Alan Cohen: Finding Your Passion
Alan Cohen, M.A., is the author of 22 popular inspirational books and CD’s, including the best-selling The Dragon Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, the award-winning A Deep Breath of Life, and the classic Are You as Happy as Your Dog? He is a contributing writer for the New York Times #1 bestselling series Chicken Soup for the Soul, and is also a faculty member of Omega Institute for Holistic Studies.
Alan will be leading several sessions at the upcoming Celebrate Your Life conference in Chicago in June 2010, including Dare to Be Yourself: The Power of Authentic Living and The Coin of Destiny: Making Decisions. This is the fourth of nine author interviews appearing on Care2 as part of the Celebrate Your Life series.
Care2: You have said passion is one of the things most important to you. How does this translate into people’s everyday life? It means their work? Their relationships?
Alan Cohen: Everything. Certainly a lot of people are in passionless work. A lot of people are unhappy at work and so they have accidents at work and they get sick and they get irritable because they choose work that is not aligned with their passion. My experience in working with people for many years is that if people can really tap into what they would love to do, and find a way to put it out there and trust that they deserve to get paid for it, they can actually create a really rewarding career on every level. Not just financially, but emotionally. So I try to shoo people from going to work that they hate everyday and see if they can create a livelihood that they’re bringing some life to.
And it’s relationships. We lose passion in relationships. We settle for relationships without passion. And there are foods we would love to eat but we’re afraid to. There are projects and hobbies we’d like to do but we don’t because we think, ‘I could never do that.’ So it’s really across the board. Once you tap into that passion muscle, if you will, you get to exercise it pretty much all throughout your day.
C2: Do you think that it’s possible for everyone to find work they’re passionate about?
Alan: Yes, I do. No one is here by accident. Each of us has a divine purpose, a divine calling. The word ‘vocation’ comes from the Latin word for ‘voice,’ which means that there’s a voice that will guide you if you’re willing to listen to it. And I don’t think anybody’s left out of the principle that you can have what you want if you’re true to yourself. I’ve worked with thousands and thousands of people over so many years and I haven’t found anyone who does not have an inner voice that if they listen to it will work. The problem is that people don’t listen to it. But if you get still enough, you tell enough truth you can find that inner voice. And I don’t think anybody is relegated to a job of suffering. I just don’t believe that, and the people I’ve worked with have found ways to shift that.
C2: What would you say to someone who says, ‘I don’t know what my passion is,’ or ‘I think I know what it is, but I just don’t see how it’s possible’?
Alan: I would give them examples of people who have done that, and there are many. One that comes to mind at the moment is the humor writer Dave Barry. When he was in eighth grade, he was a class clown and his teacher yelled at him. She said, ‘Dave Barry you can’t make a living by laughing your way through life.’ And he’s the most successful humor writer in America. He won a Pulitzer prize and he’s made the world a better place with his humor. So there are many, many examples of folks like that.
I would also suggest to someone that they don’t have to go cold turkey. This is a very common question. ‘Well, how am I going to be a life coach and still feed my family?’ I say you don’t have to do it all overnight. You can take a coach training course. You can do some informal coaching. You can work some weekends, some evenings. But there are ways to kind of ease your way and get more reward and more confidence as you go along. And then perhaps one day you can make the shift from a corporate job to life coaching. And some people do. So it’s certainly possible, you just have to take baby steps really.
C2: So it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach…
Alan: Usually that doesn’t work. Sometimes people do that and it works. But what happens is you have a good paying job and then you quit it and you say ‘well I came here to play music’ and then the music doesn’t come, the pay doesn’t come, you get real scared. And you get stressed and then you cut off your creativity. So I tell people it’s better to keep your options open, keep your income flowing where you can. But simultaneously do something that keeps your passion alive, and then people can live with that because you can sleep at night and you kind of get both ends of the spectrum covered.
C2: One of your books is titled Relax Into Wealth. What is the link between passion, authenticity and prosperity? And can anyone and everyone be prosperous?
Alan: Absolutely. The universe is prosperous, everything that God created is in fantastic abundance. And it’s really offered to all of us. And the question is not ‘Is prosperity available?’ the question is ‘Are you letting it in?’. That’s where the title Relax Into Wealth came, because when you’re uptight and you’re resistant and you’re worried and you’re fighting and you’re fussing and stressing, you literally crimp the hose through which prosperity’s delivered to you.
But if you can kind of ease up and play some more and meditate some more and have some fun and use your imagination and just get into a play mode that’s where my best ideas come — when I’m in the bathtub or getting a massage or at the beach or playing with my dogs. I get fabulous ideas when I’m doing those things, and then at a later time I come to my computer and crank them out. But if I just sit at the computer and try to squeeze them out after a while they don’t come because my brain is fried. So you need to have a certain element of play and ease to kind of grease the chutes through which prosperity flows.
C2: Would you say that’s different than what we’ve been taught culturally or historically?
Alan: Yes, it’s 180 degrees different. Lots of people have grown up in a religion and culture that have a suffering ethic. And I get lots of people in my programs who had drummed into them as children that ‘unless you’re suffering you don’t deserve money.’ And so they go out and they take these jobs for money that they hate. And there’s other things they love to do and they’re afraid. They say, ‘Well if I do it for love, money wouldn’t come.’ And that’s a big paradigm to break, but you almost have to break it if you’re going to get anywhere. Otherwise you stay stuck in that suffering job.
Part two is that letting it be easy and relaxing. It doesn’t mean you lay in bed and wait for checks to float through the window. You do have an active role in your well-being. And sometimes that looks like working hard. When I do my trainings, I work hard. When I write books, I work hard. When I travel to Japan and teach, I work hard. But it doesn’t really feel like hard work, it feels more like a lot of energy and a lot of interaction and a lot of connections. The truth is that the vision and the joy of what I do is so big that it empowers me to do what looks like working hard. But I’m not suffering, I’m not struggling; I’m basically surfing, if you will. And there are moments when it doesn’t feel like that, but, for the most part it’s just more fun than it is work.
C2: How do you work with people to shift those thoughts? Or how can people shift their own thoughts if that’s what they were raised with?
Alan: Well there’s two ways to do that. One is to shift their attention from models of suffering to models of joyful success. So I would ask somebody, in a coaching situation ‘Do you know anybody who is having fun with their work and making lots of money?’ And usually people know one or two or more people who are doing that. And I would say, ‘Great, now what do you think they know? What do you think they’re doing that somebody who’s laboring under a suffering ethic is not?’
I invite people to identify role models that can empower them rather than kind of carrying these heavy-duty dark role models that have been disinterring them. And you’d be amazed at how quickly people shift their energy when they start thinking about how good it could get. It’s almost like a miraculous healing in moments where they lighten up and they look younger and they feel freer and they laugh. It’s just an amazing turn around.
And the second part to that would be, I invite people to tell the truth at any given moment about where their passion lives. And how everything feels to them. So if somebody says to you ‘Would you like to go out for dinner tonight?’ and you say yes, and they say ‘Would you like to go to Thai or to Italian?’ So instead of saying whatever you want or whatever the spirit wills, or ‘I’m in the flow’ or whatever, you think for a moment and you try Thai on for size, you try Italian on for size and Thai goes hmm, and so you just have an inkling that you’d prefer to go to Thai. And so you say ‘I’d like to go to Thai.’ And so maybe you will or maybe you won’t. But in that moment of trying both options on for size, and feeling which one brought you a spark of life, even a little one, in that moment you’ve gotten in touch with your stream of passion. And if you can do that, many times during the day over even little decisions like Thai or Italian, then you build what I call passion muscle. And when it’s time to make big life decisions about where your passion lives, you know how to access it because it’s a familiar frequency to you.
C2: Going back to your book on wealth, what would you say to anyone who is struggling financially?
Alan: I’ve thought a lot about this because obviously a lot of people have been in a dark place for a year or two. So this is a very common question. I’ve worked with a lot of people on this issue. And what you have to do is shift your attention from lack to enough, or from lack to blessing, or from lack to prosperity.
And I point out to people that money is basically one slice of a greater pie that we call prosperity. And there are actually many, many ways that we can be and are prosperous even if money is not flowing at a particular moment.
So if somebody’s not experiencing financial prosperity in the moment, it’s a really good time to turn your attention to other things that you would like to do or kind of milk the other beautiful aspects of your life for blessings that you may entirely pass by if you were busy, busy, busy in the money game. And the other thing to remember is that everything always comes around. That the tide always comes back in. And so we’ve gone through dark periods financially, but it’s starting to come around again and properties are starting to move and jobs are starting to come back up slowly. But there will be a time before long when we’re in the saddle again and things will be prosperous. So you just need to kind of breathe and trust and have faith through the lower part of the cycle because lower part of the cycle always leads to the upper part of the cycle.
C2: What do you think the biggest obstacle is for people to being authentic or to living as their authentic self?
Alan: I would say two things which are pretty much interconnected. One is fear, because if people love themselves enough to recognize that who they are is good enough, they wouldn’t have to play games and dance around other people’s expectations. And so really it comes back to self-trust. The German philosopher Johann von Goethe said, “When you finally trust yourself you will know how to live.” So I help people explore trusting themselves. So it’s basically loving what you are without having to do a dance to prove anything to anyone else.
And the second piece is social pressure and habit. We live in a world that does not generally reward authenticity, that does not generally reward trust. If you watch the mainstream media it’s all about fear and protection and self-defense and so it’s kind of like taking your power back from external sources and identifying your source of power in yourself instead of outside.