friends that would have nominated you for the award anyway (the ones that often say “oh you should have won that!!”). It is common in Asian cultures to not want to promote yourself for fear of being seen as arrogant or a braggart; however, this also means that plenty of talented and capable people are not getting the recognition they deserve. Put aside the embarrassment and go for it; eventually the award organizers have the final say, but there’s no harm (and potential boon) in putting your name in.

If it’s real, go for it – or start it

If, through your leads and contacts and personal publicity, you come across any opportunity that sounds interesting to you, investigate it – and if you can, and it feels good, do it.

A lot of opportunities available are reputable, so there shouldn’t be much harm in signing up. However, scams do exist, so it is important to do your research beforehand. If your opportunity is linked to or referred to by other reputable organizations, such as the UN or universities, or it has neutral/generally positive reports in the news, you should be fine. That doesn’t mean that obscure opportunities are naturally suspect, though. I did have a bit of a hard time looking for places that backed up Up with People when I first signed up, because it was going under the relatively recent name WorldSmart at the time and had just restarted after a long hiatus. Sometimes it is easier to spot the scams, as there would be either quite a number of references to its scamminess, or a noticable lack of independent information (such as an international event without any press coverage – yes, Beauty and Brains, I am looking at you). There are negative reports (founded or unfounded) about legitimate organizations too, for various reasons, so don’t let the presence of one such report scare you – but do take their claims into consideration, as they may bring up relevant concerns.

Researching legitimacy becomes more important when money is involved. Some people think high price = scam; this isn’t necessarily true, as the operating costs may be high. Some things that advertise themselves as “free” or “cheap” may actually incur hidden costs. The key is to see if the price is justified – are you really getting your money’s worth? What do you need to pay for that isn’t already provided for or covered by the initial fee? Also check on whether you are able to pay in instalments (if necessary) and what the procedures are for getting your money back. Legitimate places would generally be friendly and open to answering your money questions without too much of a fuss.

If the opportunity checks out, and your instinct isn’t overly worried, then just sign up! Even if you’re just barely eligible, or you missed the application date by one day: if you’re still technically able to sign up or take part, do it. People are more flexible than you think. I’ve managed to get myself in various opportunities despite being one or two days late, and I’ve been part of a English Literature workshop where I was one year younger than everyone else. If you have any doubt at all, contact the organizers and ask. At the very worst, they’d say “sorry, no”. A lot of times they may even give you resources and ideas on other ways to get involved, or other opportunities that are just as relevant and interesting.

What if you have an idea for an opportunity that doesn’t yet exist? Start on it. You are very likely not the only person who wishes for such an opportunity. Use your leads and research on ways to get your opportunity going. Then go for it! A lot of great things in the world came about because the people involved took a risk with an idea and ran with it. It’s one thing to have many ideas and visions; it’s quite another to actually do something about then. If you’re good at ideas but not good at implementation, don’t worry – that’s what teams are for. Look for people to join you on your project, and brainstorm ways for people to contribute. You can come up with concept plans, someone else can do the technical grunt work, another person works on marketing…there’s many ways to delegate and give work that suits our personal styles best.

Sign up for anything legitimate that comes your way. Don’t worry about whether you’ll get accepted or not. If you don’t get accepted, or if an opportunity doesn’t exist yet, start your own. In my experience, it’s often the ones you least expect that turn out well. You’ll never know unless you try.

Take care of yourself

The most common danger I’ve seen with passionate people like ourselves is that we’re so caught up in the passion that we neglect ourselves in the process. You don’t have to be a martyr for your passion! You need to be your own top priority.

Take some time to relax and have a break. A few hours, days, weeks – time to yourself, not having to think about how to pursue your passion or how to get noticed. Meditate, play some mindless video games, go for a walk…do anything that cheers you up but doesn’t tax your energy. People tend to forget about taking a break until they crash from overworking and are forced to stop – this isn’t ideal, because then you have to recover from the crash AND get basic break time too. Prevention is better than cure in this situation. Regular breaks will help you recharge, giving you further energy to continue pursuing your passions when you’re ready.

If you do crash, or feel like you’re about to crash, don’t despair. Help is available. If you need emotional or mental help, consult a counselor or therapist as soon as you can. Organizations like The Befrienders provide free telephone, email, and face-to-face counselling for those facing depression (common amongst passionate people). Enlist your family, friends, and loved ones for assistance; they will be happy to help. There are plenty of resources on relaxation and stress relief – here are some good exercises and information from HelpGuide, The Mayo Clinic, and the BBC.

Remember to take care of your basic needs too! Everyone needs food, shelter, water, protection, sleep, and love. Get a nutritious diet, do healthy exercise, get enough sleep (something a lot of passionate people tend to lack!), maintain healthy relationships, and keep your surroundings peaceful and protective. It sounds like a lot of work, but basically it comes down to looking after yourself. If you need other people’s help, don’t be afraid to ask. You can’t give anything to anyone if you don’t have anything for yourself.

Appreciate other people and passions

As evidenced in jmnugent’s question, a common frustration from passionate people is that no one else is passionate enough. True, not everyone is highly driven or passionate about the same issues. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t passionate at all. People have passions in all sorts of things, even things that normally aren’t considered passions.

One of my closest friends, Mark, isn’t really as passionate as me about making a difference or changing the world. He has interest in current issues (particularly politics and education, which he can get very vocal on) but unlike me, he doesn’t go out of his way to work on those issues. Instead, he’s passionate about Magic: The Gathering. He’s amassed a collection of thousands of cards over the past decade, and he could pretty much tell you which cards were released when and what their significance is just by looking. He studies game guides and deck-making tutorials very closely, and has developed various decks with strategies of his own. He even knows the history of the artwork on the cards in great detail. You can tell he’s passionate about Magic because he spends a lot of time and energy on research, strategy, gaming, all things related to the game – this isn’t a half-hearted attempt here. I’m not a fan of trading card games, so often things Mark tells me about Magic fly off the top of my head (sorry, Mark) but I support his passion because it makes him very happy and fulfilled. He doesn’t get everything about my passion either, but he supports me because he knows it’s what makes me happy and fulfilled. That’s why we’re friends; we support each other.

Often people express their passion in subtle ways. Consider the typical traditional image of a father: working hard to provide for his family. His work may involve long tedious hours at a blue-collar job, writing reports or going to meetings. He sometimes works overtime, maybe a weekend or two. At first glance, he doesn’t look like he’s being involved in his passion. How passionate can a typical 9-5 office job be? However, consider that his true passion may be in providing for his family, doing all that he can so that his family is well-supported. He is passionate about making sure they never go to bed hungry, that they actually have a bed to sleep on in a well-protected house, with enough clothes and books and toys and other things to make their life happier and easier. He may have chosen to do tedious work because it brings in money that goes towards the family. Would he be happier working in a job that more closely reflected his passion? Perhaps. However, since his family is his passion, he may have decided to compromise and place his family in a higher priority than himself.

Whatever people’s passions and reasons for pursuing (or not pursuing) them, ultimately what is important is respecting their choices and interests. Of course, it is important to seek out people with similar passions, and people who are passionate in general. They can provide much-needed support, understanding, and resources. However, just because you two share the same passion doesn’t always mean you will get along, or work well together. Personalities and characters do clash, after all. Having friends with diverse passions and interests allow us to consider different perspectives and points of view on each other’s passions. Sometimes it is refreshing to have someone where you can talk about anything but your passion for a while. Friendships and other relationships are ultimately about connection, and connection can come from all sorts of ways. Besides, you never know which “non-passionate” friend of yours will be the greatest asset to your passion.

Ask!

You’re walking down the street one day and you pick up a copy of the latest issue of the free community paper from the coffeeshop around the corner. As you flip through the paper, you find that you quite like the journalistic style and the paper’s local focus. You are interested in journalism, and have been looking for a place to practice your skills. The paper doesn’t seem to be hiring; however, there are contact details available. What do you do – send them an email asking about getting involved, or wait till they announce new hires?

Answer: Send that email.

Too many people wait for permission to follow up with a lead, to find out something, to contact someone. There is no crime in making the first move. If there is nothing that explicitly says “don’t contact us directly”, and contact details are available, send them an email or ring them up. If there’s nothing stopping you from doing it, then do it!

Be polite and friendly; you do want to make a good first impression. Be careful not to be too overbearing though. While checking fanmail for Asha Gill, I often come across a lot of emails that go on and on about how much of a goddess Asha is and how they’re not worthy of contacting her because she’s better than everyone else, yadda yadda. She’s a human being; so is the person on the other side of that email. Even if they’re an expert in their field, they probably wouldn’t mind a nicely-worded email once in a while. Fawning over them just comes off as creepy.

Once you’ve contacted your lead, be patient. Not everyone spends 24/7 online. I spend most of my waking hours online and even I can get really late with replying to emails sometimes. Passionate people do tend to be busy living passionate lives and may not have time to immediately answer your queries. If it’s time-sensitive, or if they promised a reply and it’s been a while, give it about a week or two (depending on how urgent it is). Then try sending another polite email along the lines of “hi, I had written in about Such and Such a week ago and I haven’t heard back from you. Just checking in to see if all is fine.” (You can probably come up with something better.) If it’s really urgent, try calling them instead – often emails get forgotten but phone calls get responded to quickly. If it’s important, ESPECIALLY if it’s legally binding, get it in writing! Even if you contacted them by phone. Verbal agreements don’t usually hold up in court, while written agreements have more legal standing. If it’s not terribly urgent, just wait,, and concentrate on other leads. Some people take up to a month (or more!) to reply, but often the wait is worth it.

What if you’ve found a big organization where information about getting involved isn’t so clearcut? Contact them and ask for ideas. Quite likely you’ll get a reply with ideas, resources, and even opportunities for involvement. Be daring enough to pitch your suggestions even if it’s not explicitly stated. For instance, even though attendance to the GK3 Young Social Entrepreneur’s Forum is mainly open to shortlisted participants of their Social Enterprise competition, I have managed to gain entry as a Media member by offering to write an article about the event for The Star’s BRATs. You never know what you can get away with unless you ask.

Use your network of family, friends, acquaintances, loved ones, and everyone else you’ve connected with (online or offline) to find leads too. Ask anyone and everyone you know if they know anyone connected to your passion, or if they know someone who does. Let it reach up to “uncle’s girlfriend’s sister’s grandaunt’s hairdresser’s psychiatrist’s second cousin” level if need be. Chances are you’ll find at least ONE person connected to your passion that can help you out.

Is it about the passion, or is it about you?

Give some thought into why you want to get involved with your passions, especially if you feel that the people around you are not passionate enough. Is it because you feel your passion needs more public attention and care? Or is it because you would like more recognition for yourself and what you have to contribute?

There’s nothing wrong with either option. Everyone wants to be recognized and validated at some level. Despite what some people may think, you don’t suddenly become a “sell-out” if you receive mainstream media attention or become popular past a niche market. As long as you stand by your passions and principles, you should be OK.

Try not to let your passion wither, though. Some people get all caught up in the “cult of personality” that the original passion – the thing that brought them the fame – falls by the wayside. They end up doing hardly any work on the passion and concentrate more on their popularity. Once the fame goes away, they then find that they hardly did any work on the passion at all, and now they have to start at Square One. Try not to let that happen too much to you. Interviews and vox pops are fun, but remember why you got them in the first place!

It’s totally normal and fine to have your passions change. What may have interested you for years when you were younger may not be relevant to you anymore in your later years. I used to be very heavily into fandom; now I just have a passing interest. If you feel like dropping this passion and pursuing something else, or just relaxing, then by all means go for it. Eventually you are top priority anyway, and there will always be people to take on your passion after you’re done.

Expect the unexpected

So you’ve researched and contacted as many leads as you could find. You’ve bugged your friends and family for contacts and have been in touch with some promising people. You read the papers religiously for articles about your passion. You see your Letter to the Editor for the week in today’s issue. You’ve signed up to a few events and are waiting on news of acceptance. Which way will lead you towards the greatest involvement with your passion?

Honestly, there isn’t any real way of knowing. Life has a funny way of throwing things at us when we least expect them. I have received job offers just for speaking up at a conference, for instance. You may hear about the Perfect Opportunity from a chance encounter with a friend while running late to class; you may be dragged along to a meeting and end up finding it really fascinating; you may be mindlessly clicking on links on blogrolls and stumble upon the website of The Ultimate Person in your Passion. You just can’t tell sometimes.

Keep your options open. Sometimes things not working out one way just means you’re in for something great happening in another way. If you’re curious about something, explore it. Read a magazine you normally never touch, visit a place you’ve never been to before. Don’t hold too many expectations for things to happen. Hope for the best, of course, but keep an ppen mind. If you feel like giving up, take a breather – than continue. Often you’re just one swing away from striking gold.

What other ways do you have for getting involved with your passion? How have you gotten yourself involved? Share your stories and ideas, it will be much appreciated.

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4 Responses

  1. Wow… This is long!

  2. Hi,
    This is very informative. Thanks. I have dreams of breaking into the social activism scene (particularly in the area of women’s rights and perhaps, refugees) and also into the writing scene. I know I know I know I have to ‘advertise’ myself – but often, I am content in sitting in my shell entertaining my daydreams. I am quite the introvert, so I find anything that demands me to go out there, to be taxing. But thank you for listing these tips … hopefully, it would solve my problem of feeling so easily overwhelmed. Anyway, I maintain a blog (which I update irregularly, but I’m hoping to pick up the pace from now on) at http://notesinanobscurejournal.blogspot.com

    I’ve read quite a bit about you, namely from your articles in newspapers. Could we communicate through messenger? My MSN: groovejet02@hotmail.com

  3. […] Tiara at EducateDeviate brings us a lengthy but very informative post about How To Get Involved With Your Passions. Lots of resources and idea for going after what you want rather than sitting around waiting for it […]

  4. […] Tiara at EducateDeviate brings us a lengthy but very informative post about How To Get Involved With Your Passions. Lots of resources and ideas for going after what you want rather than sitting around waiting for […]

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