Finding Your Passion

March 17, 2014

[This post was written in response to the email that is being generated by the Waterloo TEDx video, Why You Will Fail to Have a Great Career.]

Since pursuing your passion is a necessary, but not sufficient condition, for a great career, it becomes logically essential to find your passion as a starting point.

Nevertheless, many persons struggle to find their passions. What mistakes are they making?

Often they assume that finding one’s passion is a matter of luck. They see that some persons seem to have found their passions as children. Often, others just seem to just trip over their passion as they move into adulthood. The process seems random and difficult to see as a methodical process of search.

Yes, some are lucky. Teaching is their passion and as a 5-year old, they wake up in classroom and they are home for life. And even as they have new experiences, they notice that their first love grows only stronger.

Others have the luck of being born into a family in which a family member or friend shows them a domain that immediately engages them, or slowly sneaks up on them. In the absence of the lucky circumstance of their family, the search would have been longer and more challenging.

But notice that some who pursue a childhood or family “interest” do so only as a convenient default choice. It was there and so they chose it to avoid further thought or uncertainty. It is hardly an interest and never mind a passion, although they may speak of it very positively – the better to tell themselves or others that they made a “wise” choice.

The majority do not have the advantage of circumstance, and therefore have no choice but to search for their passion methodically.

Many of these persons fail to find their passion because they either fail to search methodically, or they do not search persistently. Some will simply not commit the time and energy to a search that can often be frustrating. In fact, they want their destiny to find them; they do not want to find it themselves. But only rarely does destiny come knocking.

You cannot find your passion idly staring into space, hoping for it to appear as a revelation, expecting it to appear from one book, article, blog posting or casual conversation. Passion is rarely found in a bar or on Mother Google’s home page.

Those who search and find their passion place themselves in intensely stimulating environments, and stay there until the job is done. It can be intellectually exhausting.

There are many such environments. Some read voraciously; others seek out many persons in many situations and engage them in intense conversation. Some do both. Others visit every major museum and gallery in North America. They find their passion by immersing themselves in a panoply of human experience.

But you cannot just read, talk or experience. You must also have your mind in high gear. You must be fully engaged, reading and thinking to a purpose. You must be constantly saying to yourself about whatever book, fact, argument, person or experience is at hand: Why? What if? Why don’t they?

Yes, it is intense. And yes, too few are practiced in this art, no matter their level of education.

But you will never find your passion in the modern way: by surfing or browsing. Recognize the superficiality implied by those words and by our impatient thoughtless world.

You will have to stand against the popular culture to find your passion. Too many do not have the independence of mind or force of commitment to do so.

Take the time you need. Recognize your mind’s natural tendency to resolve its painful uncertainty by rushing to judgment, even to the judgment that it is time to give up.

How will you recognize your passion when you encounter it? Usually, it is quite easy. One moment you are reading in hopes of finding a topic of great interest; then you find you are reading and do not want to stop. It almost feels as if you cannot stop. Or you find yourself in a regular conversation, and you start talking with excitement about an idea or possibility. Or you find yourself in an activity and you lose track of time itself.
The rule of passion is simple: the mind cannot stop thinking about that which it loves.

It is what you would do even if you won a lottery.

For some the realization is sudden, as if they reach a critical mass of experience and it coalesces into a complete and compelling vision. For others, it is a slow process, each piece coming into view separately until the puzzle is revealed.

Even with a passion identified, there is a common pitfall. Some persons know or find their passion, and then with little thought, relying on no more than popular opinion, they dismiss the passion as one that “cannot be turned into a livelihood” with any reasonable degree of assurance. And they move on to try to find a second, more practical love. That is not necessarily a bad choice since one could certainly have more than one love. [It does though seem unfortunate that some struggle to find one passion, and others have multiple ones.]

But before you look for a second love, you should carefully, intensively and creatively examine whether your first found love could support a career. Research the experiences of those who have found ways to pursue as livelihoods the strangest of passions. Never take conventional wisdom as anything other than folklore, to be tested against your logic, information and experiences.

We must also reiterate in conclusion that passion is necessary for a great career, but it is not sufficient. There’s no magic here. Success also demands patience, persistence, focus, discipline, independence of mind, resourcefulness, experimentation and high creativity.