THE BLOG
12/09/2012 11:32 am ET Updated Feb 08, 2013

Are You Living Your Passion?

In a recent blog, I explained why we are at our best when we let passion lead the way.

Here's a quote:

Simply put, passion is the engine that drives excellence. It is what motivates us to continue pursuing our dreams when times get tough, when we get tired, or when others tell us we can't possibly succeed. And when passion and performance meet, we experience our greatest satisfaction and impact in life.

The research is clear on this: People are most effective when they're doing what they love. It is also here that we experience greater emotional well-being and enrich the lives of others; being authentic has a way of doing that.

If you want to reach your full potential, start living your passion. Here's how to do it.

Discover your passion thread. Begin by recognizing that your passion is discovered in your experiences. It is in the everyday unfolding of life, in those serendipitous encounters, that we discover what we cannot live without. It may appear hidden, but it's there. Here's how to look for it.

First, think about the most meaningful experiences in your life, those times when you felt the greatest personal satisfaction and most importantly made a difference. Passion is only lasting when it's connected to a larger purpose, something in the service of others.

Next, write down what made each experience so significant. What makes you want to experience it again and again?

Reflect on this and look for themes that link all of your experiences, a common denominator. This is your passion thread -- the various chapters and experiences of life that, when connected together, give you meaning.

This is your passion. This is your purpose. This is what you need to be doing.

Go on a road trip. The great American poet James Russell Lowell once said, "The wise man travels to discover himself."

If you're just starting out, or at a crossroads and not sure where to go next, go on a road trip.

Perhaps not literally, although I highly recommend it -- we are never too old for an adventure. Whatever you do, just make sure it causes you to break out of your normal routine and is a bit scary. Go back to school, learn a new skill, go rock climbing, or join a club that includes people you don't know.

Facing risk reveals who we are; entering the unknown reveals who we can become.

Years ago, a friend of mine worked as an engineer for a large petroleum company. He was well on his way up the corporate ladder. However, he was bored. Something was missing. Feeling unfulfilled, he decided to step out of his comfort zone and volunteered to build water wells in Western Sudan, home to some of the most extreme and dangerous conditions on the planet.

Under the blistering desert sun, he encountered himself and discovered his passion -- using his engineering skills to improve the lives of marginalized people around the world. He quit his job and is now COO of a large international development organization. Over the past decade, he has impacted the lives of millions of people.

This is the power of passion. When we choose to face our fears and live authentically, we can change the world.

Grow where you're planted. If you're not ready to make a radical life change, that's okay -- you can start doing what you love close to home. If your passion is a hobby, carve out time each week to do it. Hold this time sacred. Ideally, make it part of your daily routine.

If your passion is vocational, volunteer in the community in ways that align with your passion and purpose. It could be in a civic group, Boys and Girls club, church, or a fundraiser. Volunteering will also help you acquire knowledge and skills you can use later on.

You can also do this at work.

Recently, a client of mine wanted to start a consulting business. He was a corporate manager who caught the entrepreneurial bug. But he wasn't ready to quit his day job with the security it offered. I suggested he parlay his knowledge into an internal consulting position. He proposed the idea to his boss and is now the go-to person in his area of expertise for the entire company.

Ask, plan, go. If doing what you love requires moving in a new direction, here's a few things to consider before you go.

First, following your passion involves risk -- personal, professional, financial, and relational. Start by realistically assessing your strengths and weaknesses and challenges you may face. Do you have the resolve and resources needed to succeed?

Second, ask for advice. Create your own personal "board of directors." Take them out for drinks, pick their brains, ask pointed questions. Listen and learn. And keep it a two-way street. Give those who've helped you something in return, even if it means just keeping them updated on your progress. When you make it big, acknowledge the help you received along the way, then pass it on to the next generation.

Third, consider partnering with people who have a similar passion. This is especially useful if you lack the capital, connections, or skills needed to succeed. It also helps spread the risk and expedites the rewards.

Ultimately, following your passion involves planning. Do your homework. Create a list of specific goals and a detailed plan of what it will take to achieve those goals. Create gateways (deadlines keep us motivated and moving) and benchmarks of success. And throughout, have trusted friends and colleagues hold you accountable.

Once you've done all this, go get it. Hold tightly to your passion and never let go. Let it infuse your life with meaning and purpose and become the motivator for everything you do. Then, put in the hard work needed to turn your dreams into reality. Execution is essential; it's the only way to get to where you want to go. But that's the topic for my next post.

Until then, do what you love and don't look back. It's the best place to be.

Dr. Frank Niles is a behavioral scientist, adventure athlete, executive coach, and speaker. Learn more at frankniles.com or email Frank at frank@frankniles.com.

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