How to find your passion? Or Not…

There seems to be an obsessive refrain on the Internet these days that you have to find your passion, DWYL (Do What You Love), find your purpose, be in your element. With everyone apparently having the capacity to be rich, happy and fulfilled if you can just do find your personal sweet spot.

This sounds, to many of us, fantastic. I know I would greatly appreciate a sense of flow in everything I do, a purpose to my life, a passion that kept me focussed on a particular aim in the future.

I am also pretty sure that the excessive claims of many book writers and pundits are somewhat fanciful. Having said that, I can admit that they are correct, in so much as that if you can find your passion/element/purpose you can, if determined and persevering enough, turn it into a career. That’s not to say that I believe that all those passions can be turned into a fantastic million dollar money trees but I think they can turn into an important part of your life that means you can live while  doing what you love rather than wasting your time doing something you hate. What more can you ask from life?

Some people are even more sceptical about the “passion” industry Goals are for Losers. Passion is Overrated I have to say I have a lot of sympathy to what Scott says.  Passion is, by itself, not enough, lots of people are passionate and fail, lots of business have a good idea and collapse in ruin. There is a heavy dose of perseverance and as he puts it, investment in systems, that are required for success. But let’s go a step further than that, what if passion is really important, but there’s a big problem …

What if I don’t even have a passion?!

Worse than the potential overly optimistic yodelling of the successful few is a nagging fact, I’m not even sure I  have a passion for something, that’s not to say I don’t enjoy things, I love my job, I love a lot of activities but they don’t really constitute the overriding passion that seems to be necessary to call them something that drives my life.

More to the point  I don’t think I’m alone in this regard, many people say the same thing, there’s a whole set of questions on quora.com asking exactly that question. It is a question blossoming on all our entrepreneurial  lips, “how can I find my passion / element / positive synonym”. Are we the dysfunctional few, do we have a hole in our heads or heart where our passion should be? What kind of people are we, how can we achieve all this greatness promised to us when we are missing such a fundamentally important component.

Seek and ye shall find

The current way of thinking seems to be that we must find and try out every possible experience to  something that ignites our passion whether it be cooking or SCUBA diving, cycle touring or zoology, brainstorming, talking to people, searching the internet, thinking of what we dream and have dreamt of and more. It’s like we have to blindly sniff out from the world around us what we find entrancing and captivating. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate this activity, and there is nothing wrong with, trying everything available to us in life, it is not only fascinating but it gives us the chance to really experience life rather than let it slide past.

But it is only recently that I have come to an slow realisation that our ‘passion’ might not really be what we are searching for. Or rather our passion might not be as simple as an activity that we can undertake. In Daniel Priestley’s book Entrepreneur revolution he talks about passion a lot but he gets it slightly closer by saying that it is hard to articulate and not just an activity.

“so that the real frustration people have is that they’re expecting passion to hit them like it’s this clarity or clear bolt of lightning, or this hundred percent sentence that says ‘Oh, now I’ve discovered my passion’.”  – Daniel Priestley (2013)

In Simon Sinek’s book Start with why I think he made an important distinction for businesses and individuals when he said you have to start with why and that the outputs in our life or business are merely different ways we manifest our inner belief or purpose.

But very, very few people or organizations know why they do what they do. And by “why” I don’t mean “to make a profit.” That’s a result. It’s always a result. By “why,” I mean: What’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care?” – Simon Sinek (2009)

I think both writers have the same idea, articulated differently, furthermore, it explains why people like me are finding it difficult to find the activity we are passionate about, because we’re framing it all wrong. It’s not right for us to ask “What is my passion?” but we should rather be asking “What is it that makes me do the things I enjoy?”

It’s not what we do, it’s what motivates us

I think this is so key, that I’m going to reiterate it. People undertaking a quest to discover their particular ‘passion’ are, for the most part, asking it in the wrong way. All our activities, all the things that make us get up in the morning, are just the whats and hows for our personal why.

People are searching for passion in the activities that we perform or hobbies that we enjoy. We get disheartened when something we like doesn’t constitute the all consuming passion that we think should be there. We are thinking as Daniel Priestley stated above, that there should be one clear and concise answer to a very complicated question.

We are looking for a simple answer, there are no simple answers for something as important as your life purpose. If it were so simple we wouldn’t need to search for it.

So why the confusion? I think partly it’s semantics, people who are successful have usually found a way to turn their purpose into a tangible activity that produces money. Some people point to artists, dancers and musicians who have found their element.  I can’t deny these people have achieved considerable success in what they do. I think though that these creative or business outlets are only part of the picture.

Many successful people are lucky enough to be passionate about a very particular activity, Olympians, world class magicians, Nobel prize winners, business men and women know why they get up in the morning, because they love what they do. It’s their raison d’être it’s not only their why but fortunately for them it’s a very clear activity as well. If you really are passionate about a hobby or activity it’s likely you already know it and do it every moment that you aren’t working already.

So where do we go from here?

I’m on a mission to find my purpose, my why, the reason I get up in the morning, not just some activities I enjoy but the reason behind the activities.

So for the next few weeks I’ll find methods, exercises and methods to help discover those things, post them here along with my review as to how they worked.

If you know of any methods to find your purpose or passion which focus on the why and NOT the activities let me know in the comments below and I promise I’ll try them out too :).

  • PLoygue

    Hi James, Thank you for this great article. Let us know if you find a method. In my point of view, Passion works like gas. It gives us the energy to go further and deeper in our actions. People who have a passion are more focused, determined and persevering which is a huge competitive advantage if you want to create a business. But having a passion is rare and it is even more rare to be able to make a living out of it. Many people doesn’t have 1 passion but they have a purpose. It means something or several things that drive them such as empowering others, growing a family, be green.

    The problem today is that Passion became an industry. Like if we were obliged to have 1 passion and be the best at it. Like if we had to apply only in companies developing the exact product/service that match our passion. And what if your passion doesn’t meet the current market needs like collecting stamps? Or What if you can’t identify your passion? I agree with you. It is a bit Exaggerated.

    Answering the question ‘why would I like to do/be that?’ – purpose – instead of ‘What am I excited about?’ Passion – seems healthier and more adaptable to the real world.

    • Thanks for the response, sorry I didn’t reply sooner but I completely concur!

      Passion is an industry now, it is like Yoga, Organic food or Gluten free diet books, people seem to sell the dream of finding your passion.

      Surprisingly though, you can make a great deal of money in niche industries if you truly are engaged in them. Even a stamp collector can trade sell and give talks to others. The problem isn’t if your passion reflects market needs, there is a global marketplace now and the finer the niche the deeper you can drill.

      The real problem is when your deep core interest doesn’t translate into any one particular activity, making you feel lost and unfocussed. How can you tell what you should do if you don’t know why you do things. How do you choose between A, B or C when you have no filter.