Finding Your Passion

There is this idea that you find out your one true passion and then use it to make a living. Its’s a fine idea in theory, but how well does it hold up in reality? Well, I’ve found it to be more of an exception than the norm. In fact, I was a proponent of this idea for a long time. My challenge then became having too many interests and figuring out which one to go ahead with (because I wanted to do them all). At a later date, I was gently reminded of Thoreau’s words, “We are not born into the world to do everything, but to do something”, but I’m getting ahead of myself here.

How not to find your passion
Writer Malcolm Gladwell made the 10,000-hour rule (from psychologist K. Anders Ericsson) famous, which he considered the key to success, and which involved doing a specific task with deliberate practice and feedback for 20 hours a week for 10 years. But how do you know where to put those 10,000 hours?

Here’s the thing. Unless you know as a child your one true love for what you want to do like Tiger Woods who got a toy putter to play with when he was 7 months old and he took to it like a moth to a flame, for the vast majority of us, the usual (normal) way is to be exposed to a multitude of things in our childhood and to let our heart gravitate towards what we feel is right for us without setting any expectations upfront (inadvertent pressure).

Parents can help their children by getting out of their way by way of not putting (inadvertent and undue) pressure on their kids expecting them to be (and to do) a certain thing.

First of all, just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean it’s a strength. Second of all, being good at something shouldn’t have to mean putting the kids in an advanced level to “accelerate their progress” with other “mature peers”. More often than not, that strategy backfires as a result of burnout from doing that one thing (to the exclusion of all else), because now you’re solely fixated on the outcome sans the joy of the process.

For instance, when Roger Federer was asked in his early teens to move to an advanced peer group to accelerate his progress in a sport, he refused saying he wanted to have fun and play with his friends.

When you’re only focused on the outcome (particularly at the outset), it’s all about having (and sticking) to a regimen (without the fun), which defeats the point of doing something to begin with.

Contrary to how Tiger Woods and Roger Federer found their passion, Andre Agassi didn’t want to play tennis. He played it because his father wanted him to be a top professional tennis player. Sure, Agassi was successful (by all of the usual external metrics of success), but at what (internal) cost? It just goes to show how you can be good at something and yet not enjoy it. That’s not a strength, but a weakness.

Think about it this way. What’s the point of reaching your destination (having all of that success), if you didn’t enjoy the journey?! How we do something matters much more than what we do (accomplish) in our lives, but I digress.

The other significant underlying point here is we don’t have to prove anything to anyone (most of all, our parents), because we are enough simply by the virtue of who we are. It’s imperative that parents realize this and let kids live their lives in the present as opposed to always having them prepare for the future, because if you’re always preparing for the future, when are you actually living your life?

What is passion
With all that said, how do we go about finding our passion? Well, before we do that, let’s define it. What I mean by passion is a convergence of what we like doing and that its of value to others. When we have found the intersection of those two things, then we would have found our passion. Of course, it’s much easier said than done. The journey of discovery is hardly ever as linear and never quite as straightforward as I’ve made it out to be. Be that as it may, we can always connect the dots looking back. As they say, hindsight is always 20/20.

Here are a couple of ways to think about passion:

  • Let the process determine the outcome (which is the norm for most of us including Roger Federer), or
  • Let the outcome inform the process (which is more of an exception as was the favorable case with Tiger Woods, and less favorably for Agassi)

I suggest you take the first option especially if you’re starting out early in your childhood. It’s only when we relieve ourselves of any pressure are we able to do something worth doing.

Take the case of Roger Federer. He was exposed to multiple sports in his childhood before he went all in on tennis in his mid teens. There was no upfront pressure put on him by his parents to play a particular sport or even have any expectation to be any good at any of them, despite the fact that his mother was a tennis coach, but who nonetheless refused to coach him because he wouldn’t return balls during practice. Imagine that!

How to find your passion
Here’s the thing. You aren’t going to find out that one passion by reading books or through research. The only way to figure it out is to do a bunch of things that potentially interest you before you find what resonates with you more than others. This can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few years.

It’s the same with books, music, movies, games, or any art. How do you know what you like until you have consumed any of those things? You don’t. Likewise, the only way to find out is to keep doing things. If you do something and find it’s not for you, then that’s great because you know it wasn’t meant for you and then you can go do something else and see how that feels (and works out).

The point isn’t to keep looking until you find something you like and then you do that thing (particularly for someone in their late teens or young adulthood). You find a way to sustain yourself while you keep looking for that thing passively without settling.

Of course, once you’ve know you’ve found your passion, then you can use the 10,000-hour rule to hone your craft by way of regular practice and feedback (preferably via mentorship/apprenticeship of some kind) over a period of time, because then you’re in it for the long haul.

Final thoughts
Above all, I believe that we all have a story to tell and I think of passion as a way of sharing our story with the world. That thing (means of expression) could be film, design, music, cinematography, writing fiction, playing tennis, architecture, or what have you.

We are designed to be useful to others. We owe it to ourselves (and to others) to share our stories with others and inspire them to share theirs.

If you haven’t found your passion, I urge you to keep looking (by way of doing the work) and not settling for anything less. Your heart already knows what it wants even if it’s going to take you some time to catch up to it.

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