Are you a hummingbird or jackhammer? The answer could help you find your life's passion.

“What are you going to be when you grow up?”

It’s a question we’re all very familiar with, whether you’re 15 or 50. It’s also a question that can cause a lot of anxiety for those who feel concerned that they don’t actually know what their “passion” or “one true calling” in life is.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, PrayLove, has shared a theory that is perhaps comforting for those who never know how to answer this life-shaping question.

The best-selling author first introduced the proposition in 2015, which resurfaced recently on Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Conversations podcast.

When she first posited the theory, Gilbert explained: “The world is divided into two types of people. There are the hummingbirds, and there are the jackhammers.”

Gilbert shared that she herself identifies in the jackhammer category, who she defines as someone who becomes consumed by their passion and “we don’t look up and we don’t veer, and we’re just focused on that until the end of time.”

“It’s efficient, you get a lot done” she admits, “but we tend to be obsessive and fundamentalist and sometimes a little difficult and loud.”

And then there’s the hummingbird, the colourful bird that floats around.

Elizabeth gilbert hummingbird
Elizabeth and Oprah. Image: Getty.

"Hummingbirds spend their lives doing it very differently. They move from tree to tree, from flower to flower, to field to field... Trying this, trying that."

Gilbert explains that whilst hummingbirds may feel anxious about not immediately finding their passion, they shouldn't feel pressure to change.

"They create incredibly rich, complex lives for themselves and they also end up cross-pollinating. That is the service you do if you are a hummingbird person," Gilbert, who has a new book City of Girls being released this year, shared.


The best thing about those who identify as hummingbirds, Gilbert explained, is their diversity of experience.

"You bring an idea from here to over here, where you learn something else and you weave it in, then you take it here to the next thing you do," Gilbert explained. "Your perspective ends up keeping the entire culture aerated and mixed up and open to the new."

"If that is how you are constructed by your divine maker then that is how we need you to be."

For those who recognise themselves as a hummingbird, Gilbert goes on to say that eventually you will be much happier for following this path.

"If you do that, if you are willing to just release yourself from the pressure and the anxieties surrounded by passion and you just humbly and faithfully continue to follow the trail of the hummingbird path... and you just trust it, one of these days you might just look up and realise, 'Oh my word, I am exactly where I am supposed to be'."

"In other words, if you can let go of passion, and follow your curiosity, your curiosity just might lead you to your passion."

Listen to Mia Freedman’s No Filter with Elizabeth Gilbert. Post continues after audio.

On the SuperSoul podcast, Gilbert revealed that it was an Australian woman who was the catalyst for her concept. The author explains that her career advice to people used to be very different, as it was one very simple rule: "Follow your passion."


But after talking at a conference in Australia, she received a letter from a woman who told Gilbert that her speech - which was meant to be inspirational - had made this person feel awful, because she did not have a passion.

"It is not for a lack of searching, I have not been lazy in my life. I have been tearing myself a part for years trying to find that thing that you people keep talking about," the woman explained to Gilbert, who recounted the interaction on Oprah Winfrey's podcast.

The Australian woman continued by saying that she also doesn't have a lack of interests in life. She just doesn't know what to commit to, which has contributed to a great deal of stress and anxiety for her.

"You just made me feel like the biggest loser in the world," the Australian woman told Gilbert.

After reflecting on the speech she had given, Gilbert said she agreed with the woman that her "inspirational" address actually wasn't inspirational at all. The letter made Gilbert reevaluate the career advice she would impart to those who look to her for guidance, and she has stood by it ever since.

So, which are you: a jackhammer or a hummingbird? Let us know in the comment section below.