08/07/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

How Do I Find My Passion?

Dear Christine,

The career advice I have always heard is, "Do something you love and you will be successful." My problem is that I am 26 years old and I have a job that is okay but I don't love it. Everyone tells me to find something I am passionate about but there must be something wrong with me because I have no clue what that is. How do I find my passion?
- Passionless, Alabama

Dear Passionless,

There is nothing wrong with you. The popular career advice given out today to "follow your passion, and you will be happy and successful" is very vague and somewhat misleading. Most twenty somethings have not done enough to discover what they love to do. And the concept that each of us is born with a fire burning in our bellies for a particular career has spread like a bad flu. True, some individuals have known from a young age what they love but this is not the norm.

You see passion is not something you "find" like an apartment, a new restaurant or a great pair of shoes. Discovering your passion is an evolutionary and unique process. Most of us assume passion arrives like a thunderbolt of inspiration, instantly spreading wonderfully warm feelings and clarity about what we should do with our life. But do you know what the word "passion" truly means? Webster's defines "passion" as "powerful feeling" and "great enthusiasm." Further definitions include "emotions as distinguished from reason," "suffering," and "anger and rage." Passion is not logical; it does not express itself in tidy, left-brain career steps. Nor is passion easy. The road to passion or "great enthusiasm" may require some "suffering." You may experience "anger and rage" and "emotions distinguished from reason" to reach the "powerful feeling" of discovering passionate work.

Living out all aspects of the definition of passion was absolutely true for me. I did not discover what I enjoy doing until my late twenties, and I was not able to make a full-time career out of it until almost thirty. Along the way, I encountered frustration, disappointment, jobs I hated, dead-end career paths, and having to do things I didn't really want to. The most valuable thing that I learned is that passion is a journey. It is not something that you can find, it is a discovery process - it cannot be planned. Passion emerges from of a myriad of experiences, a commitment to do self-investigation and exploration, and a willingness to risk not adhering to societal expectations.

And just being passionate about something is not a formula for fast success, and if you try to rise too fast, you might miss important lessons along the way. Having passion doesn't keep us from experiencing pit stops in our career: sacrifices, fear, doubt, confusion, lack of money, and jobs we don't like. Don't let being stuck in one of these pit stops make you think you lack passion! Remember, passion is more a way of being than a destination, and it does not create satisfaction or ideal employment all by itself.

Also, you mentioned that you do have a job now and in this job market that is something to be grateful for. Don't reserve living a passionate life for 9 to 5 Monday through Friday. As long as your job affords you an acceptable quality of life, what is wrong with that? Passion is a matter of perspective and can be created in many different aspects of our lives. It's even possible to approach a "mundane" job with even more enthusiasm. It's important that you don't underestimate the work you do, despite how "passionless" it can feel at times. Avoid confusing passion for a career with your purpose in life.

So relax. Enjoy where you are. There is nothing wrong with you and you are not a passionless person. I know there are things in your life that you love and that you love doing. Focus on those rather than obsessing about what you think you are missing. Look for new experiences to embark on, new people to meet, and new challenges to explore. Notice how you feel and what you are thinking when you do certain things. Remember, discovering your passion is an self-instigated exploratory process - there is no manual. Allow yourself some time and be open to the possibility that your passion will find you rather than you having to find it.


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