01/20/2015 06:30 pm ET Updated Mar 22, 2015

The Passion Myth: Why Teens Struggle to Find Their Purpose in Life

It seems you can't look, listen, or feel for sixty seconds without seeing, hearing, or bumping into the word. It's always and it's everywhere, popping onto the covers of countless magazines, serving as the subject of countless books, and springing from the lips of countless teachers and speakers. It's the focus of adulthood and the goal of adolescence.

It's also the cause of misery for millions. The word is passion.

People the world over, especially teens, are obsessed with finding their passion. The common command: Go to school, earn a degree, get a job that fills you with passion, live happily ever after. The only problem is they're doing it all wrong (which we'll get to in a moment), leaving them without the answers they were hoping to find. Instead, they find confusion, guilt, and shame.

I see this time and again in my work with teens. They feel intense pressure to live their true purpose. When I ask for details, the story is often the same, and it's that story that causes all the confusion and misery.

They are waiting for passion to arrive.

They believe the answer will come to them, a sign from the heavens or a nudge on earth below. They are thinking. They are hoping. They are waiting. They are breaking the first law of passion: It demands action.

I am happily dedicated to helping teens become successful adults. The work fills me with joy and excitement. It's clearly my passion. But it didn't start that way. It started with odd jobs and random experiences, from working at a local Subway and waiting tables to selling nuts and bolts and working as a counselor at a summer camp.

Through it all, I paid attention. I didn't blindly move from side to side, but instead knowingly moved forward. I learned all I could from each experience, both about the task at hand and, more important, about myself and my abilities and interests.

Studies show that passion stems from doing things that tap into your natural abilities while challenging you to deliver at the height of those powers. You can't, as most believe, discover these things by thought alone. You must engage with the real world and unearth them as you move forward.

Every odd job or random opportunity was a stepping stone toward my ultimate calling. I learned things about myself I never would have known had I sat and thought on the subject. Over time the picture of my abilities and interests became clearer and clearer, eventually guiding me toward the work I love and do today.

I didn't need to discover my ultimate purpose at 18. I couldn't. Chances are you can't either.

You can no longer wait for passion to arrive; it won't knock you on the head as you sit patiently whiling away the hours. You must start experiencing all that life has to offer, paying attention to the clues you find while you're busy living.

Those clues will lead you to your passion, but it's up to you to take those all important steps forward.