Knowing what you want to do for a living is one of the toughest decisions a person can make. You leave school and maybe go to university, and everything is rosy. But soon you realise earning money is a pretty important part of life, and before long you’re sending off CVs to any company that is hiring, in the vague hope of becoming a responsible adult.
Somewhere along the line many people end up in a career that doesn’t fulfil them. But why? You will spend nearly 50 years of your adult life working, so doesn’t it make sense to at least try and do something you are passionate about?
Realising what gets you out of bed in the morning can be a struggle for a lot of people, so you might need a little push in the right direction. Here are 11 ways you can discover what is important to you, and maybe figure out how to find your passion.
1. Consider what has made you happy before
Drawing from your previous experiences is a good way to figure out what you enjoy doing. For example, say you had a part-time job in school at Subway. You may have hated the hours and making the sandwiches, but perhaps you really enjoyed chatting with the customers; you might not have paid much attention to it at the time, but it could mean you have a passion for helping members of the public.
Go through your previous work experience and make a list of the aspects of each job that you enjoyed doing. This will give you a practical idea of what makes you tick in the workplace, and you can explore careers where these skills are valued.
2. Embrace your obsessions
Writing in The Telegraph, Rebecca Burn-Callander claims that you should ask yourself this question: “What subject could I read 500 books about without getting bored?” While your answer might not necessarily spell out a clear career path, the answer should ideally point you in the right direction of what you are passionate about. When you can’t get enough of a particular interest – whether talking about it or reading about it – it’s a good sign.
Lifestyle blogger Leo Babauta agrees. “When I get passionate about something, I’ll spend days on the internet finding out more”. Whatever the topic, there are more than likely related career paths – look a little deeper into them.
3. Identify your heroes
Create a list of people that are where you would like to be. Try to figure out what it is about those people that you admire, and what they have done to be where they are today. Taking inspiration from others can help you identify your own passion, and decide what kind of person you want to be.
For example, if selflessness is something that you admire and is important to you, then maybe your passion could lie in a caring profession such as nursing. Always remember that sometimes it is easier to see what we value in others rather than ourselves.
4. Ask your inner child
Despite being obvious and common advice, there is some wisdom in it. Avoid taking it literally though; just because you enjoyed playing with Lego when you were a kid doesn’t mean that you should drop everything to pursue a civil engineering degree.
The point isn’t to focus so much on the actual activities, but more the idea that as a child you were not burdened with the responsibilities and pressures that come with being an adult. When you were a child doing something you enjoyed, it came naturally and without much thought – try to approach your passion search with the same mentality, and you may be pleasantly surprised with the results.
5. Take money out of the equation
For most people, the biggest reason to avoid turning your passion into your career is money – and understandably so. After all, people have bills to pay and responsibilities to keep. But ask yourself – if money was no issue, what would you choose to do for a living?
Once you know your answer, do some research and find out what it would take to make it a reality. If your passion is pottery, don’t just focus on making pots and hoping that someone will buy them – be proactive and figure out how to sell. Learn about online marketing, develop a brand, maybe take a business class; be realistic and give your passion the best possible chance of succeeding. Just don’t convince yourself that it can’t be done.
6. Explore your media collection
You can learn a lot about someone by their tastes in movies, books and music; it can be a good idea to go and look at your own collection and see if there are any recurring themes. For example, if your DVD shelf is stacked to the brim with violent cop thrillers and not much else, the police might be your calling. But, if your Kindle is full of John Grisham thrillers maybe your passion lies in a career in law.
7. Write your own obituary
Although this may sound just a little morbid, there is actually method in the madness of this Stanford University entrance exercise. Designed to make you think about what is important to you, those who sit the test are told not to overthink what they have written, and to spend no more than 15 minutes completing the exercise.
By taking an objective view of your own aspirations and goals, you can help define what you want your purpose in life to be – give it a try and see where your mind takes you.
8. Pay attention to what makes you jealous
Regardless of if it was a television character, someone we’ve met in passing, or even a friend or family member, we’ve all said the following phrase about someone at some point – “I wish I had their job”. Well, why can’t you?
Whether you’re jealous of the salary they make, the perks they get, or the excitement they seem to have, job envy can tell you a lot about what your own passion might be. If possible, ask questions about what they do and how they got there, and explore the idea that you could really do it too.
9. Notice when you lose track of time
When you are doing something you are passionate about, you completely lose the concept of time – you are so engrossed that hours go by without you barely noticing. People often don’t realise that this is a clear sign that their passion is staring them in the face.
Blogger Mark Manson recently shared the story of a friend who was unsure what to do with his life. In the meantime he would make ends meet by utilising his clear talent for graphic design – designs he was “losing himself” in well into the early hours of the morning. “He didn’t need to find his passion,” says Manson. “His passion already found him”.
10. Have a happy accident
Most of the techniques in this article are based around the idea of discovering your passion, and then trying to turn it into employment. Alternatively, you could always do the opposite. Many people take a job and then find that it develops into a passion.
For example, a friend of mine took a job as a barista in a well-known coffee chain several years ago with the intention of supporting her law degree. She enjoyed it so much that – against her parent’s advice – after graduating she stayed on and moved into an assistant manager role. Despite studying for a totally different career, she discovered that she was passionate about working in a customer facing retail environment (she also really liked coffee) – she is now a regional store manager at 28.
Don’t be afraid to change course if doing something else makes you happy, even if it makes others unhappy. Always remember, it’s your career – nobody else’s.
11. Stop looking
Some people – like Manson – believe that if you have to search for it, then it’s not a passion at all. “A child does not walk onto a playground and say ‘how do I find fun?” he claims. “She just goes and has fun”.
This is grounded in the idea that a person’s passion often presents itself sub-consciously. “You’re doing something for 16 hours a day, obviously. There’s some topic or activity that dominates a significant amount of your time, your conversations or your web browsing.”
If you’re struggling to put your finger on your passion, you should take this into account. Sometimes the answer is right there in front of you all along; ask yourself – what do you spend most of your time talking or thinking about? “You already enjoy something,” concludes Manson. “You’re just choosing to ignore it”.
It is important for our mental health to do something we enjoy, and we should always take action to ensure this is the case. But remember, there is no such thing as a perfect job, and that there are aspects of every role that are frustrating or boring. The key is to find something where the positives far outweigh the negatives, and you are always motivated to go to work every day – for many people, this is passion.
Are you struggling to figure out what your passion is? Let us know in the comments below…