Finding Passion

To find passion in what you do you have to like what you do. That idea isn’t especially earth shattering, but discovering it can be difficult for some.

Early on, I didn’t like school. It was boring, seemingly irrelevant, certainly uninspiring and simply not fun. I still don’t like school (for a lot of reasons) but I do love learning. I concur with Mark Twain’s pearl: “I never let my schooling interfere with my learning.” Few truer words were ever spoken.

Teachers – well, mine at least – seemed to believe learning was rather serious business. Maybe because they thought teaching was a job (which to them it was). Why did I have to learn trigonometry or Latin instead of how to sell my ideas, be a sparkling conversationalist or adroitly influence the behaviours I wanted to see in others? I couldn’t do what I wanted to do; I had to do what they told me to do. (Except when it came to gym time, but that’s a different story.)

Being forced to work on dull stuff that, as time would prove, had little long-lasting or redeeming value was tedious, and occasionally tortuous. In retrospect, this may have spawned my rebellious nature. So, apart from rotting the brain, the mundane may not have entirely been a bad thing. It took me years to grasp the notion that learning is actually fun – and in some cases exhilarating. That was the genesis of my passion.

In his book, Why We Work, Dr. Barry Schwartz, claims 90% of adults spend half their waking lives doing things they would rather not be doing at places they would rather not be. A Gallup survey of a quarter million workers confirms his assessment. Yet most people claim they like what they do. Is it wrong to pretend (to yourself) that you like what you do when, in truth, you don’t? That sort of self-deception is a recipe for self-alienation.

Doing what you like, and perhaps eventually love, is a process of self-discovery that requires time. It doesn’t mean doing what makes you happy at this particular moment but, rather, what will make you the happiest over the longer haul. It’s a journey.

Discovering what makes the world ‘right’ for you makes the notion of “spare time” seem mistaken or misplaced.When you fall off the horse, you see it as a temporary inconvenience rather than the end of the ride. You can’t wait to get back up and back on. Your resilience is irrepressible. If what you do is not your favourite thing to do, you’ll have serious problems with laziness and procrastination. And when you force yourself to do it, the results will be inferior.

To find passion, you must be doing something you not only enjoy, but that also makes you feel proud. You have to be able to say, at the end of your efforts “Wow, that was something special I just did!”

Take reading as an example. Reading books that make you feel like you’ve actually done something useful and rewarding with your time – that you discovered something you didn’t know before that will make a difference in your life. That’s worthy of self-admiration. For some, reading is work (another wrong-headed notion instilled during our schooling) which is why they don’t do it. We only find passion in the things we like doing and are therefore worthy of the time we invest in doing them.

One test of whether people are passionate about what they do is whether they’d do it if they weren’t well compensated for doing it, even if they had to work at another job to make a living. How many lawyers or accountants would stay in their jobs if they had to do it for free and, in their spare time, work as fast-food employees or truck drivers to support themselves?

If you have yet to find your passion, don’t despair. Just admit your discontent or unease – that puts you ahead of those who choose to live in denial. Finding passion takes less effort and discipline than people think – because the way to find it is to discover the thing you like doing so much you don’t have to force yourself to do it.

We sometimes have to go through a valley before we can reach the heights. Otherwise known as “the dip,” a term coined by Seth Godin, it’s the difference between competence and mastery, between average and exceptional. The harder it gets, the better the chance few will survive it. So the dip must be seen as an ally – it keeps others from competing with you. The quest for greatness, borne of passion, can take a lifetime.

The dip exists for another reason. If you think you can’t make it through the slugging required to find your passion, then don’t start. This is simply good time management. Quitting isn’t the same as failing. So, before you start, make a strategic decision – stop doing what’s not important to you, what you really don’t care about or what you’re not good at. Quitting may be a blow to your pride but it’s certainly not fatal. Mediocrity is the antithesis of passion.

The journey begins with an honest effort to do a good job at whatever it is you’re doing, even if you don’t like it. Then you can’t use dissatisfaction as an excuse for being lazy. More importantly, you get into the habit of doing things well.

Being busy, while self-affirming, is not the same a being effective. Anyone can be busy, not everyone can be effective. And effective people have more freedom of choice. Being effective is an avenue to finding the passion in what you do. Increasingly, in our highly competitive world, recognition comes from results, not effort.

Seek jobs that let you do many different things, so you can discover what kinds of things you like to do. Maximize the parts of your work you like doing and find ways to minimize what you don’t. Never worry about constraints – overcoming them makes you creative, gives your life shape and sharpens your intellect for challenges yet to occur.

The happiest people in the world are not those who have money or prestige but those who are passionate about what they do. Expect a struggle – as noted, if it were easy, anyone could do it – but never lower your expectations. When you do that, you give up trying.

Never say “I can’t”; learn to say “I will.” If you have a destination in sight, you’re more likely to arrive at it. If you’re unafraid to risk and put in the effort required, you will find your passion. If you’re doing what you love, you’ve already found it.