07/12/2014 09:45 am ET Updated Sep 11, 2014

3 Smart Ways to Find Your Career Passion

What do you say when someone asks you, "what's your passion?" How do you know if an interest is a true passion with career merit or just a passing fancy? And why does it matter?

Sometimes a passion is just a little spark that tells you you're on the right track. Sometimes it's that thing that you can do for hours and suddenly time has just slipped right by. Passion can be a lot of things and it differs for every person. Most of the time we have a good idea of what our passions are and which of them could potentially turn into a career opportunity. For many though, a clear passion may not be evident when we're deciding to start a business, shift careers, change companies or just infuse new energy into a stale job.

When that's the case there are three exercises that can help you clarify what your passions are:

  1. Follow the books. Head to your local bookstore or library and spend some time perusing the subjects in the store take note of where you naturally gravitate. You will find those subjects that you are really drawn to are your passions. Maybe you tend to head over to the music section. Maybe you spend a lot of time looking at gardening books. Really start to look at your patterns and your behaviors in the bookstore or library and see what you start pick up what kinds of books you want to check out or purchase. When you get home, note if you are able to read all the way through the books and that you want to go even deeper to learn more about that subject or topic. That sustained level of interest is a really good indication of where your passion may lie.
  2. Watch time. Think about the last time you spent the day doing an activity and time just flew by. It may have been a time you went out to the garden to pull a few weeds and eight hours later you were still out there digging, planting and just being a part of nature. Perhaps you went to the music store to pick up a new CD or some new sheet music and three hours later you were still there. There are a lot of different ways that you can spend your time and it is those times that really feel like you are at peace, those times that make you happy, those times that really align all of your energies that are possible directions that your career could take.
  3. Ask someone. Ask your friends and family what you're good at -- it's as simple as that. If they tell you you're a good listener maybe a life coach is something you should look into. If you're really good with animals maybe you could do something in that area. If you're good at spreadsheets or helping people with their finances, perhaps a career helping businesses with their books is a direction you could take. Everybody has a special gift that they are given and it's up to you to determine what that gift is and how you're going to bestow it upon the world. So ask your friends, family and coworkers what you're good at and then take stock of your own traits, behaviors and patterns. Notice what you're good at, when people gravitate towards you, when you feel like people are relating to you in a positive way -- those are times when a core passion is being showcased.
Once you narrow down a few passion areas, the next step is to identify how they could play out career-wise:
  • Look at different traits that you possess in the workplace and how a passion could amplify that.
  • What possible opportunities are there to turn a passion into a paying job?
  • Are there companies that support your passion who you could work for or with?
  • Could you bring your passion into your current job by introducing a new group, cause or project?
  • What industries do your passions fall into and what are the opportunities within them?
If you love beauty products you could join a direct sales company that sells skincare and cosmetics. If you get fired up by helping kids in developing countries, seek out companies that rally around that cause. If you love to run, start a running club at work. Really think big. There is a need for the passion that you have to offer the world. Start with that passion and it will always guide you in the right direction.

Want more tips on personal and professional growth? Listen to The Happy Hour Effect podcast for weekly inspiration.

Share your comments: How have you turned your personal passions into a career?