According to a Pew Research study, only 49% of American workers were “very satisfied” with their job, with 30% viewing their work as “just a job to get them by.” Speaking anecdotally, it would seem to me that the numbers are even worse than that, because I can think of very few (if any) people who’d be going to their office jobs for 40 hours a week if they didn’t have to.
The common advice tossed around is that work is something you just have to suck up and bear, and the vast majority of those who follow their passions — musicians, writers, artists and so on — end up in a miserable life of poverty.
But does that mean you should completely give up on trying to do what you love? No. Because those who are lucky enough to find their passion, and hopefully even make a reasonable living from it, are inevitably happier, more fulfilled, more energetic, more optimistic and more pretty much every other positive quality you can think of.
How, then, do we find our passion? As with other self help topics, that’s something I turned to others to find answers on, putting out this simple question:
What is your #1 piece of advice you can share to people struggling to find their passion? Personal stories of how you were able to find what you love are welcome, along with any other input.
Of the 79 responses that I collected in total (I’ve published only a fraction here), the majority were along the lines of you have to explore and try as much as possible to find what you love (see this comment for example). That means getting out of your comfort zone, having an open mind, reading about new topics, watching videos on new topics, talking to new people, going out to meetups for things you haven’t yet tried, availing every opportunity and even changing your environment. Be curious about what you haven’t yet tried and learned. If you live in a bubble and only do things you’ve already tried, well, it’s hard for you to discover anything.
But beyond that, there are many specific things people suggested that are worth trying and/or considering. For example, beyond just trying new things, sit down with a notebook with no distractions and ask yourself what makes you fulfilled, and what has sparked joy in you (guided meditation can also help here). Think about what you’re good at. Ask what makes you happy and why. Or, on the opposite end, you can also consider experiences that had a negative effect on you and think about whether your passion could be helping others avoid them (only applicable to certain areas, of course). It’s also a great idea to think back to your childhood. When you were a kid, you did things just because you liked doing them, not because you were pressured to or because it would help your future self in any way. By looking at your childhood, you can often find your purest self.
And if all that fails to light your torch… you can also take a more analytical, data-based approach.
Below are the best (in my opinion) comments that people sent us on finding your passion in their entirety. If you have your own advice unique to what’s already been suggested, and especially if you have an interesting story to go along with it, you’re welcome to submit your own comment here.
I think it's really important to give yourself the freedom to try on lots of different hats and identities. I did this when I was younger, but there's no reason you couldn't do it later in life.
A lot of people expect that they should feel this overpowering draw toward one thing, and that will be their passion. But in my experience it takes a lot more trial and error.
In middle and high school, I went through all the phases — punk, prep, goth. Dyed my hair blue and cut holes in my sweatshirts, and then wore exclusively American Eagle polos. I played the guitar, dabbled in photography, picked up magic and card tricks, and more.
Most of that eventually fell by the wayside -- except I still have a passion for magic tricks today as an adult! And I have a cool baseline of skills in other areas even though I don't practice them anymore.
I still experiment. I recently tried gardening but found it didn't light a fire in me. That's OK, because I also just discovered that I love baking.
Finding your passion is a long and never ending process! Never stop trying out new things and you'll eventually find the things you really love.
--Evan Porter, ambitiouswithcards.com
There's one piece of advice I cannot overstate the importance of: give yourself space to think about what you want! I know it sounds obvious, but I spent years only ever thinking about what my passion is in a quick thought here and there (I know I'm not the only one that does this!). To really figure out what you want in your career and life, you need to sit down without yourself and a notebook with no distractions regularly for at least 15 minutes at a time. Asking yourself questions like what makes me fulfilled/unfulfilled & what new things should I try. I encountered discomfort at times in this process because it requires you to face up to the unknown. But over time, as I kept giving myself more time to think, the picture began to form more clearly in what I could actually strive towards to make me happy. I truly cannot recommend giving yourself some space highly enough.
--Kaelum Ross, What in Tech
The #1 thing that I've found that helps people determine their passion is to find the one thing that makes them the happiest. It can be small, for example, riding a skateboard. Once you find what makes you happy, ask yourself why. Staying with the skateboard example, you like skateboarding because it makes you feel free. If that's your why then maybe your passion is a lifestyle, job, or hobby that you have control over and work autonomously.
You can keep asking the why question until you get to the root issue. Why does it make you feel free? Is there any other reason it makes you feel happy? Why? It can even work the opposite way, if you don't like what you're doing in life ask yourself why you don't like it. Then go on to eliminate the negatives to find your passion.
Why is the most important question you will ever ask in your life. The answer to the question why defines everything you do.
In 2017, I became sick, the doctors didn't know what was wrong (still don't), but I couldn't really do anything but lay down. I've gotten better since then but they still don't know what the issue is. All I was told was that it could be pretty serious and in the future, I might need to get a liver transplant if it continues (and no, it wasn't alcohol or a lifestyle choice).
I began to ask myself what I was doing with my life and why. I didn't really have an answer to either of those questions. What I did know is that I didn't like what I was doing with my life. I was depressed, hated my job, and my marriage was going to hell in a handbasket.
I asked myself why I was unhappy and didn't like where I was in life? The answer: It was boring.
So I asked myself the next question. What makes me happy and why. My answer was very clearly adventure because I could not stand the monotonous daily grind of waking up every day to do the exact same thing.
So I decided to do something adventurous. I took sailing lessons. I loved it so much that I convinced my wife to let me buy a $1,000 fixer-upper sailboat. We fixed it up and she ended up loving it so much that we decided to sell the boat and look for a new one to live on full time to travel the world.
Sailing became my passion because I asked why. Not only did asking why guide me to my passion, but it saved my marriage and gave me purpose in life. It set me on a new direction in life that I could have never dreamed of without asking why.
--Phillip Melton, The Coddiwomple Life
It may sound silly but taking time to engage in guided meditation on a semi-regular basis will allow you to tune into your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Once you have done this, it will be easier to recognize those things in life that energize you and those that drain you.
--Melanie Hartmann, Creo Home Buyers
1) Identify 3 life events that made you feel unworthy, hopeless, or rejected.
2) Determine which event still triggers a strong emotion for you (i.e. crying, anger, or fight or flight).
3) Ask yourself which of these events will I refuse to allow anyone else to experience if I can prevent it? Your answer to that question is what you are most passionate about.
4) Determine why you want to prevent someone from having a similar experience. This will be your motivating factor.
5) Seek or create opportunities to express your passion.
--ArDenay Garner, ArDenayGarner.com
A great way to decide if you enjoy something is to read an educational book, listen to a podcast, or watch an interview series that discusses that topic. If you can’t stand learning about something during your spare time, chances are it’s not for you. If you thoroughly enjoy learning about something definitely look into it further and start thinking about the different ways you can make money with it.
The reason I love this method is because it saves time. You can probably read a book faster than you can find a job or study a subject in school.
Note: Don’t just pick up any old book! Brainstorm until you think of something that you might be interested in reading about before you actually read anything.
In my case, I wound up listening to an audiobook about business and investments. I loved it. Since I already knew that I loved fitness it didn’t take long for me to decide to merge these two worlds together and start my own strength and athletics business.
--Matt Becher, Athletic Grit
Sometimes it's simply a matter of revisiting our childhood, looking back to what we were naturally drawn to. Did we love helping our mother in the kitchen? Spending hours outdoors poking ant hills with sticks? Following our grandpa around in the garden? Or, like me, making up stories inside our head and living inside books? As we got older, what activities could we get lost in?
Some of us have to look farther back than others, but I believe the secret to discovering what it was we were designed to do is in looking back to our childhood interests. That's what I ask attendees at my creativity workshops to do.
It takes no stretch of the imagination to believe that the child we once were holds the secrets to who we might become. Scientific research supports this idea; that each of us is designed to create. When we discover what it is we were designed to do, we come alive. We need to broaden our definition of creativity and realize it doesn't mean a museum-quality painting hanging on the wall, but discovering your individual strengths and talents and use them in everyday life, at work or at home. That could be gardening, baking, the ability to relate to children or elderly, or just being able to think outside the box to come up with innovative ideas.
That little girl I once was, bullied mercilessly, retreating into books and making up stories in her head to escape? The teen who loved to go on stage and pretend I was someone else, who was lucky enough to have parents and good teachers who recognized something in her? It took me forty years to turn back to public speaking, but I never stopped writing, not even as I raised eight children of my own. I can start writing at 8:00 in the morning and suddenly realize hours have passed and I forgot to get dressed or make lunch. That's my passion, what I get lost in. I never feel more alive than when I am speaking to an audience on something I am passionate about. And when I see it happen in the writing classes and creativity workshops? That light coming on in someone's eyes? The excitement in their voice? There's nothing else like it.
Everyone has something in them, a passion that has guided their life or that is waiting to be reignited. A restless stirring within them if they have not yet discovered what it is. I believe it with all my heart. I wouldn't have written an entire book about it otherwise.
In order to discover it, look to your childhood. Think about the things you are drawn to but afraid to try, or you don't have the money or time. It's never too late. Try new things. Allow yourself to fail. Have fun. When you discover what it is that makes you come alive, make room for it in your life. You will be healthier and happier when you do.
--Mary Potter Kenyon, marypotterkenyon.com
Force a change in your environment. Visiting new places can help you discover constants that follow you in all areas of life. If you enjoy the same activities in different environments, there may be something more to them. They could be your passions!
--Holden Harris, PeachTown
I found my passion through data, which – admittedly – is an aspect of my passion and that is the point. I used three tools to find commonalities in my actual behavior, satisfaction, and levels of energy. The tools I used were: the VIA Character Strengths Survey, asking trusted friends and family for the top three things they admired about me, and my resume (including my education). It became obvious that I am devoted to learning and helping others learn. Any object or activity that instigates complex thinking and growth into a more complex, interesting being is totally my jam.
If we are talking about our life’s passion, and not just a passing hormone jolt, then know that it will not always feel good or comfortable but it will always be worth it. For example, my passion for real learning has drawn me away from traditional career paths in teaching (that would have provided more stable and consistent income) and into a constellation of roles that all help me learn along with others. While I sometimes long for stability, I know that I am most alive when I am living and working on the edge of the world that is not quite here…yet.
--Elisebeth VanderWeil, PhD, Hand in the Dark Consulting
Stop blocking out that voice in the back of your head that reminds you what you are naturally good at. This is my #1 piece of advice because innately we block out the talents that come to us without trying because we think who will respect me for this or who will pay me for this talent and we are so wrong!
Get out of your own way and pay attention to the skills/talents that you do without effort. How does it make you feel? Can you shape that skill/talent to make you happy and help others?
--Jessica Williams, Jessica Marie Williams Career Consulting
Follow your gut. We all have an innate sense of intuition as it is essential to survival. However, in the modern world, it often gets clouded by doubt and worry. Sometimes it is the well-meaning people in our lives who project their own fears onto us, making us hesitant to listen to our intuition. Other times it may be our own self-talk, which has stemmed from years of listening to others assess, label, and advise us - usually inaccurately or in a way that no longer serves us. Removing all that noise allows us to focus fully on what feels right, what brings us a sense of relief (even if it is twinged with a little fear), and what makes us truly excited.
This is exactly what I experienced. I enrolled in college to become a Biomedical Engineer because I was labeled as a “math-and-science-person” from a young age and this is what my family expected of me in order to meet their definition of “success.” Yet, I quickly realized that this field was not something I felt passionately about. When I expressed my doubts, my mother told me, “Everyone hates their jobs. Just choose something that will make you money.” Even at the young age of 19, I knew this just sounded wrong. So, I changed my major to Ecology. Being amongst nature brought me so much joy and it inspired me to discover other passions. After I graduated with my degrees, I decided to pursue unpaid domestic and international internships to explore career paths, testing them out first to find something I love. This was much to my family’s chagrin, who expected me to start on my Master’s or PhD right away. After a couple years, I discovered my passion for teaching and I went back to school to obtain my teaching credential. The feedback I received then was difficult to hear: “You could’ve been an engineer and now you are just a teacher!” “You are wasting your intelligence.” “I used to be so proud of you.” But I just KNEW this is what I was meant to do; it felt right and I was excited. As a teacher and now as a tutoring business owner, there has not been one single day that I have hated to wake up and go to work. I start each morning looking forward to seeing my kids and I end each evening knowing I made a difference. This is not to say that I have not had challenges and set-backs, but even those are much more tolerable because I am doing something I love.
Following your intuition to find your passion does not mean you will be poor or looked down upon. People who enjoy their jobs tend to be much happier people. They exude joy and hope, to which others gravitate. So do not let self-talk or external feedback block out your own powerful intuition. Show them and yourself that you can follow your passions and be successful. You may even inspire them to do the same.
--Lindsey Wander, WorldWise Tutoring
Every day for at least one week (but I recommend for a month) write down what sparks joy in you. Take notice of the times in your day when you lean into life, begin to smile, that spark of joy when you do it, talk about it, or see it. When I sit with a client and ask them career coaching questions I can always tell what they are passionate about because their entire countenance changes: From one corner of their mouth to the other, a smile emerges, their posture straightens, and that sparkle of joy is seen in their eye. It happens every time. So I recommend getting a journal or using a notes app on one’s phone and logging the things which sparked joy each day. Then at the end of the week (or month) look for the pattern or theme among the things which sparked joy! Post it notes work too!
--Jennifer Fonseca, M.Ed., jenniferfonseca.com
AVAIL EVERY OPPORTUNITY
After graduating from high school, I started mechanical engineering in college. Although I had a special love and passion for cars, I realized I had zero interest in mechanical engineering so I changed my major to business and commerce. In the meantime, I was lucky enough to get countless opportunities in multiple sectors i.e. IT, sports, and health, etc. but I wasn’t a good fit in any of them.
Two years ago, I unwillingly had to work on a house construction project. It was a rough start but after the first month, I started liking the field and a couple of months later, I fell in love with my work. Fast forward 2 years and I learned interior and infrastructure design and went into the real estate business that was backed up by my business degree which was a decision I wasn’t so sure about at first but now I cannot be glad enough. And this is how I found my passion i.e. construction, design, and real estate.
If you are someone like me and are struggling to find your passion, you can learn from my experience. Always say YES to any opportunity you get, and never lose hope. You never know which opportunity will change your life forever.
--Atta Ur Rehman, Physicians Thrive