Haven’t found your passion yet? You’re not alone. Only 13% of U.S. workers are passionate about their job, according to a 2017 Deloitte survey.
For many, learning how to find your passion feels like a daunting, maybe even an impossible, task. But here’s the thing: It doesn’t have to be.
Whether you’ve just graduated from college or are considering changing your career path, read on to find out why we’ve been viewing passion all wrong and what it really takes to find the thing that motivates you and gives you a sense of purpose.
What exactly is passion? If you look it up in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, you'll find multiple definitions, with the most relevant to this article being “a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept.”
But beyond that, often, when people say they want to “find their passion,” they also mean they want to find something that lends purpose to their lives. They might even refer to their passion as their “calling.”
When Deloitte conducted its survey, it labeled as “passionate” those workers who possessed the following three attributes:
If you want to find something, it's important you get clear on what you're looking for. Before you set out to find your passion, define what “passion” means for you so that, when you find it, you’ll know.
So what makes me qualified to write this article? Well, after years of agonizing and searching, I've found my passion: writing. It's what I get to do full-time; it pays my bills; it feels meaningful to me.
Along the way, I received some pretty terrible advice and unearthed some common myths about passion. So let's break those down now:
Um, no. I’ve found what I’m passionate about, and guess what? It still feels like work—because it is work. Believing this cliche is setting yourself up for a world of disappointment. There is no job free from challenges and effort, even if you’re extremely passionate about it.
Wrong again. Motivation comes and goes, even when you love what you’re doing. We don’t have to wait around for motivation to show up before we get the work done.
For the vast majority of the adult population, a day job is a means of paying the bills. And that’s okay! You might find your passion and choose not to pursue it full-time or even get paid for it.
When I was in college, I was so tormented by this idea of “finding my passion” that I sought out career counseling. I complained to my career counselor that I needed to find the job that was “my calling” because I wanted to help people, which gave me a sense of purpose.
His response changed my life. He said, “Think about the people who have helped you the most in your life.”
I immediately called to mind two of my closest friends at the time, how they were always there for me, how we spent long hours just talking about our dreams for the future.
Then, he asked, “Was it their job to help you?”
No, it wasn’t! His thought exercise made me realize that there is a lot of meaningful work that we do outside of work; much of the impact we’ll have will occur within our personal relationships.
So don’t limit yourself to thinking that the only place you’ll find purpose is in a job; it’s simply not true.
Is passion found-or is it cultivated? Research from Yale and Stanford suggests the latter.
In research published in Psychological Science, Paul O’Keefe, Carol Dweck, and Gregory Walton examined the effects of two different schools of thought surrounding passion: fixed theory (believing that interests are relatively unchanging) or growth theory (believing that interests are developed).
They found that if you believe that interests are fixed, you’re:
In short, by believing passion is something you’re born with and must “discover,” you might actually prevent yourself from finding something you’re passionate about.
As the authors aptly write in their published paper: “Urging people to find their passion may lead them to put all their eggs in one basket but then to drop that basket when it becomes difficult to carry.”
Ah, wouldn't it be great if there were a test that you could take and out pops your passion? You can!
In fact, F4S has a free science-based assessment based on 20+ years of motivation research that analyzes 48 different traits. You’ll find out your top five talents; these are the areas that you find interesting and energizing. Just as important, you’ll learn your top five blind spots; these are the areas that demotivate you and are probably best avoided in a job.
For example, my F4S results show that my number one motivation is a solo environment, while my top five blind spots include structure and place (level of motivation for a geographic location). This explains why I was constantly exhausted and stunted when I worked an office job and why I always dreamed of working remotely for myself.
Ready to discover your top 5 motivators and natural talents? Sign up for free here to take the assessment. You will also get immediate access to world-class AI coaching that can help you find your passion in life or work.
It can be particularly challenging for us to know ourselves. We spend so much time with ourselves that we don't notice what's special or exciting about us.
Find a person who knows you well—a parent, sibling, or close friend—and ask them:
2. What lights me up when I'm talking about it?
3. What do you think I'd enjoy doing as a job?
Their answers might surprise you and shed some light on potential career paths.
Leaning into that growth mindset we talked about earlier means getting out of your comfort zone—that’s where the most growth happens!
That tough biology course you’re afraid to take because you might get a “bad grade”? Take it!
That challenging fellowship you’re afraid to apply for because you might get rejected? Apply for it!
That promotion you’re afraid to interview for because it’s a demanding role? Go for it!
Only when you get out of your comfort zone will you run into the opportunities to find your passion.
Conjecturing and asking questions is great, but really, gaining real-life experience is the most valuable way to determine how passionate you are about something.
Volunteering is a great way to gain meaningful data about what you do and don’t enjoy without sinking too much time or resources into a long-term commitment (such as a job).
Self-awareness is critical in finding your passion. Keep a journal where you reflect on the different insights you learn as you set out on your journey to find what brings you joy and meaning.
Pay close attention to what delights you in your everyday life. Writing down these small moments can guide you as you gain new insights into what you're passionate about. Pore over your journal entries and see if you can find a pattern that can point you in the right direction.
Finding your passion falls squarely in the realm of life coaching. Life coaches are there to help you reach fulfillment in your work and personal life. There are even specialty life coaches known as career coaches who, you guessed it, help you find a career you love.
Teachers are one of the most undervalued gems in life. Two of my biggest passions in life (playing guitar and writing) I pursue to this day because of the teachers who believed in me.
In the third grade, my class had to write a short story, and my teacher, Mrs. Burt, read mine, turned to me, and said, “Amy, you’re a good writer.” That sparked my interest in writing, and I never looked back.
When I was 10, my music class had to learn to play guitar, and as I worked to place my fingers on the fret to form a C chord, my teacher glanced at my hands and back at me and asked, “Do you play guitar?”
“No,” I told her.
“You should!” she encouraged me. Three years later, I got a guitar and have been playing ever since.
The bottom line is that teachers spend a lot of time with their students and often notice the talents students themselves don’t see. Listen to what your teachers have to say. And if you’re not in school anymore? Reconnect with your favorite teachers or professors from your past and see if they can offer guidance.
“Oh, sure!” I imagine you shouting at your screen. “That’s easy for you to say because you’ve already found your passion.”
But as you found out from the study above, finding your passion isn’t nearly as important as developing your passion. Interests aren’t planted in you at birth for you to discover later on. Rather, you have the power to cultivate interests, to grow beyond what you’re naturally inclined to do.
So even if you never find the thing that endlessly interests and motivates you and makes every day at work a breeze (spoiler alert: I don’t think such a thing exists), you still can find meaning, purpose and enjoyment in a job that isn’t your “passion.”
And that should give all of us a ton of hope, whether we’ve landed our dream job or not.
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