It seems as though everyone is talking about “passion” these days. From bloggers to career counsellors to even post-secondary institutions. The mantra takes on different forms, but usually contains elements of “find your passion and the money will follow,” “if you do the thing you love, you’ll never work a day in your life,” Â and the like.
The implications are usually quite simple: everyone has a passion, a thing they love to do more than anything else, and if you’re not doing that thing, you’re missing out. And how do you know when you’ve found your passion? Well, lightning strikes, the heavens open up, there’s a glorious rainbow — in other words, “you just know”.
Finding Your Passion
So there’s a lot of people out there spending a lot of time (and money!) on books, exercises and programs intended to help them discover their passion.
But what of the people who get frustrated and feel like they’re going nowhere (maybe even going backwards!) every time they try to discover their passion. The message coming from all sides seems to be clear: everyone has a passion. If you can’t find it, there’s something wrong — either with your approach, or (gasp!) with you. Try harder. Try this other program. Do more soul-searching.
It can be devastating.
If you’ve found yourself in that position, I want to let you in on a little secret. There’s a good reason you may never find your one true passion: you may not have one.
The Myth of Passion
Okay, before you all start flogging me or rapidly unsubscribing from the site, hear me out.
Some people simply love many things. Rather than having all their energy funnelled into one passion, they distribute it across many things that they love equally. There are no angelic choirs, no booming voices from the sky, and no electric sparks. There’s never one thing that jumps out above all else as something you were truly born to do.
And that’s perfectly okay.
Yes, it’s okay to love painting and abstract mathematics and classical Latin and quantum physics and playing the jaw harp. It’s okay, even fantastic, to love all of them equally, and to be unable to choose one of them as your “true passion.” And you know what? You don’t need to.
Doing What You Love
The “find your passion” mentality tells us that our life’s work should be related to our one true passion. That turns out to be not very helpful to those of us who don’t have a solitary passion. So what do we do instead?
First, stop focusing on finding your passion. The longer you spend searching for that one thing, the less time you’ll have to actually do the things you enjoy.
Second, give yourself permission to explore the things you love. Yes, that’s plural. Remember, you’re not supposed to be looking for one thing — instead, realize it’s okay to spend your days doing more than just one thing! (This isn’t really all that novel — after all, no one ever only does one thing between waking and falling asleep — but it’s just rarely said out loud)
Third, do that which you love. It’s that simple, really. If you enjoy doing something, then do it. It doesn’t have to have lightning bolts, it doesn’t have to make you boatloads of money (although somewhere along the line, you’ll probably want some income, somewhere), it doesn’t have to be done for more than 5 minutes at a time (unless you want to) and it doesn’t even have to be important. It just has to be something that you like doing. End of story.
What If You Don’t Know What You Love?
Realizing that you can have many loves is liberating — but it can also be paralysing to suddenly be free. It’s like the prisoner who is released from prison for the first time in a decade, who just wants to go back to his cell because the opportunities “out there” are just too overwhelming.
There’s an exercise in Barbara Sher’s bestselling book Wishcraft (available for free to read online) in which you are challenged to describe your ideal day. For a long time, I was stuck trying to complete the exercise. I couldn’t figure out what I would want to do so much that I would want to do it more than anything else on that ideal day.
I’d fallen victim to the myth of passion. I thought my ideal day should be comprised of me doing the thing (or maybe two things) that I loved more than anything else in the world. And I kept drawing a blank; I couldn’t think of a single thing.
So I asked my Twitter friends for advice, and of course, they came through in spades. It’s not hard to figure out what you enjoy, or what you love to do. Simply think back to what you’ve enjoyed doing in the past. When was the last time you had a good time? And the time before that? It might have been a simple 5 minute breakfast with your significant other, it might have been a day out in the mountains, whatever.
What you enjoy and love doesn’t have to be grand, and it doesn’t have to be the first thing that jumps out as “oh my god, do I ever love doing X” (although, you might have a couple of those!). It just has to be something that made you feel good while you were doing it.
And you can have as many of those somethings as you like. The myth of passion is simply that: a myth. You may not have one. You may have as many as there are stars in the sky. And that’s okay.