Finding your passion can be one of the most frustrating, yet most rewarding things you do in your life. This is a hard thing to do because we don’t know where to start or what process to follow. It can be a long and difficult journey. However, since you’ve arrived here let’s embark on that journey together.
Finding your personal passion is different from asking the bigger spiritual, philosophical, and faith-based questions of life like, “where did we come from” and “what is the purpose of humanity?” At Social Thread we believe that our purpose is to love God, love our neighbor, and to love ourselves. That’s a higher purpose that we think is worthy to get behind. Whatever that higher spiritual purpose may be for you, it still doesn’t answer the question of what your own, unique, personal passion is in life. In that case, I’ve outlined a process below you that I hope will help you find your passion and that you will be able to immediately apply it to your life.
Start With Your Core Values
Discovering your passion starts with identifying your values. This will get you thinking in the general areas of what you care/are passionate about. From there you can start drilling down to what your true passion is. Use this activity to find your top 3-5 values.
The key part of this exercise is taking notes from the reflection questions: Think about the times when you were the happiest. What are those times where I’ve felt the most alive? What were you doing? Where were you? What did you accomplish? Who were you surrounded by? Note the similarities between the episodes.
Be sure to test your core values against reality. You should be able to tell multiple stories about when you put a particular core value into action. If you struggle to come up with examples, then these may be values you think you should have or they may be aspirational. If this is the case, start over and think harder about your real world actions vs. who you think the world wants you to be.
Talk to Your Friends and Family
This one may take a bit of courage, but asking the people who are closest to you what they think your passion is central to discovering it. Too often we can be so inside our own heads that it is hard to see what is in front of us. Our friends and family have observed and interacted with us for a good chunk of our lives. Share with them the results from the core values exercise and then ask them the same questions you asked yourself: When have I seemed the most fulfilled? What do you think I’m most passionate about? When have you actually seen me acting on my passion? Do my core values, strengths, and weaknesses seem accurate? Note their responses.
Write a Personal Passion Statement
Now that you’ve done the work and gathered all the data, it’s time to put it all together and pinpoint your passion. Take a shot at writing out a one to two sentence passion/purpose statement. You’re essentially asking the questions “Who am I and what am I doing here? What am I creating and who is it for?” Write out three or four different versions, not worrying about length or content, and then edit those down into two more concise versions. Finally, work to create one concise version that’s easy to commit to memory.
An example might be “My passion is being a writer who brings joy to my friends and family” or “My passion is to help others achieve their financial dreams.”
Now, once you’ve completed your statement read it over and over again. How do you feel when reading it? If you feel joy and excitement then you’ve probably found it. Share it with friends and family and if they say “yup, that’s you!” then you’re really on to something.
If it all doesn’t seem quite right, keep workshopping it and sharing for feedback. If you’re still stuck, go back to the earlier steps. Most importantly, don’t force it. Take a break and put this discovery process aside for a few days, or a few weeks. Sometimes we have to walk away then come back again to gain clarity.
Your Passion and Job May Not Align (and maybe they shouldn’t)
Once you’ve completed your personal passion statement, it’s time to celebrate! You’ve been searching for this for a while, you’ve done the hard internal work to figure it out, and now you know. However, you may soon realize that what you’re passionate about doesn’t align with your day job or career. When these things do align we call that “vocation”, or calling, and it’s magical when it all comes together (for a deeper discussion on vocation check out this article from Brain Pickings). If your passion and job don’t currently align, there’s no reason to panic. Please take a pause and consider a couple of things before running out and quitting your job.
First, sometimes when we start getting paid to do what we love it’s not long before we begin hating what we’re passionate about. Our passion is often our passion because we get to dictate the terms of it. When someone else is dictating the terms, or when we turn our passion into a startup and all the stressors that come with it, then living the dream can quickly become a nightmare.
Start a Passion Project
Second, consider adopting a “passion project” to test things out. For example, say you’ve determined your passion is helping animals. Sign-up to volunteer at the local animal shelter for a couple of hours per week. Notice how you feel while volunteering, notice how you feel right after the experience, and notice how you feel overall during the week. Do you feel a greater sense of purpose and fulfillment? Are you happier? If your answer is yes to all of those things then you can say for certain that you’ve found it. It may be that those two hours a week of volunteering is all you need to live out your passion. This is true especially if you’re not getting paid for it since the joy and fulfillment you receive is compensation enough.
Of course, there may become a point when your passion project isn’t enough. This is the time to start exploring making your passion your vocation.
Your Passion is Your Home
One of my favorite TED Talks is from Elizabeth Gilbert where she talks about what it means to find “home.”
No matter where you are in life, remember that your passion is your home. Your home is something that can never be taken away from you. It’s not something you get paid for or a status you can achieve. For Gilbert, home is being a writer. No matter what’s happening in her life she can always sit down and write. It doesn’t have to be good or professional, it just has to “be.” The only audience that matters is her and the only activity that matters is putting words on the page.
Think of your passion as home, your home-base, or your anchor. Whenever things get out of whack in life, take a moment and ask yourself if you’ve strayed too far from home.
Your Passion May Change (or get clearer) As You Get Older
As you get older you change. Shocking, I know. Your experiences, relationships, and changes to your body and mind will shape you more and more as time goes on. This means that your passion may change over time as you get new perspectives on life and the world. It could also mean that your passion in life may become more specific or more broad. Pay attention to that as time goes on. Revisit this process every few years or so to see what’s changed and adjust accordingly.
Use Your Passion to be Part of Something That is Bigger Than Yourself
Finally, I’d be remiss if I left out that your passion isn’t all about you. Sharing your passion in community with others can be more fulfilling than keeping it to ourselves. Use your passion to help your friends, family, and neighbors. Volunteer for or join the board of a nonprofit. Find a spiritual or faith-based community to get involved with. Join a political campaign or promote social change. Part of the privilege of knowing what our passion in life is using that knowledge, skills, and drive to help others. If you’re fortunate enough to know what your passion in life is then I hope you’ll take up the challenge to use that passion to do good in the world.
About the Author: Rob Rynders is the founder and Executive Director of Social Thread. He’s a father, husband, author, and pastor. He lives in Tucson, Arizona.