Passion – a zest for an activity or job or task — is usually one of those wish-list qualities that everybody wants to find in life. We associate passion with vitality and energy and engagement and meaning and we feel like we are missing out – like the last ones picked in PE – when we can’t seem to discover what drives us or when we are working a job that feels anything but inspiring.
And this is the one thing — out of the scores of topics I’ve written about — that people bring up time and time again. Usually, with a hint of panic.
“What if I don’t know what my passion is?” they ask.
“I don’t even know what I like to do anymore,” some say — usually the parents of young children who imagine everyone else staying up past 8:30 having rollicking fun.
They feel bad about this, that they don’t know what excites them. Like somehow they’ve broken a big rule, done something wrong because they no longer know what drives them.
First off, don’t worry. You can have a great life without every knowing what your so-called passions are. And, passions change through the years. So, whether you have a single thing that drives you or a bunch of things that are fun to do, or you don’t have a clue right now, you’re good. It’s okay. You are not doomed for a lonely life of channel surfing. Secondly, some of the most fun you can have comes when you have no idea what you’re passionate about because then you are bound to explore and play and try new things to discover what inspires you.
Passion Does Not Appear While Laying on the Couch
This kind of exploration is part of discovering your passion. It can be elusive, particularly if we are waiting. Passion doesn’t just show up, smack you upside the head, and say “show me some love.” It requires you to engage in life. And try some things — things you probably aren’t going to like a whole lot. Not everything sticks.
But, when we get out in the world, when we are out there participating, showing up, trying new things, contributing to our communities, playing, we are more apt to stumble into something that interests us in a big way. Those interests ignite into something bigger, something we become passionate about.
That’s how it happens. We are more likely to learn something new, be inspired, and intrigued when we are putting a little effort out.
Passion builds when we are working hard on something that we have some influence over and can see progress or improvement along the way, according to research led by Michael Gielnik. It emerges from effort.
This could be helpful news to the millions who are working in jobs they aren’t passionate about and for the supervisors who are working to motivate those millions. If people are given an opportunity to lead a project they are curious about, one that requires effort, but also one where they can see positive progress, they are likely to be more passionate. Effort with autonomy begets passion. And passion often compels more effort.
Debunking the Passion is Easy Myth
It isn’t easy though, living close to your passions. This surprises people. We have this notion that the things we are passionate about should feel fun and easy. Should flow. Sure, it is satisfying to work on something you are passionate about, but often it’s the challenge of the thing that motivates us.
Working with your passion – say writing, or running, or cooking, or selling– can be tough because there is so much to learn. Improvement can be slow. Mastery is unlikely — ask any golfer.
Our passions are often things that require open-ended skill, writes psychologist Paul Silvia. In other words, they sometimes make you want to bash your head against the monitor. Maybe that’s just me.
They require hard work. Effort. But at least it’s not wasted, because now we know, that the effort itself may be the very thing that helps passion emerge.