If you want to find your passion, find what you love doing, not what you love thinking about doing.
The other reason it’s difficult to choose what you want to pursue is that you have a false list of “passions” in your mind. You think you’re passionate about many things, but in reality you’re passionate about the idea of many things. There’s a great difference between being passionate about the act of doing something and being passionate about the idea of doing something. It feels overwhelming because you have an inflated list of passionate ideas.
You won’t know if you love something until you’re on the other side of resistance. Being passionate about something doesn’t mean there will never be times when you don’t enjoy the work. There will always be challenges to overcome.
But passion will fuel your drive to persevere against all odds. When you feel like giving up and you’re questioning everything, passion will carry you through. The rational side of your brain might tell you that a challenge is too hard or that you should quit. Passion will help you be unreasonable when you need to be so you can persist when all other signs are telling you to give up. That’s when you know you’ve found your passion.
You cannot know whether or not you’re passionate about something until you’ve faced and overcome resistance. Passion is found in the doing. You cannot be passionate about the idea of something. If you have not done it, if you have not encountered resistance, if you have not continued until you’ve overcome resistance, you are not passionate about that “passion.”
Find What You Love the Act of Doing
What this means is: you have a lot of auditing to do. You have to narrow down the over-inflated list of passions in your mind. Examine that list and systematically remove the imposters.
Give yourself permission to enter into an exploratory phase. If you haven’t spent time doing something that you think you might be passionate about, permit yourself to try it. Allocate time to the act of doing it. Thinking about it will get you nowhere. You’re not quitting your job or making any permanent commitments. You’re simply giving yourself time and permission to explore by doing.
Just pick any one thing. It doesn’t have to be the perfect thing or the right thing. For the next several weeks, set aside time each day to practice, learn, and do. Make mistakes. As much as possible, immerse yourself in that world. Take the idea of the thing you had in your mind and audit it. Try it and see if you like the act of doing it. Put yourself in the position of experiencing what it’s like to do that thing. Get a good idea of the process and what your day would look like if that thing became your full-time pursuit.
Persist Through Problems
Keep going until you encounter a significant challenge. Persist until the novelty wears off. Your response at this point is key. If you’re truly passionate, you’ll press on. If you liked only the idea of that thing, you’ll quit. You can’t be passionate about just the idea of something. You must be passionate about the act of doing it.
You will encounter resistance no matter what you choose. The way you respond when things aren’t easy is the determining factor. That is what your life will actually be like. You may like the idea of being a best-selling novelist, but if you don’t like the act of writing thousands of words a day, you’re going to have a bad time.
If you’re struggling to find anything you’re passionate about, consider these questions to uncover possible ideas:
- What are two categories of interest to you? Look for what falls into both categories. For instance, if those two categories are logic and creativity, you might enjoy music, programming, engineering, or design. The common area between your two general interests may be a sweet spot.
- What have you enjoyed doing in the past? What have you done that you’re really fond of? What did you enjoy as a kid? When you recall an activity, don’t necessarily take it at face value, but pay attention to the spirit of it. Don’t dismiss something you did when you were young as childish. What was it about that thing that enticed you? Why did you like it? What parts of it did you enjoy most?
- What would you do even if you weren’t paid to do it? This can be a great indicator of passion. Even if you’re not making money doing this thing now, that doesn’t mean you can’t eventually reach a point where you’re paid to do what you love. Removing the money aspect can provide clarity as to what you might be passionate about.
Keep in mind you won’t always start with passion. Some people start with passion, and then they have to figure out how to make money, but passion is often found a different way.
If you aren’t sure what you’re passionate about, try starting with skill. Ask people you know to tell you what they think you’re good at. The things you’re good at are a fine place to start. You may not think of the things you’re good at as passions, but when you’re good at something and that thing also solves a problem for someone who is willing to pay for it, passion often comes as a result.
There’s nothing fun about doing work you’re passionate about and being broke. That will just promote frustration and ultimately kill your passion. True passion comes from doing something you enjoy and having that work support you in return. Finding something you’re good at and enjoy doing that also happens to overlap with existing market demand is a great way to ensure sustainability in being able to make a living from it.
You can start with passion and ultimately figure out a way to make money, but it’s much easier to start with something that makes money and become passionate about that. The money part is the kicker: passion alone doesn’t pay the bills.
The greatest indicator of a sustainable passion is something you’re good at. Maybe you’re good at something now. Maybe you’re not yet good at something, but you’re determined to practice until you are. However you get there, being good at something will bring fulfillment. We like doing things in which we have skill, and we like doing things in which just enough of a challenge exists.
You may not always see this ability in yourself though. That’s why it’s important to ask your friends or family about what they think you’re good at. That’s all that matters anyway when it comes to making money: other people thinking you’re good at what you do.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t agree. Even if you don’t think you’re good at something but other people do, they will pay you money to do it. Similarly, if you think you’re great but no one else believes it, they’re not going to pay you to do that thing. So, don’t trust your subjective opinion. Let someone else tell you.
If you’re not good at something, it will be hard to enjoy the act of doing it. It’s hard to enjoy doing something poorly. This is the reason why it’s great to start with what you’re already good at now. You can start with something you’re not yet good at, but know that it will require significant discipline and patience to apply yourself until your skill develops.
You Don’t Have to Do One Thing Forever
What you choose to pursue now doesn’t have to be what you do for the rest of your life. In fact, it almost certainly won’t be.
Do you feel like you have a multitude of options? You envision them all around you in a 360-degree variety of choices, like closing your eyes and spinning around in your office chair. You could go in any direction, but what if you choose the wrong one? This paralyzes you. You believe that if you choose the wrong thing, you’ll go in the wrong direction, lose progress, and waste time.
But there is no right direction. Again, what you choose will almost certainly not be what you do for the rest of your life! It’s a stepping stone.
It doesn’t matter which option you choose. Pick one and start. Indecision is the enemy. Picking the “wrong” thing is not what’s holding you back; it’s your lack of decisiveness. You’re not taking action. Doubt and uncertainty will keep you in the same place. You’re so afraid to choose or pursue that you never progress at all.
Instead of picturing 360 degrees of choices, picture the starting line of a race: a white stripe painted on dark asphalt. You can start at any point behind the the line, but all arrows point forward. Every action is forward progress. Every step is an advance. What you choose to pursue now is not a waste if you don’t end up pursuing it forever. You almost certainly won’t! But what you choose will lead you to the next thing.
There’s no direct path to success. It will take time to discover what gives you fulfillment. What you’ll end up enjoying the most in life is likely several steps removed from you right now. Remember that. The only thing keeping you from getting there is doing the next imperfect thing.
Imagine for a moment that you’ve already lived your whole life and you’re looking at a zoomed-out view of your timeline. You have the full context of your life, and you can see it from beginning to end. The present day is indicated by a red dot.
Right now, you’re at Thing #1. When you look further down your timeline, you see Thing #5. You don’t know it yet, but Thing #5 will end up being the thing that you really enjoy and do for the rest of your life. But you won’t discover Thing #5 until fifteen years from the present day. An event during Thing #4 is what sparks the idea for Thing #5. You would never have discovered that passion had you not done something completely different right before it.
The only thing standing in your way is choosing and doing the next three things—even if they’re the “wrong” ones. The next thing you pick is almost certainly not going to be the thing you do for the rest of your life. You might think of that as the wrong thing, but you often have to go through seasons of picking the “wrong” thing several times in order to end up at the right thing.
Exploring is Not a Waste of Time
You will learn skills with each pursuit. You will discover what you don’t like to do. You will gradually get closer to discovering what you truly love to do. None of this is a waste. You will have experiences that you take with you and apply later in ways you can’t anticipate. All of those skills will continue to serve you.
The more you try to feel like you have all of your stuff together before you choose to take action and move forward, the longer you’ll be stuck. You’re not going to have it all together, so don’t feel like you have to. If you’re waiting for everything to feel right and for all of your ducks to be in a row, it’s not going to happen. Ever.
Realize that if you choose something, try it, and find you don’t like it, you’ve figured out what you don’t want to do—and that’s progress! If you don’t know what your passion is, just do something.
- You cannot know whether or not you’re passionate about something until you’ve faced and overcome resistance.
- Give yourself permission to enter into an exploratory phase.
- There’s no direct path to success. The only thing keeping you from getting there is doing the next imperfect thing.
- Realize that if you choose something, try it, and find you don’t like it, you’ve figured out what you don’t want to do—and that’s progress!
- If you don’t know what your passion is, just do something.