The happiest people may be the ones who have found ways to make their passions in life be their “work,” whether it is work they are paid for or work they do voluntarily. These people don’t work, as many of us do, to enable them to engage in their passions intermittently—when they can find the time. For such people, what they do is not work in the sense of toil; it is enjoyable and meaningful.
Unfortunately, the majority of people have not managed this level of satisfaction, even if they know what their passions are. Many people have given up their dreams of doing something they really care about. More unfortunate are those who have not discovered something to be passionate about. These people view their work simply as a necessity, as something they have to do in order to support themselves and their families and meet the expectations of society. They follow the path that opens before them without questioning its meaning or the satisfaction they derive from it. They may blame their lack of fulfillment or unhappiness on others, not realizing that energy and fulfillment come from within. They may regret the choices they have made or think that something is missing from their lives but not know what to do about it. Often, they do not realize that there is another way to lead their lives.
A positive source of passion gives meaning and excitement and purpose to life. With a little help, many people can begin to discover or rediscover what their passions are and change their lives to better reflect what is in their hearts.
When we think of “living our passions,” we often think of people such as successful musicians, athletes, artists, dancers, and medical researchers. But there are many other examples of everyday people who have found ways to do what they care about and to feel good about how they earn their living or spend their free time. For instance, one man took early retirement from a corporate job and opened a motorcycle-repair shop; another person volunteers with an animal rescue organization; and a third is taking night courses to become a landscape designer. One attorney who wanted to “run away and join the circus” as a child now does volunteer work at a children’s hospital…These people overcame the deterrents to fulfillment and found ways to live their passions. When we find the courage to pursue our passions, we often achieve things we might not previously have dreamed possible, as we open ourselves to the inspiration, energy, and commitment that come from within.
So what prevents us from discovering our passions and our potentials? People often cite constraining life circumstances, such as lack of education; lack of money; too many other commitments; or lack of opportunities for women, for people of their race, for people of their age, and so on. But what really holds most people back is the basic emotion of fear. Many people fear the unknown. Some fear the disapproval or scorn of others. Fear of change and fear of risk lead them to create scenarios of failure and self-limiting action. At the least, they are afraid of making fools of themselves by trying something new. Self-doubt and fear of failure lead to inertia. Inertia becomes a habit, and they become so inured to their routines that they become almost numb, moving through life or their jobs in a state of apathy.
HERE ARE FOUR WAYS TO DISCOVER YOUR PASSION
There are four basic ways in which people can discover their passions:
- Discovery by Epiphany: An epiphany is a (usually unexpected) life-changing experience that creates a sudden and intense awareness. The effect is a powerful “wake-up call.” Such a realization does not always result from
a major life event; it can occur in a moment of solitude or in the midst of daily life.
- Discovery Through Change: Major life changes, such as birth, marriage, divorce, illness, recovery, a change of job, and death, can cause you to look at how you live your life and what you value. As you travel the road of life, a stumble or the call of a bird may reveal to you a new road that you were not aware of.
- Discovery Through Intuition: You must sense your passion in order to identify it. For some, this is easy; they have always sensed the course they wish to pursue, even if they have had to work hard to make it happen.
- Discovery Through Experience: For others, discovering their passions requires experimentation. This may occur gradually and subtly, as we weed out our likes and dislikes and find that we gravitate continually to a particular type of action. Or it may occur when we are introduced to something new that we had not experienced before. A gradual realization that something calls to us reveals a passion that we had not known before. Discovery through experience may require some experimentation, taking some risks, and trying something new.
Sometimes, discovering a passion requires shutting out the distractions of everyday life and focusing on the messages of the heart. It is easier to examine our lives if we are distanced—however briefly—from them. This adds perspective to our reflection. Part of this examination may include reflection on the past, on what you loved to do and how you felt when engaged in various activities. Part of it includes an assessment of what you like and dislike in the present, what gives you energy or saps it, and what gives you a sense of fulfillment or joy. You can ask those close to you to help you identify what you seem to do well and most eagerly, what your strengths and talents are, and what your weaknesses are, based on their observations of you. You may be surprised at what others think you excel in.
Then you can look toward the future. What things do you hope to be doing? If you could start over, what would you hope to accomplish? What vision of your future most appeals to you? Narrow this down as best you can.
Take all the information you have gleaned and look for connections between the things you have identified. Then do some exploration to test your assumptions. If you think that something may be a passion, try different aspects of it (for example, reading about it, taking a class, talking to those who live with it, or doing it on a volunteer basis in your free time).
HOW TO RECOGNIZE A PASSION?
It may not always be easy to distinguish between a passion and an interest. Both may be something that you look forward to doing. However, a primary indication that you are passionate about what you are doing is when you find that you lose all sense of time while you are engaged in it. This has been called “flow” and being in a “zone.” It is a state in which you become completely absorbed in what you are doing. There are indications that an activity is more than an interest if:
- You lose track of time when you are engaged in it;
- You perform beyond your normal capabilities when you are engaged in it;
- Your energy level is higher when you are engaged in it;
- You feel rejuvenated and good after engaging in it;
- You become excited when you think about it;
- Your enthusiasm for it is consistent over time;
- You feel more confident or empowered when you are engaged in it;
- Others notice or comment on your involvement or performance in it; and/or
- You dream about it.
If you are not aware of your passions, you can open yourself to opportunities and experiences that can reveal them. Reading books, taking classes, going new places, talking with friends and relatives, and trying new activities all can help you to identify preferences. By reflecting on your past and current experiences and the feelings they evoke, you can begin to identify your passions.
INTEGRATING YOUR PASSION INTO YOUR LIFE
To begin, you need to have a sense of where you are now, what you hope to accomplish, what you are willing to sacrifice, and what you hope to gain, in order to begin living your passion and benefiting from it.
Identify Your Purposes
First, you need to identify your purposes, the reasons for pursuing your passions. Passion without purpose is not likely to lead very far and may result in “going off the deep end,” losing a perspective of reality, and/or abandoning the important things in life for the temporarily exciting. A passion is not a purpose in itself. A purpose may be to earn a living, to create something in a particular area of endeavor, to build self-satisfaction, or to help others. You may have more than one purpose, which is fine, as long as they are complementary. You also may have several options for action in regard to your passion, and it is a good idea to identify and explore as many as possible before making a decision. Try to anticipate the possible outcomes of each option. In the end, your purposes bring significance to the pursuit of your passion.
Second, you need perspective. Perspective involves both the heart and the head. One danger in embracing your passion is ignoring your current circumstances. Part of perspective is an analysis of one’s talent. Loving to play baseball does not mean that you have what it takes to become a professional athlete. But it may lead you to become a coach for a school or community league. A geologist friend who loves art (but who has limited artistic talent) chose to study the history of art as an avocation and now gives lectures at his city’s art museum. A content-based passion often becomes an avocation or recreation. Another part of perspective is identifying what it will take to pursue your passion and what you are willing to give up to attain your goal. You do not want to give up more than you will gain or give up something you will regret losing in the long run. The secret is to find a way to pursue your passion within the bounds of current reality. A passion without perspective easily can become an obsession, which is not a healthy state.
Create an Action Plan
As with any new venture, you need to develop an action plan. What actions will you take? What structure will you have to build to support your plan? Will you need to obtain more knowledge? How will you do that? What networking can you do? What contacts can you make that will help? Consider the effects on those you care about. Consider timing and opportunities. Do some investigation. Assess what is realistic and what is not. Identify what will help you to achieve your goal and what will not. Incorporate what you learn into your plan.
Build in some flexibility and contingency plans. Few roads are completely smooth, and anticipation of challenges and setbacks (and your responses to these) can help to keep you from becoming discouraged and getting off track.
Before you begin to implement your plan, set the stage. Inform those close to you of what you are planning to do—at least to some degree. You do not have to solicit their approval, but you probably don’t want to burn your bridges, either. As far as possible, create the physical conditions conducive to your progress. Identify those habits that might hinder your progress and refine your routines to support your action plan. Seek out people who understand your passion and will be supportive of your progress.
Implement Your Plan
Beginning to implement your action plan requires leaving your comfort zone and taking some risks. What these risks involve depends on your particular plan and situation. Continue to use both your head and your heart as you make choices and decisions. When you perform with passion, you view challenges as opportunities rather than as obstacles.
As you proceed, you will change. Others will notice your sense of purpose and empowerment and your energy. You can enlist others to help you achieve your goals, and you can serve as a role model for others who have not yet begun to identify and live their passions.
Stay the Course
As with any other endeavor, integrating your passion into your life requires sticking with it. Few things that are worth achieving come easily or quickly. For example, many of us have vowed to engage in healthy living or to change our dietary habits, only to tire of the effort and become engulfed in our old ways of doing things. The difference here is that when you are pursuing a passion, your heart is in it as well as your head. This helps to build willpower and commitment, even in the face of setbacks.
Remember that any good action plan is flexible. If you run up against a reality that you had not envisioned, amend the plan rather than giving up on your passion altogether. View changes to your plan as improvements rather than as failures. There are many roads to satisfaction, and you may discover rewards that you never knew existed.
Finally, be open to opportunity. It is amazing what comes our way when we are open to recognizing, appreciating, and utilizing it.
Have a great Monday and week ahead.