I’ll start by answering the second part of the headline first.
Why is it important to know what you’re passionate about? It’s because passions are what stop us from burning out. We’re all busy and overwhelmed (and hopefully we’re doing something to get on top of that because the way we’ve all normalised overwhelm is a real problem).
But, in the meantime, we need something to act as a buffer to all that overwhelm.
Our passions are that buffer.
Now – as a society we’ve been conditioned to associate ‘passion’ with ‘work’ which sees everyone chasing the dream where their passion is their work. Can I tell you something for free? One of my passions is writing and when I tried to make it my work (by writing for other people), the passion went out of it pretty quickly.
While I think it’s nice to be passionate about what you do for a living, too many people are letting their passions sit on the sidelines because they can’t turn a dollar from that thing.
If you’re able to identify passions (and note I said passions – plural, not passion – singular) that sit outside of your work, those passions will act as lovely buffers from both the stresses of work, and the stresses of life.
I have lots more to say on this topic, and I say it in my book Practical Perfection.
Today, however, I want to help you identify what your passions might be if you’ve lost sight of them. Here are seven ways to do that:
1. Open your eyes
I can’t find anyone who explains this better than Mark Manson. So please excuse the language and listen to what he says to the hundreds of people who have asked him for help on this topic:
You already found your passion, you’re just ignoring it. Seriously, you’re awake 16 hours a day, what the fuck do you do with your time? You’re doing something, obviously. You’re talking about something. There’s some topic or activity or idea that dominates a significant amount of your free time, your conversations, your web browsing, and it dominates them without you consciously pursuing it or looking for it.
It’s right there in front of you, you’re just avoiding it. For whatever reason, you’re avoiding it.”
2. Understand yourself better
Another way to find out what your Passions might be is to try some personality typing. Some people love this stuff, and some hate it. Personally I’m in the ‘love’ camp because it’s helped me understand and better accept certain aspects of my personality.
There are a lot of ways to determine your personality type. Here are three of the more popular tests, and while they can be expensive you can often find free versions on the Internet:
My personal favourite is the MBTI. It taught me that INFJs (which is I what I am) are hard-core idealists who have a great need to help the world. Most specifically, INFJs love helping people bring order to their lives.
Which explains why I love writing on my blog so much.
3. Ask yourself, ‘What am I willing to experience a lot of discomfort for?’
Are you prepared to stand in line for hours to get the latest Apple device before everyone else? Will you get up at 5am every day for six months to train for an Ironman triathlon? Do you think nothing of spending eight hours researching, writing and editing a single blog post before hitting ‘publish’?
These are all clues. But what they suggest about you isn’t always what you think. For example:
- The girl who lines up for the first crack at the latest iPhone isn’t necessarily passionate about Apple products. She’s probably more passionate about being an early adopter and staying ‘ahead of the curve’.
- The guy training for the Ironman triathlon is probably more passionate about pushing physical boundaries than he is about triathlon itself.
- The blogger who spends eight hours on a single post could be more passionate about the ideas they’re trying to communicate than the actual writing.
4. Ask yourself, ‘What am I curious about?’
Here’s Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love). In her wonderful creative manifesto, Big Magic, she urges us to follow our curiosity and see where it leads us. The beauty of curiosity is that it:
… only ever asks one simple question: “Is there anything you’re interested in?” Anything? Even a tiny bit? No matter how mundane or small? The answer need not set your life on fire, or make you quit your job, or force you to change your religion, or send you into a fugue state; it just has to capture your attention for a moment. But in that moment, if you can pause and identify even one tiny speck of interest in something, then curiosity will ask you to turn your head a quarter of an inch and look at the thing a wee bit closer. Do it. It’s a clue. It might seem like nothing, but it’s a clue. Follow that clue. Trust it. See where curiosity will lead you next. Then follow the next clue, and the next, and the next. Remember, it doesn’t have to be a voice in the desert; it’s just a harmless little scavenger hunt. Following that scavenger hunt of curiosity can lead you to amazing, unexpected places.”
For a lot of people this focus on ‘curiosity’ really hits the mark as it removes the sense of desperation that tends to go with finding your Passions.
5. Ask yourself, ‘What am I good at?’
Oliver Emberton believes passion comes from success. He says:
All of our emotions exist for good reason. We feel hunger to ensure we don’t starve. We feel full to ensure we don’t burst. And we feel passion to ensure we concentrate our efforts on things that reward us the most.
Imagine you start a dance class. You find it easy. You realise you’re getting better than others, and fast. That rising excitement you feel is your passion, and that passion makes you come back for more, improving your skills, and compounding your strengths.”
We’re all good at something, or know a lot about something. Unfortunately, we tend to think that because we’re good at that thing or know about it then everyone else must be good at it or know a lot about it too. But nine times out of ten they aren’t, and they don’t.
A good way to identify what you’re good at (stuff you might be taking for granted) is to ask your friends and family. You might also want to pay attention to the things people come to you for advice about.
They’re all clues.
6. Ask yourself, ‘What’s one thing that always lifts my mood when I do it?’
The next time you feel particularly ‘buzzy’ or ‘high on life’, pay attention. What are you doing? And why does it make you feel that way?
Again, the answer is usually beyond the obvious.
For example, I always feel really high after speaking or giving a presentation. Is it the act of speaking that makes me buzzy, or the opportunity to share my ideas with a large and captive audience?
When I finish a running race and I have a big, silly grin from ear to ear, is it the act of running that excites me or the thrill of competition?
By taking the time to look below the surface of your excitement you’ll find there are multiple ways to get that ‘passion hit’. It was exciting to find out there were other ways I could experience the thrill of competition besides running, and that public speaking was just one of many ways I could get my ideas out into the world.
7. Ask yourself, ‘What can’t my friends shut me up about?’
We’ve all experienced that situation where we’re chatting with friends and they all get a look on their face that says, “Here we go. She’s on her soapbox again”.
Don’t let their soapbox ‘comment’, or the fact their eyes have started glazing over, deflate you. Own it, and then find a more receptive audience.
I have a real passion for self-improvement. But it’s not something my friends or family really care about. That’s why I have a blog—so I can share my ideas and passions with people who do care.