10/23/2012 04:01 pm ET Updated Dec 23, 2012

Passionate Pursuits Series: The Nine Catalysts

I have identified nine distinct catalysts that most people travel to find and follow their own heartfelt work. Think of these paths or icons for you to mull over, try on. If you ache for something of your own, this can lead you to identifying it. If you think you're stuck, you may be inspired by possibilities that will lead you to feeling fulfilled. If your family or friends are searching for their way, this might help you guide them. Of the nine, one or maybe two may beckon to you. Only cats seem to lead nine lives, but in trying to find ourselves, we recognize there are many ways to marry invention and need.

We need to make sense out of what we do and how we live. We all live in a world in transition, whether it is the outer world or our own private one in which our own realities get confused in our search for work that ignites our passion, work that makes a difference for us and, hopefully, for others.

Here's a brief overview of nine paths I'll be exploring with you that I hope will guide you to developing your own passionate pursuits.

1. The Kernel Theory: This innate path is clearly a self-evident gift, a talent that is unstoppable from childhood. It's an obsession or drive that is clear in you and also recognized by others. It is unformed until we develop it and persist towards mastery. Examples include a drummer who becomes a music producer, a writer who becomes editor of a magazine, and a whiz with LEGOs who becomes an architect.

2. Transforming Crisis: While all of us experience tragedy, our responses are different. Some recover and go on with their lives, but others find a crusade in that very tragedy and in the process create a career, finding meaning from suffering. For instance, an actor, paralyzed after falling off a horse, dedicates himself to finding cures for spinal/brain injuries and becomes the real Superman.

3. Innovating New Markets for Unmet Needs: Once you recognize that something you know about or have experienced is needed, you learn how to manifest it. Necessity is the mother of invention, and we can count on bad economic times to spur ingenuity. Just think of inventors of new technology and social media who saw a need to connect, or gluten-free restaurants popping up as more allergies and illnesses are discovered.

4. Realizing Epiphany: This is the "Aha!" phenomenon -- the most wished for because of its ease and specificity, but alas, the most limited in reality. It is our light bulb inner response to a cue realized immediately. In a flash you realize that you can create a dream that you have never dreamed before, one that only you can make come alive. For example: A soldier on leave visits an art museum and sees some famous paintings whose images were on his playing cards when he was a kid. Suddenly he knows that he too can make art and enrolls in art school.

5. Unmasking the Last Career: The summons to do something meaningful often rings in mid-life. You push away the boundaries where you are and rise to a new level of leadership, leave one organization for a different market or interest, or end the course of your work to begin something new. People in their 40's and 50's are getting graduate and law degrees, people in their 70's are writing poetry and starting comedy improv classes, and retirees are flooding volunteer positions to help and feel needed.

6. Allowing Avocation: This catalyst lies in that other love often separated yet concurrent from your day job. Some call it a hobby, in which you are enraptured by your enduring attention to something you can't or won't make your prime drive. Why not take it public and earn our livelihood through that which we love? Consider the married couple, both lawyers, who enjoyed dining out so much that they started a small newsletter for their friends. From that beginning, the Zagats birthed a huge business of rating restaurants and more all over the world.

7. Expanding the Fragment: Think opposite from synergy. Think of a part of the whole, a piece or fragment in which you focus your total attention. A product or discovery becomes so overwhelmingly interesting and important that everything else is dropped or delegated to others. For instance, a physicist from a renowned laboratory focuses only on new adaptations of lasers that interest him and begins start-ups that lead the industry.

8. The Touchstone Inheritance: Inheritance comes in many forms. Besides inheriting our family business, some of us follow our mentors who often hand us their mantle to follow as if we had chosen it for ourselves. Consider a young man who worked for a great newsletter publisher and learned the business firsthand. He started his own newsletters and in turn trained his daughter to become the publisher.

9. Connecting the Dots: This particular catalyst is identified only in hindsight, which gives us the ability to identify seemingly unrelated activities that have been intertwined and led to a career. Our life pattern of interest forms a map that reveals a career not chosen beforehand. For example, an actor who becomes a playwright, or a folksinger who becomes a union leader.

Our real success lies in ourselves, not mapped from outside. Far from fitting into an established order, you find your true self -- not by doing only what you have been doing or banking on -- but from continuously experimenting, tinkering, honing experience. Over the coming months, I'll be sharing both my own research as well as interviews with and stories about successful people who have already found their callings.

The greatest despair is to not become the person you were meant to be. -- Kierkegaard