Find Your Passion
I always knew what I wanted to do. What I wanted to do changed over time, and at any particular time I wanted to do more than one thing — and sometimes I wasn't sure if any particular thing that I wanted to do would turn out to be satisfying or remunerative. But there were always things I wanted to do. It turns out that this is not universal.
Some people really don't know what they want to do. Since I always did, I'm not sure that I'm really the person to ask about how to figure out one's passion in life. But when I talked recently about ways to arrange your life so you can follow your passion, more than one person asked in the comments about how to find your passion. I did some thinking about it, and decided that maybe I had an idea or two after all.
Editing too early
I used to think that the main reason people couldn't figure out what they wanted to do was not because they didn't have any ideas, but rather that they had ideas, but figured they were impractical. The things they wanted to do (playing video games, snowboarding, going backpacking) seemed to offer no hope of making a living.
In fact, of course, there are people making a living doing each of those things. There are admittedly few professional video game players, but there are plenty of jobs testing video games, as well as jobs designing them, coding them, writing the stories, and drawing the art. Likewise snowboarding and hiking support very few as professionals, but do offer opportunities for guides, instructors, writers, and so on.
There are many ways to follow any passion. If the problem is time, maybe you can start small and make incremental progress. If the problem is money, maybe you can barter for access to the expensive stuff you can't afford. If the problem is complexity, maybe you can follow a few narrow side branches now and work your way toward the main branch. The key is simply that you shouldn't assume your passion is impractical without giving some real thought to all the many ways you might follow it.
If this is what you're doing, the solution is easy: brainstorm. Make lists of things you want to do without editing. Don't paralyze yourself by trying to figure out your one true calling in life, just write down two or three dozen things that you want to do. Start with easy stuff. Maybe you want to visit your family or scuba dive off Grand Cayman or learn pottery. Then broaden your thinking: What do you do when you have control over your own schedule? What list of activities for the day makes you jump out of bed? If you had enough money that you didn't need to work, how would you choose to spend your time?
Go for quantity — this stuff is the raw material of what you want to do with your life. Get a day or two of distance from the list, then go through it and categorize the ideas. Some are just things you want to do once. Some will likely be things that you don't really want to do at all. But among the others are likely things that you have a passion for, even if you haven't realized it yet.
At some point, think about what you do that's of value to other people. That's important in two ways. First, it's something you might be able to get paid to do. Second, something that's important to others has a greater chance of being deeply satisfying.
What if your passion really is impractical?
Some passions are fundamentally impossible. We don't know how to go faster than the speed of light or backwards in time.
Other passions are simply beyond our capabilities. Most of us will never play major league baseball, no matter how strong our passion. I would argue, though, that this is simply a matter of being too specific. If playing baseball is truly your passion, then play baseball without worrying about what league you get to.
Most passions, though, are totally doable, they simply aren't adequately remunerative, which brings us back to where we started, choosing between a dream job or a day job.
What if you have no passions?
As I say, I used to assume that everybody had a passion. I eventually figured out that really wasn't true: Some people really can't think of anything they want to do. These people are often unhappy. In fact, they're often miserable.
Often the cause-and-effect goes the other way around. People who are severely depressed are unable to think of anything that would make them happy, but the underlying problem is a matter of brain chemistry, not lack of passions. Treat the depression and they will find their passions again.
For people who aren't clinically depressed, but simply can't think of anything they want to do, I'm not sure I have much help to offer except to suggest an incremental approach. Think about which aspects of your life are most satisfying and do more of that and less of the other stuff. On a smaller scale, do the same in each area of your life. Which parts of your job are most satisfying and which are boring or annoying? What would your job look like if you did more of the former and less of the latter? Could you talk to your boss about restructuring your job to look like that? I talk some about that in a post called find work worth doing and then I talk about other aspects of it in a post called how to get a job — learn the secret from a bad movie. (Both of those posts got some good comments, too.)
It's perfectly normal for your passion to change over time. The days of having just one career are almost as far gone as the days of having just one job — and that's okay. A couple years ago, several of the Wise Bread writers (including me) did a group post called what is your dream job. I talk about how my dream job changed from programming to writing.
There are a few other posts on Wise Bread on finding your passion. Here are the ones I could find:
- The First Step to Finding your Dream Job
- Pre-career advice
- Timeless Tips For College Students
- Feeling Stuck? 100 Ways to Change your Life
- Can you afford to follow your dreams? Can you afford NOT to?
- 2 Ways to Find Your Dream Amidst Life's Chaos
I'd be really interested to hear from readers who had to struggle to find their passion. If you're one of the people who couldn't think of what they wanted to do, but then eventually figured it out, please comment below on how you did it.