The Wild Ride of the Passion Driven Life

Photo by Chantilly Waryck.

Photo by Chantilly Waryck.

You are encouraged to listen to the song while reading the article



For those of us who live passion-driven lives, times can be up and times can be down. Times can be exciting — we get ideas late at night, in dreams, on the train, in a coffee shop, in nature. There are so many parts of the world that cause our neurons to fire, and off we run on the thrill of inspiration. Whether we are writing a song, forming a business, or inventing a gadget, we are wired to give birth to something that does not yet exist. Life usually isn’t boring, mundane, or monotonous, but it can be overwhelmingly unknown.

I originally tried to go the “smart” route with my passion by applying to funded MFA programs in creative writing. I ended up moving to Alabama with a fellowship to learn and write and teach — all things I thought I would want to do for the rest of my life. However, while in graduate school, other passions of mine became so strong that they intercepted my goals of becoming an author and professor.

I had always been driven to write songs, but now I was driven to share them with the world, performing wherever I could. I put some home recordings on MySpace at a time when MySpace was actually a thing that helped the careers of unknowns like myself, and I ended up getting my first song placements on TV. Later, I received an invitation to be the opening act on a tour which brought me to New York City. There I was in the writing/grad school box (safe, I thought — an artist fitting into society through university), but the siren call of the music became so strong that I decided to uproot my life from Tuscaloosa, Alabama to Brooklyn, New York, beginning an entirely new path that was not on trajectory with my degree.

Photo By John Huntington

Once in Brooklyn, I wrote to practically every venue and indie music publication in NYC. I copied, cut, and posted flyers all around Williamsburg and the Lower East Side to promote my shows, dedicating myself to the musician life with the goal of “making it” as a bonafide artist. And once again, after a year of living my new musician life, a passion I had never been consciously aware of catapulted itself into the picture. I had an idea to form a music festival showcasing emerging female artists from around the world. I stopped at nothing to make it happen — even at the cost of other parts of my life and ended up running the festival for four years.

Whether I was in graduate school working on writing a book that was a cross between my real life and my dreams; carrying a keyboard, guitar, loop pedal, and glockenspiel to venues all over New York City; or sitting in my apartment with collaborators and interns listening to hundreds of song submissions from artists applying to play the festival I founded; I was always driven, dedicated, and committed to the passion I was following at the time. I was also many times consumed by it — living for it and through it.

As passion-driven people, we may shoot through life like supernovas, shining so bright, so strong, and so fast, that we may also have the potential to burn out just as quickly. Through my own trial and error of living a passion-driven life, I have some suggestions to offer those on a similar journey:

One: Find a Mentor.

Seek out someone who is successful in your field and has the experience to give you sage advice about what you are pursuing. It may take some time and patience to cultivate such a relationship, but keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities. See if people in your communities know anyone in your field, and ask if they would be willing to make an introduction that could lead to a phone call, Skype session, or coffee meeting. These introductions may not lead directly to mentorship, but they will most likely widen your network and understanding of your chosen field; allowing you to ask questions and gain perspective through direct connection. Some great tips about finding a mentor can be found here.

Two: If you are starting a business, talk to a business advisor and make a business plan.

I started a business and ran a music festival for four years that was successful, but operated on sheer passion and drive. I did not have a business plan for growth and long-term sustainability, and it ultimately burned me out, and proved unsustainable after a few years. A business advisor or coach can help you think about long-term goals and plans, budgets, investors, business loans, taxes, and more. Like a mentor, a business advisor should have a good amount of experience and perspective to offer you. You obviously want to find the best business advisor for you, and some hints about that process can be found here.

Three: Take time for yourself and activities that make you feel grounded.

You might be saying: Time for myself? There aren’t even enough hours in the day to complete all of the things I want to make happen! I know these feelings all too well, but honestly, after making time for practices such as yoga and meditation, to read, write, draw, or dance, I am able to recharge and focus better on other tasks. I believe it is paramount to carve out this time to help you stay sane and happy. Making the space for yourself will increase your overall well being and have a positive effect on the goals and passions you are pursuing.

Good luck my passionate cohorts! Please let me know if there are things that help you lead your passionate life or if there are blocks you are having! You can write to me at

Alyson Greenfield is a writer, composer, and performer living in Brooklyn, NY. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Alabama, is the Founder of the Tinderbox Music Festival, and is a composer and songwriter whose music has been heard on Lifetime, Fox, WNYC and has been recognized by The New Yorker, AM New York, BUST, Relix, Converse, and more.

Don’t forget to Listen and download Alyson’s song about leading a passion-driven life that she wrote exclusively for Usspire:


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