There was a time when I had not heard of the Food Network or HGTV. It was my children who brought them into my awareness. While most kids are secreted in their rooms watching something they weren’t supposed to be watching, mine were into Chopped, The Next Food Network Star, and Rachel Ray’s 30-minute meals. They would excitedly call me in to watch a particularly good episode. That’s how I heard of Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. With her gentle and genuine spirit, she seems like a “real person” who happens to create amazing looking food. I’d like to be invited to one of her dinner parties, please.

While on one of my many daily walks recently, listening to Jonathan Alter’s biography of Jimmy Carter, His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, A Life, I had one of those “wait – what did they just say?” moments. I thought I had heard Ina Garten’s name – and then something about nuclear energy policy. I could not wait to get home to look it up. Sure enough, way before Ina was gleefully roasting a chicken on her own TV show, she was earning an MBA at George Washington University, getting her pilot’s license, and serving in the administrations of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter as a budget analyst, which entailed writing the nuclear energy budget and policy papers on nuclear centrifuge plants. Say what??!!

After getting over the shock of this information, and having a much different level of respect for her, I was curious about other people who may have started off on a very different path. Here’s a few I found:

  • Gabriel Byrne – in seminary to become a priest
  • Martha Stewart – Stockbroker & model
  • Sting – Teacher
  • Cheryl Crow – Teacher
  • Whoopi Goldberg – beautician in a morgue
  • Danny DeVito – hair stylist

Ina’s story, and those of many others, including myself, serve to illustrate a few key points:

  1. You really can’t tell everything about a person by where they are today. 
  2. If you remain genuinely curious about people, you can learn amazing things
  3. Everything we do works to make us who we are

And my favorite:

4. Look what can happen when you leave behind what you “should do” and follow your passion

There is no doubt in my mind that each of the people noted above could have continued in their original profession. They may have been very good at what they did. They may have even enjoyed it. Most likely they would have had to tap down some part of themselves in the process. But the lesson here is that they didn’t. They listened to what their inner knowing was telling them and they took a chance on themselves. They were willing to put themselves out there, regardless of any perceived risk. Because when you find your path, the Universe conspires to give you what you need.

Following your bliss, your passion, your calling isn’t a selfish action. It’s actually using what you’ve been given for the betterment of all. Because here’s the thing: When you are authentically living your life, you invite others to do the same. Biographies are thick with stories of people making a difference who did so in part because of another’s example.

And lest you think that it’s all about leaving a boring job to head into the spotlight, I present Skunk Baxter. The long-haired hippie freak guitar virtuoso who played with The Dooby Brothers and Steely Dan, among others, went from the spotlight into the bureaucracy: He is now a Missile Defense Consultant working with the Department of Defense. You just never know…

Follow your path. It’s there for a reason, even if it’s just to bring someone a smile or a song. Or a tasty recipe. As Martha would say, “It’s all good!”