We’re supposed to find and pursue our passion, our sort of personal Holy Grail. But that’s easier said than done. How does one find their passion?
When your passion is combined with aptitude, or natural ability, then you are in what Ken Robinson calls the Element (in his book, The Element). Positive psychologists refer to it as “flow”. You will catch glimpses of your natural ability or talent when you yearn to do or learn something, when you are a quick learner, if you are intuitive about a subject, if you lose time because you become engrossed in what you are doing, if you are showing glimpses of excellence, are very satisfied by your activity, and if you receive positive feedback from what you do.
It’s possible your passion is an activity that you do all the time, but since it comes so easily to you, like breathing or walking, you may not even notice it. You take it for granted that, since this activity is effortless, it must be easy for everyone.
I found my passion when I realized something that I’ve been doing all my life, that I love doing, that I do naturally and effortlessly, that people have told me for years that I am so good at and I should do for a living, was right under my nose. Like Dorothy, I had the ability already within myself to pursue my passion. I just had yet to recognize it.
For someone who considers herself high on the self-knowledge scale, it’s somewhat embarrassing to admit that it took me this long to figure it out. A friend must’ve seen my potential and so nominated me to coordinate a leadership development program. Though I love my job, until I participated in this activity, I never really understood when people said, “I can’t believe they pay me to do this.” That is how it feels to be in the Element. Yes, the leadership component is awesome and cool, but the part that I absolutely love, and feel I have some ability for, is the personal development piece. I would do it all day for free (if I could).
So, this was always just right under my nose, there for my discovery. Therefore, I believe an important element of finding your passion is to be open to the possibilities. This passion is not exactly aligned with my training as a scientist and job teaching in a STEM subject, so I had to be willing to part with a portion of my self-conception of what I do and who I am. Also, I had to be willing to try something new. Fortunately for me, this opportunity was offered to me because someone else saw my potential, and I was willing to take the chance when offered. So, try to identify those talents that maybe you are taking for granted. Ask others what they think your talents are. Don’t be afraid to explore and release any self-limiting thoughts about who you are and what you can do!
In the absence of opportunity coming to knock on your door, I also recommend being proactive in trying things you’ve always wanted to try. Our passions were there in abundance when we were young, but because of the demands of real life, and the focus of the educational system on traditional academic subjects, many of us hid or forgot those passions. Some years ago, when trying to re-invent myself, I used as a guide a book entitled Something More: Excavating Your Authentic Self by Sarah Ban Breathnach. The author takes you on a journey exploring your past with the aim of re-discovering your lost passions. One of my lost passions is dancing. I used to fantasize about becoming a ballet or Broadway dancer, but my practical side put the kabosh on that idea. The kabosh never extinguished my yearning, and so a few years ago I signed up for Highland dance, tap dance and ballroom dance. Now I’m interested in learning hip hop. I will look ridiculous at my age doing it, and I’ll never make a dime at it, but who cares? I’m going to have a blast.
“If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”
— Joseph Campbell in Reflections in the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion