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Looking Back to Look Forward – How Preteen Passions Reveal Present Day Purpose

Updated: Sep 13, 2019

What did you love doing when you were a tween?

When you think about those precious years between the ages of 10-13, what occupied your free time? What were your hobbies? What were you really good at?

When we look backwards and reminisce about our middle school selves, it provides us with information we can use present day to rediscover our passions and interests. In my work as a coach, I frequently talk to people who feel stuck. They are employed in a job that doesn’t fulfill or interest them, they’ve lost their sense of self, and they aren’t sure how to translate their strengths into employment. Some of these people are young adults embarking on a new career path. Some of them are moms desiring to reinvent themselves as they reenter the workforce. Some of them have experienced life changes (divorce, children leaving for college) that have prompted them to reevaluate how they want to spend their time.

When I was in 8th grade, my school held an audition process to select the 8th grade graduation speaker. The audition required me to write and rehearse a draft speech and then deliver it in front of a selection committee of teachers and faculty. I was very excited about this opportunity, spent many hours composing a speech and was ultimately selected as our speaker. I recently came across an old notebook filled with drafts of the graduation speech. There were pages upon pages of revisions, scribbles, and reworked paragraphs which finally culminated in an extremely earnest talk urging my teenage peers to go out and grab life by its horns.

It’s an interesting time for me to unearth those old memories because I’ve recently thought about how I want to infuse more speaking and writing opportunities into my business. Finding that old notebook reminded me that from as far back as middle school, public speaking and writing have always been a strength and passion. I’ve always loved words - writing them, collecting them, massaging them into stories. And speaking in front of small and large groups has never intimidated me. I’ve always felt at home on a stage and energized by talking in front of crowds.

It’s easy to understand the confusion, uncertainty and trepidation that most adults feel about careers. Adults assume responsibilities, build routines, and in many cases, stop being curious about the world around them. But it’s helpful to remember that childhood passions and interests don’t usually just go away - they simply get lost or forgotten.

You were likely a specific way when you were younger with key strengths that came naturally and preferences for how you expressed yourself. As a child, my husband was unbeatable in Connect Four. His mind loved making connections and solving puzzles. The family lore includes stories of how he regularly hustled his much older siblings’ friends for money, betting them they couldn’t beat him at the game. They couldn’t - and he eventually amassed a small fortune in Connect Four winnings. As an adult he has built a career in IT, strategy, and earned his MBA with a Finance concentration.

If you find yourself at a career crossroads, or even just longing to reconnect with activities that will make your life feel more fulfilling and rewarding, start down a path of self-exploration. Here are some good questions to ask yourself:

- What makes you lose your sense of time?

- What makes you come alive?

- What abilities do you have that people seem to notice or appreciate?

- What comes naturally to you?

- What brings out the best in you?

- What do you love doing for its own sake (regardless of whether you could earn money doing it?)

If you struggle to answer these questions, take a mental trip back in time and ask yourself these questions again through the lens of your 13 year old self. If you need a memory jogger, look at old photos or talk to siblings, parents, or other friends/relatives and get their insights. Sometimes the way others see us can be a powerful input into our strengths and talents.

You may rediscover passions and interests that have been dormant like animal care taking, art, reading, writing, crafts, crossword puzzles, hiking, inventing things, baking, babysitting, or science experiments. You may remember your methodical habit of scoring baseball games, the way your nose was always in a book, or how you tinkered with your parents’ video camera to create movies.

Don’t be discouraged if you can’t draw a clear and easy line between those pastimes and gainful employment in the present day. Not everyone turns their childhood passion into their job. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth examining how those interests could have a place in your life now either as a hobby or side hustle.

My animal-loving friend had aspirations of becoming a veterinarian when she was a tween. For many reasons, that dream didn’t become a reality. But she recently experienced some life changes that caused her to reevaluate what she’d like to add into her life to increase her happiness and fulfillment. It was a no brainer for her to return to those childhood passions and become a foster parent to cats and kittens.

So go ahead - take a little stroll down memory lane. You may be delighted, surprised, and energized at the pieces of your life puzzle that you discover you left behind. It’s never too late to construct a new path forward.

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