Finding your passion isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Here’s what you’ve got to know before you pursue yours.
I just haven’t found my passion yet…
Talk to any group of 25-year-olds for more than 10 minutes, and this topic is bound to crop up. The idea of pursuing a passion is shorthand for loving your job, being a successful person and doing amazing work. It’s about having it all.
A lot of the time, it’s also completely ridiculous.
Whether for practical constraints (rent!) or more intangible reasons, finding your passion — let alone pursuing it — is an elusive goal. And yet everyone is expected to do it.
The thinking goes: if you have the courage to discover your true calling, you’ll be happy. If you’re not brave enough, you’ll wind up as an empty shell with a commute-work-die life. Talk about pressure.
Before pulling your hair out, taking yet another eHarmony-like personality quiz or crying into your pillow because Pinterest told you “Without Passion, Life is Nothing,” check out these five passion pointers:
1. You can create a passion
Computer scientist Cal Newport is fast becoming the face of the Anti-Passion Brigade—he doesn’t buy the “follow your passion” mantra. Instead, he believes passion can be created.
There is no special passion waiting for you to discover. Passion is something that is cultivated. Research shows that the traits that lead people to love their work are general, and can be found in many different career paths. They include things like autonomy, a sense of impact and mastery, creativity, and respect and recognition for your abilities.
Newport’s basic premise: Focus on a career area that generally interests you and offers value to the world. The deeper you dive into it and the better you are at it, the more interesting it’ll become — and the more passionate you’ll be.
2. Stop thinking!
Here’s a dirty little secret: No matter how hard you try, you can’t determine what your passions are by thinking about it. You have to take action.
Sign up for a class, try your hand at something new, volunteer for an assignment that’s out of your comfort zone — do anything that lets you dip your toe in the water. Through actual, hands-on engagement, you’ll be able to figure out what activities and situations light you up.
3. Following your passion might ruin it
As Alison Green of Ask a Manager says:
Turning what you love into a career can ruin what you loved about it. You might love to bake, and your friends might regularly swoon over your cakes and tell you to open a bakeshop. But getting up at the crack of dawn every day, baking 100 cakes daily, and dealing with difficult customers and the stress and finances of running your own business might have nothing to do with what you love about baking—and might sap the joy right out of it.
Before committing yourself to a passion plan, determine if the daily work realities really appeal.
4. Passion is a lifestyle issue
Finding your passion is all tied up in figuring out what kind of life you want. What lifestyle are you striving for? What part of the country do you want to live in? How much money do you need to make?
Take this pointed observation from Brazen co-founder Penelope Trunk:
I am a writer, but I love sex more than I love writing. And I am not getting paid for sex. But I don’t sit up at night thinking, should I do writing or sex? Because career decisions are not decisions about “what do I love most?” Career decisions are about “what kind of life do I want to set up for myself?”
Instead of starting with a passion, try starting with a lifestyle you want to pursue. (Click to Tweet!) From there, work backwards to figure out what career options could help you realize your lifestyle goals. This doesn’t mean you have to ignore what you’re passionate about — just put it in context!
5. Your passions (can) change
Life changes, and sometimes passions shift, too. As YouTern’s Mark Babbit writes:
Very few of us are fortunate enough to turn any of our passions into lifelong vocation. In fact, very few of us pursue ANY of our passions for a lifetime including hobbies, careers — even relationships. So, knowing this is the case for 99% of us, why is passion such a driver in our professional lives? Could it be that we’ve been sucked into “passion” while failing to realize that even our deepest passions have a limited shelf life?
If you’re not feeling the buzz anymore, don’t be ashamed to go back to the drawing board.
What’s your favorite piece of advice about the passion puzzle?
Annie Rose Favreau directs content and community strategy for a tech startup in Seattle. You can find her Twittering away at @A_Favreau.