The average person will spend 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime. Although work doesn’t have to be a primary source of joy, as in we can find fulfilment and excitement elsewhere, it certainly does no harm to be pursuing something that motivates you and gives you a sense of purpose.
In fact, following your passion can do more than that. It can make you more resilient in the face of challenges, enhance your problem-solving ability, boost your confidence and give you courage — all this because you’re doing something that truly matters to you.
If you’re not quite sure what your passion is, read on: we’ll be discussing how to find it, regardless what stage you’re at in your career, and why it’s important that you do so!
Oxford Languages defines passion as “a thing arousing great enthusiasm”. But it also gives a few other definitions and synonyms, including “strong and barely controllable emotion”, “desire” and even “agony”. Indeed, the latter applies even in this context; following your calling can prove to be difficult in today’s world!
At the same time, non-profit agency Children’s Health Council supports the notion that “passion is not something one finds, but rather, it is something to be developed”. This, of course, can also hold true for some.
Whether it’s something you must discover or develop, the same holds true: your passion will stir up great emotions for you more than any other job or activity ever will. It can also feel unstoppable, a driving force that stems from within and pushes you in a specific direction without necessarily asking first.
When we think of people who have successfully “followed their dreams”, we often think of individuals who have managed to turn whatever it is they love into a full-time (or near-full-time) job, whether that’s acting, flying planes, caring for people or anything else.
Hobbies, on the other hand, are activities we pursue outside of work. They, too, come with their benefits; hobbies have been linked with reduced stress, enhanced interpersonal relationships and improved mental health.
That being said, your passion could very well start as a hobby. That’s why it’s important to try new things, no matter your age. You could, for example, discover a knack for pottery in your 30s or a love for yoga in your 50s. That can quickly evolve into something much, much bigger; something that changes the course of your life.
According to Gallup, “85% of employees are not engaged or actively disengaged at work”. So, whether you’re about to start your first job or have been working for a while, chances are that this lack of engagement will impact you sooner or later if it hasn’t already.
The good news is that once you discover or develop your passion, you can escape this widely shared sense of drabness. In addition, following your passion:
- Gives you a sense of purpose. If you’re stuck in a job that you consider meaningless, you can feel like you’re wasting away both your time and potential.
- Boosts your overall happiness. Given that we spend half our waking time at work, it makes sense that the happier we are professionally, the happier we’ll be overall.
- Is inspiring. Although following your passion can inspire others to do the same, it’s particularly rewarding to find your own actions worthy of respect and celebration.
- Increases your resilience. A lot is on the line if your passion is on the line. Following your dream will make you want to push harder to find solutions to problems.
- Boosts your confidence. Doing something that matters to you and watching yourself push through the hardships will make you feel accomplished. That’s guaranteed!
If you’ve never given the matter much thought, you might be feeling lost as to how to uncover what you’re truly passionate about. Here are some questions for you to consider:
1. What did I want to be as a kid?
Although this won’t apply to everyone, it can be a good place to start. As English psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott observed, people can be said to have two selves: one true, based on “authentic experience”, and one false, which acts as a “defensive façade”. If, as an adult, you’ve lost touch with what once meant the world to you (whether that’s sports, books or animals), consider looking back to your younger self for an answer, who likely had very different criteria to you for choosing where to dedicate their time and energy.
2. Where do I find meaning?
Perhaps you designed a poster for class and found the process so enjoyable that you completely lost track of time — and actually enjoyed an assignment for the first time in your life. Or maybe you volunteered somewhere in your local community, and selfless work helped you gain a new perspective on the world and its people.
You’re likely to find your passion in activities that provide you a sense of fulfillment, where you can gladly dedicate hours and hours of your time without regretting a moment.
3. What can’t I stop talking about?
You can’t be passionate about something without feeling excited when you think of it or talk about it, right? When speaking with your friends or family, pay attention to what topic or topics get you expressing yourself animatedly.
If you’re unsure, you can ask your friends for feedback. After all, those who know you well will notice whenever a spark in your eyes comes on.
4. What do others say I’m good at?
Sometimes our strengths might be lying in plain sight and yet we might not see them. Perhaps we’re too caught up in what we think we “should be” doing to give ourselves the chance to explore other options. So, go ahead and ask your close friends, family or a mentor — whether that’s a professor you love or a colleague whose views you appreciate — what they think you’re naturally good at. You might hear things you wouldn’t expect!
5. What type of challenges do I enjoy?
As the saying goes, you need to pick your battles. Just because you could learn to do something doesn’t mean you should, especially if your heart’s not in it. For example, an artistic person who’s never had to use Excel before might find navigating the interface and learning functions challenging… But not necessarily in a desirable way. If you don’t care to be challenged by one particular thing, then sooner or later you’re going to give it up.
Finding your passion can be a long process, and might require some trial and error or fine-tuning along the way. You can get started by following the steps below:
Step 1: Identify your values
If we take passion to mean an endeavor that fills you with joy, motivation and a sense of accomplishment, then it must align with your own personal values. You can’t be passionate about something that goes against your own beliefs, after all.
Though they can shift over a person’s lifetime, core values tend to be deeply rooted within. They can be informed by personal qualities like respect, generosity and integrity, but can encompass any characteristic that might describe your ideal way of living. Examples of the latter include curiosity, determination, innovation and creativity.
Step 2: List the things you love
In many cases, society provides cookie-cutter answers to fundamental questions. For example, you may have had a very specific definition of success instilled in your mind from a young age, telling you that you needed tons of money to be happy. Or you may have been told to prioritize making your family proud, no matter the cost. When this happens (and it does, a lot), it’s easy to lose sight of what you as an individual genuinely enjoy. So, try to reconnect with what you find meaningful!
Step 3: Talk to people
Exchanging ideas with others is invaluable when trying to uncover your passion. Besides asking your friends or colleagues for feedback on what they think you’re naturally good at, have conversations about anything and everything — with as diverse a range of people as you can. Don’t limit these exchanges to your close circle only; networking online or in person can expose you to ideas that differ greatly to your own, which is essential in igniting something within you which, so far, might be lying under the surface undetected.
Step 4: Acquire new knowledge
Reading books on topics you haven’t explored before can spark new ideas. The same goes for watching documentaries, listening to podcasts and having conversations with those around you. If you know someone whose approach to work or life interests you, approach them and invite them to exchange ideas with you. The more you broaden your horizon, the more things you’ll see lying there, waiting for you to take a closer look.
Step 5: Try new things
When seeking out your passion, consider your current interests. Is there anything you’ve been wanting to add to the list?
As adults, we sometimes stop ourselves from exploring new hobbies or trying out new experiences out of a fear of failure or being judged. But there’s no way to discover what sets your soul on fire, as they say, unless you first let go of the idea that you must be instantly good at anything you try. Not to mention, great things come out of mistakes, sometimes!
Step 6: Take a career test
If you haven’t taken a career quiz recently (or ever!), we recommend doing so. Credible, science-backed tests can assess your interests and personality, and provide you with ideas you wouldn’t have otherwise considered.
Even if the roles or fields a test comes back with don’t feel entirely right for you, they can provide a good starting point for you to consider jobs with similar work environments or responsibilities.
RECOMMENDED! Take the CareerHunter test to reveal accurate matches, created by our by own career experts.
Step 7: Take a personality test
Although we consider teenagers and young adults to be more susceptible to feeling lost or confused about their identity, the truth is that people of all ages can experience it. We’ve all heard of midlife crises, after all!
In a world of musts (where we’re encouraged to think or behave a certain way in order to fit in), it’s easy to lose sight of who you are. Although no test can capture and describe the nature of a human being in total accuracy, a personality test might come back with insights you hadn’t previously considered.
Step 8: Consider your strengths
Although changing careers can entail acquiring additional hard skills, there are some skills that come in handy no matter what professional setting you’re in. These include communication, organization and leadership.
Make a note of the skills you’re most confident using. Then, take a note of your personal qualities, too; things like creativity, humor and patience can be helpful in determining what roles would fulfil you. And if you think you’re not “naturally” good at the things you’ll need to pursue your passion, don’t worry. Skills can be learned and developed!
Step 9: Be patient
Back in the 20th century, British poet Lady Mary Montgomerie Currie famously wrote that “all things come to those who wait”. Variations of this quote are still used to this day, reminding us that good things can and do take time.
Answering big questions around your identity and where you find meaning can require careful thought. Try not to restrict yourself too much; brainstorm as much as possible, invite others into the conversation, and let go of things that don’t work for you once you’ve tried them.
Step 10: Accept that it may not be profitable
At the end of the day, your passion may not be something that’s easily monetizable. The truth is that it doesn’t have to be. Although in an ideal world we’d all get paid to do what we love, the reality is that most of us won’t find our jobs all that thrilling or meaningful.
That’s where reframing our perspective can come in handy. If we learn to view our job as a means to get by financially, not expecting it to fulfil us, we can focus our energy where we truly find meaning. Plus, even if we don’t get financially rewarded, the benefits of selfless work include better health and a longer lifespan.
It can be easy to feel like we’re alone in experiencing confusion or uncertainty. The truth, however, is that it’s a widely shared experience, particularly where career-related matters are concerned. More than half of all college students report not feeling confident in their chosen path, while three quarters of employees are feeling stuck professionally!
With these numbers in mind, we created CareerHunter, our very own career-matching platform. To do this, we collaborated with experienced psychologists, psychometricians and career experts, and arrived at six assessments which can be taken online.
The tests examine your interests, personality and motivations, and also assess your abstract, numerical and verbal reasoning skills, to match you against 250 different career paths. Besides offering you job suggestions, CareerHunter recommends courses you can take to start moving in the direction you dream of.
If you feel like this could help, try some of the tests for free!
Being able to pursue your passion full time can take a while. It’s important to be patient and check off the following steps one by one, so that the transition becomes as smooth as possible:
Step 1: Do your research
Perhaps you’ve just discovered (or admitted to yourself) that your true calling in life is working with animals. You’ll have to explore different options to see how you can incorporate this into your day-to-day life. Do you want to open your own shelter? Work as a veterinary assistant? Become a vet yourself? Explore different ideas and see what walking down each path entails. The process of setting up your own business will differ greatly to earning additional qualifications, for example.
Step 2: Set clear, realistic goals
Once you’ve figured out what you’ll need to pursue your dream, whether that’s in terms of training or the budget you’ll need, the next step is to come up with a viable plan to turn your vision into reality.
SMART goals come in handy in situations like these. In a nutshell, this refers to setting goals which are:
- The more clearly and concisely you define your goals, the better.
- Having a means of measuring your progress is vital.
- Your goals should, above all, be realistic!
- That is: relevant to your core values and interests as a person.
- Time-based. Setting manageable deadlines is important to staying on track.
Step 3: Hold yourself accountable
You can’t watch your dream materialize unless you’re willing to put in the work and persevere through the hard times. A great way to do this is to cultivate a growth mindset. This way of thinking enables you to view your abilities and intelligence as flexible rather than fixed, which is highly beneficial when you’re trying to break into something new. Training your mind to see obstacles as a means of learning and growing will keep you going in the long run!
Step 4: Immerse yourself in the topic
From following thought leaders on social media to listening to podcasts and reading books, make a habit out of exposing yourself to all things related to your passion. Carve time out of your day, whether that’s in the morning or evening, to learn the ins and outs of your craft, hear other people’s perspectives on it and gain valuable insights into what you’re preparing to build for yourself.
Step 5: Network
If you’re struggling to get moving in the direction you envision, invest some energy into networking. Let’s face it: whether you’re contemplating starting your own business, building a personal brand or changing careers, the quality of your relationships with other people can determine how successful you’ll be — to a large extent.
At the end of the day, your new boss or very first client needs to be able to place their trust in you, so relationship building is crucial.
Although some people know (or think they know) from a young age what profession they want to pursue, it’s not so clear for everyone. And while many people feel certain in their decision as and when they’re making it, they can find themselves reconsidering their choices a few years later. All in all, it’s important to be adaptable enough not to fear change, but embrace it. Only then can we build, little by little, a life that truly fulfils us.
To summarize what we talked about in this article:
- Some people view passion as something to be discovered, while others see it as something that can be cultivated.
- Finding your passion can take time, as well as trial and error. Remember to give yourself time, and try not to compare yourself to others.
- Not everyone has one single passion in life. It’s possible that what drives you might change shapes or evolve over time.
- A chronic lack of purpose can cause people to feel depressed or anxious. Reconnecting with what’s meaningful to you can positively impact your life and overall health.
What are some things you’re passionate about? Share what you find meaningful with us in the comments section below!
Originally published on November 13, 2017.