Are you a Jackhammer or a Hummingbird?

“If you can let go of passion and follow your curiosity, your curiosity just might lead you to your passion.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

I wasted some of my twenties feeling depressed about my lack of passion. Like most people my age, I’d been told I could do whatever I wanted with my life, but had no idea what I wanted. I had things I loved to do, but no idea how to turn them into a career. Somehow I found myself sitting in a cubicle typing away about topics I didn’t find so interesting after a few years.

Then, driven by my unhappiness, I let go of the idea that I had to be madly, deeply committed to my career and started to just follow my curiosity. I knew I was adequately entertained as a substitute teacher right after I graduated from college. I felt drawn to the elementary school I walked by each morning on my way to work. Even though I didn’t feel a moving passion to become a teacher, I was curious whether it would be a good fit. So, I applied to a teacher residency program, got accepted, and quit my job.

It was a good move. I pushed myself to become more outspoken. I let go of a lot of fear. I loved working with children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Maybe it wasn’t anything close to what I’d ever imagined for myself, but it was enough. I felt inspired, motivated, and dare I say it, happy.

But, as I’m beginning to understand is my nature, it wasn’t enough to hold me for more than a few years. After the birth of my daughter, I experienced a sort of renaissance where suddenly I had permission to explore all my curiosities without needing to be financially viable. In the past two years, I’ve written a middle grade novel, started an online business, and taken on two part-time jobs at a Waldorf school, one teaching games, the other special education.

Pulled multiple directions, one of my new year’s resolutions this year was to focus. Because I’ve been conditioned to attack goals one at a time, I felt a need to put more energy into fewer projects so I could actually “accomplish” something. Then my step-mom pulled me aside and had me watch this talk by Elizabeth Gilbert.

It finally clicked.

In Gilbert’s description of either being a hummingbird (someone who flutters from project to project) or a jackhammer (someone who focuses intensely on one “passion”), I realized I needed to let myself be a hummingbird for awhile. My whole life, I’ve tried to approach everything with a jackhammer resolve, when really I derive a great amount of joy from exploring my many curiosities. And, the best part, there’s still hope for one of these curiosities to become a full-fledged, all-in passion.


Talk about a relief. It’s amazing how reframing your perspective can change everything. So, this year, instead of trying to focus on just one or two things, I’m letting myself be a hummingbird for a bit longer. In fact, I’m embracing the hummingbird and trusting it will lead me where I need to go.

What about you?


Here’s a teaser from Gilbert’s talk, (the full version is available in the link above):

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14 thoughts on “Are you a Jackhammer or a Hummingbird?

  1. sknicholls says:

    This video totally rocks. I love her. Dream your dreams…all of them, with no regrets.

  2. Tanya says:

    I love this so much. I’m definitely a hummingbird despite my best efforts to be a jackhammer…nice to know that’s a good thing 🙂

  3. kingmidget says:

    As I read this I was thinking about this … I have spent the last dozen years focusing my “artistic” mind on writing — the artistic mind I never thought I had until I started writing that one day. And during those dozen years I have also pondered the idea of learning an instrument, or learning to paint, or to draw. And I am getting closer and closer to spend some of my limited free time in those other artistic avenues. So, I get the hummingbird approach … I’m thinking more and more that may be what I do for the next year or two.

    • olivia says:

      Such an interesting point to think about all the other creative possibilities out there– I’ll be sure to thank you if I start adding anything else to my list 😉 Really, though, it’s cool to hear you’re allowing yourself the space to be a hummingbird for a bit, too. I look forward to hearing what works for you!

      • kingmidget says:

        I’m not quite at hummingbird status yet. It truly is the great dilemma of my life — whether to flit about tasting the nectar of many flowers or pound away at the same spot until I’ve beat it into submission. The Elk Grove school district has their adult continuing education program and we got the pamphlet over the weekend. Drawing classes, painting classes and the like. I look at them and say “yes! I’m signing up for a class!!” And then I think … do I really want to devote every Saturday morning for six weeks in a row to it and I get stuck. 😉 I just wish I had more time.

  4. jeffo says:

    I’d say I’m more of a jackhammer. I went into college knowing what I wanted to study and perhaps over-focused on my major. I’ve been in the same field for my entire professional life (Cripes, almost 30 years already!), but I still enjoy it, in part because I’m still learning. As I’ve gotten older, however, I’m seeing hummingbird tendencies, and I’m becoming curious about different things. (Maybe a better way to put that is I’m giving myself more latitude to explore different things and follow different curiosities.)

    • olivia says:

      I’m always envious of people who’ve been jackhammers from the start (and continue to enjoy it!). I always wanted to be, but after graduating from school I just couldn’t find the right thing. Nice to finally realize that maybe that’s alright 😉 I think we all have a little of both though, enjoy those hummingbird interests!

  5. Hmmm…. I have a tendency at being a jackhammer in my day to day life, but the artistic, creative side of me is more hummingbird.

    • olivia says:

      I definitely identify with having both tendencies, too. I feel like there has to be some jackhammer in order to be successful. Nice to be aware of both sides though 🙂 Happy New Year!

  6. […] spirit. I learned a lot. Especially about margins and what my time is worth. I let myself be a hummingbird and I have renewed faith it will prove useful somewhere down the […]

  7. Beauty, your words are the gift to the world, and so is your heart, so generous and kind. It runs in your family, your passions dance with words. Enjoy, enjoy, and thank you for your love in our world, in our passions, in our entwine-ment in the mystery. ❤

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