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How to find your passion

[ 15 ] October 15, 2010 |
One of this days....I'll fly away!!

Photo by pierre pouliquin, via Flickr

Do you ever wonder what you’re really doing here on this planet, or more accurately, what you’re supposed to be doing? Do you envy the people who just seem to know, and are already doing what they’re clearly meant to do? There aren’t a lot, but they’re out there. They love their jobs and excel at what they do, and you can’t imagine them doing anything else.

Then there’s the rest of us. I don’t know about you, but if I didn’t need the income, I sure wouldn’t do my job. I like what I’m doing, but I don’t love it, and I definitely don’t find it fulfilling or meaningful.

Maybe your life is the same, and you really wish you knew what one pursuit would make ideal use of your unique talents and gifts, what one career would please you so much that you couldn’t imagine ever retiring or quitting. How do you find out what that is?

It turns out, if you don’t know what your passion is, there are two ways not to do it: frantically scrambling through your life trying to seize on something to declare as your passion, and passively waiting for it to come to you as an inspiration from the sky.

Instead, the way to find it is by wandering. You have to try a lot of different things, even things you think you might not be interested in; throw yourself at things as they strike you for deeper pursuit; and accept that you won’t get it right on the first try.

This all makes sense and may even seem a little obvious, but until I read this post about it on Zen Habits, I was definitely more of a frantic scrambler. At the very least, I was convinced I was doing it wrong when I’d get a huge crush on a new hobby or pursuit and want to spend all of my time on it, only to have that fade and be replaced with something else a few months later. I’m not doing it wrong, I’m doing exactly the recommended thing to find your passion! I may not have found the final answer yet, if there even is one, but meanwhile, I have a serial monogamy with a whole lot of things that I really, really enjoy. That’s pretty darn awesome, when you see it that way.

So, what does this mean for you? First of all, be open to trying new things, especially things that may be outside your usual area of expertise. It’s not like when you were a little kid—your mom’s not here to make you take piano lessons every week for the next ten years because you expressed an interest once. Just try things, give them a good chance, and move on if they’re not really doing it for you. As you try different things, if you find one that you’re really enjoying and want to spend more time on, do it! Start devoting as much free time to it as you want and can find, and see what happens. Throw yourself at it as long as it seems appealing. But don’t worry, if the appeal fades, you can just go on and try something else, and you’re still doing it right.

You may already have a good candidate. Is there something you know you want to do, but you just can’t seem to find the time? I used to see a lot of “I’d rather be fishing” bumper stickers. Do you have something like that? Would you rather be fishing, knitting, drawing, writing, hiking, painting, running, skating, star-gazing? If so, make time to do more of that. Watch less tv, spend less time surfing the internet, find pockets of wasted time in your schedule, and devote those to your favorite thing. (If there truly is no time in your schedule for pursuing your passion, you desperately need to start a to-quit list!) The time spent doing what you love is the best part of life, so do it as much as possible.

Wander around as much as you need to, find what you like, and do it! You may just discover your passion. At worst you’ll learn some new things and have a good time. What do you have to lose?

About Cara Stein: I'm a writer and dreamer with a PhD in self-reinvention. (Or was that computer science?) Whether you're stuck, lost, or just looking to enjoy your life more, I want to help because I've been there!

Comments (15)

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  1. I think I spend too much time trying to find meaning in life…thanks for the post.

  2. youluckybum says:

    I am at the point where I realize that no matter what I choose to do as a “job”, my happiness is really a matter of choice. I am often restless at work and maybe even bored. But I am restless and bored at home sometimes too. Personally, I am trying the idea of “being happy anyway.” In other words, not making any particular thing be a roadblock to feeling joy. It is definitely an experiment……

    • Cara says:

      Good point! If your happiness comes from within, then you can be happy doing anything. How powerful is that!

      Another perspective says that you can make anything your “passion” by getting really good at it. I think there’s something to be said for that, too.

      Good luck with your experiment! I bet it will work–it seems like when we look for happiness, we find it.

  3. ed says:

    I defnitly like wandering around : ). We definitely are/have been on the same path it seems… Or maybe u r just speakin for so many…

  4. It’s funny that I should happen upon your blog – I’m writing about that very same thing right now. That is, putting my efforst into so many different things, only to quit and move on to something else. Perhaps I’m not as WRONG as I thought. I’m sure there’s still an underlying reason I’ve never followed through with any of them, but at least now I know that going forward if I do move on to something else – it might just be helping me find my passion in life!

  5. jakelw says:

    First time I’ve read your blog. Will definitely be back. Been in bit of rut recently, think I’m going to go out and find my passion :)

  6. so i stumbled on your blog :)
    I’m also on the same journey but I think I found mine and it’s the things that I believe and I enjoy the most :)

  7. thecontroller says:

    I am following your blogs now and I really find it interersting about your post especially this one..though I dont know if I am satisfied in my current work and life..I am still young and I think this article made me to rethink about my plans for five or ten years later..thanks for creating wonderful blogs..

    • Cara says:

      I’m glad you found it thought-provoking! Thank you, and I hope you discover some cool stuff that you want to do! Now is the time–it seems like the older we get, the more things and the more responsibilities we accumulate to get in the way of following our dreams.

  8. I don’t have that much time left to do the things on the bucket list. Totally disabled with time on my hands. Any suggestions or pointers to leaving this place at peace with yourself and your contributions to family, friends and the collective population.

    Not independently wealthy or I would know where to throw my money. Gotta be more than that.

    Doing a “write my own obituary” thing now…with goal to get stuff done while still vertical (or sitting up on scooter).


    • Cara Stein says:

      Hi Curtis,

      Thanks for writing!

      I think the obituary thing is a great start. For me, the key has been to figure out what I care about and then do it as much as I can.

      – At peace with yourself: are there things you’ve done that you haven’t forgiven yourself for? Have compassion, realize you did the best you could with what you knew, and let those go if you possibly can. For me, it helps to imagine looking at the situation as an outsider–I find it easier to be compassionate and give the benefit of the doubt to others than to myself. Then, once I’ve made the arguments, I can see they’re just as true for me as anyone else.

      – Your friends and family: make sure they all know how much you love them. If it’s too embarrassing to say out loud, write each one a letter telling them what you admire most about them, maybe a favorite memory, and how much they mean to you. If you can, spend time with them while you’re still here.

      – Your contributions to the collective population: don’t make this harder than it needs to be. It doesn’t have to be something huge like curing cancer. Helping people, making them laugh, inspiring them, anything like that is valuable. Think about Randy Pausch’s last lecture and how much he inspired thousands or millions with just that one speech. What do you value? What do you do well and love doing? It may seem like a selfish way to change the world, but I say the more selfish, the better, because that’s when you’re calling on your best strengths and talents, so that’s when you can make the most impact.

      Is there something you’ve always wanted to do? A profession you wanted to be as a kid but put aside for something more practical? If you don’t know, take your best guess and get started, knowing that you may get a better inspiration later and modify or switch to something else.

      There are also some more of my best attempts at answers to this question in How to be Happy–it’s free, so pick it up if you haven’t.

      Stay in touch–I’d love to hear how it goes! We’re all dying–we all need to do the things you’re doing. Good for you for facing it and taking action while you can.

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