Thirty years ago, a job title told others how you earned money; today a job title tells others who you are.
In a highly capitalistic society, it makes sense that our sense of self would be derived from how we earn money. We’ve been taught that there’s who we are, what we love to do, and how we earn money, and somehow those all need to be one thing. I think this is why there’s so much pressure to find a job that encompasses our passion -- ultimately, we want to be able to easily communicate who we are by saying what we do for a living.
This leads to a lot of rhetoric -- and a lot of myths -- around “finding" passion. It’s become this elusive thing we have to find and then place at the center of our lives, but I think we’ve got it all wrong.
LIE #1: Your passion is one thing. And it’s big.
TRUTH: Your passion can be many little things.
You’ve probably been looking for this enormous, life-directing thing you can put in a big box and label proudly: My passion! Here it is! Everybody look!
Maybe you’re not able to “find your passion” because you’re actually excited and interested in many different, more bite-sized things. You get excited about graphic design, working with victims of child abuse, writing blogs, painting with charcoal, doing street photography, and reading about the history of capitalism. All those things don’t have to neatly tie together, and you don't have to choose just one to be “your passion” -- they are all little hints, little dots on the canvas that you should honor and explore.
You might become a graphic designer who also raises money for a women's shelter, or a psychologist who designs websites for her friends, or an economics professor who does amateur street photography. All of these different lives derive from the same messy conglomeration of many varied interests. They respect the notion that passion is pluralistic, multidimensional, and not confined to a title.
LIE #2: Passion is what you do.
TRUTH: Passion is how you live.
Many of us get caught up on passion the noun, which goes on our resume or in an elevator pitch, and forget all about passion the adjective (being passionate) or passion the adverb (living passionately).
Remember, why do we want to find our passion in the first place? Because we think once we find it we will be happy. And how would you act if you were happily living out your passion? Can’t you act like that anyway? Science shows emotions don’t necessarily dictate behavior, so behavior can influence the way we feel just as much.
So even if you hate your day job, you have a choice to come into work with a smile on your face or not. You have a choice to engage with your colleagues or not. You can be the somber flight attendant shuffling through your day or you can be like the Southwest Airlines crews who are infamous for cracking jokes over the PA and providing flawless customer service.
Engage, laugh, and bring your best self to everything you do. Even if you never “find your passion,” you will be a whole lot happier if you realize you don’t have to wait to find your passion to be happy.
LIE #3: Your passion has to be your job.
TRUTH: Passion could become your job, but it doesn’t have to.
You might love dancing salsa, so is that your passion? Should you be a professional dancer? Maybe not, but you should make time to dance. You might love painting, so should you become a professional artist? Maybe not, but you should paint whenever you feel called to the canvas. You might love kids, so is that your passion? Should you become a teacher? Not necessarily, but you can smile at all those little beings and strive to be a good mother or father someday and stay aware of the needs of children in whatever job you’re already doing.
LIE #4: You can’t make money from your passion.
TRUTH: Many people make money from their passion.
On the other hand, lots of people do make money doing what they love. I have a cousin who manages a five-star resort in the Carribean and gets paid to teach golf to celebrities. A friend of mine is the lead singer of a band and gets paid to play music all over the west coast. Another friend is a wildly successful Los Angeles screenplay writer. And I get paid to travel to developing countries and make reports about tourism and investment in those places.
But this doesn’t have to be the goal. You can also be a management consultant who is a passionate writer. You can take pride in writing excellent proposals, composing succinct emails, and doing Friday writing workshops for your colleagues. Or you can be a small shop owner selling only hammers, nails, and lightbulbs, but your flair for interior decorating turns it into a cozy specality shop.
Either way is okay as long as you’re doing what you feel called to do. Sometimes it might pay, sometimes it might not. Your soul isn’t synced up with the economy! One of these things is natural, the other isn't. The gifts in your blood aren't there because they're profitable, they're there because you're the one who needs to bring them to the world.
LIE #5: Your passion is permanent.
TRUTH: You might feel passionate about one thing now, and another thing later in your life.
Life is made up of many seasons. Trying to figure out what you’re going to be passionate about now and for the rest of your life is silly. If you’re struggling to answer the question “What is my passion?” try asking yourself, “What is my passion right now?”
LIE #6: It’ll be easy once you find it.
TRUTH: Pursuing your passion will probably be an uphill battle.
Many people who do what they love do it on the brink of practical, personal, and financial upset. They choose to live on the edge and make plenty of sacrifices for their craft. I've traveled for work and pleasure for nearly four years, but I’ve also never owned a car, had my name on an apartment lease, or sported the latest fashion or technology. I lead a minimalistic lifestyle because that’s what allows me the freedom to do what I love.
I know someone who pursued music for a decade and a half before ever hearing his song on the radio. I have another friend who's lived off less than $2,000/month in New York City for three years trying to launch a political organization. Yet another is a writer who works at a Fortune 500 by day and pens poetry by night. These are hard choices to make.
LIE #7: Passion is what you love to do.
TRUTH: Passion might be what you’re scared to do.
If you’re struggling to figure out what you’re supposed to do, stop thinking about what you love to do and start thinking about what you're scared to do. Fear might be a sign of what you’re meant to be doing.
Last week, a couple friends and I borrowed a grill, bought a bunch of food at CostCo, and set up an impromptu cook-out for the homeless in downtown San Francisco. I was scared it wouldn't work out or our efforts might not be welcomed, but in the end we fed over 100 very grateful people and got momentum for future intiaitvies. Fear showed me the way to an important project.
And this isn't what I'll do for my living, by the way, but it's one of the things I'll do because I'm alive.
LIE #8: Finding your passion is the goal.
TRUTH: Finding your passion is just the beginning.
Finding your passion requires courage and commitment. I know many people who know what their passion is, but they're scared and confused and not sure where to start. Actually, I’m one of them. I want to become psychologist someday, but I’m 27 and unqualified for the necessary graduate programs. That's not discouraging me though. I'm simply taking it one step at a time: saving money, finding related work and volunteer opportunities, and planning to go back to school eventually. It’s going to be a long process, but it'll be worth it.
For me, and for many of us, finding our passion isn’t the end, it’s just the beginning.