After many conversations and never-ending first-hand experience, here are some of my thoughts on the topic of finding your passion.
Find your passion!
Follow your dreams!
The earlier you specialize the better!
You should already know what you want to do in life!
How many times I have heard this and felt lost.
The truth is…
I don’t know where I’m going and perhaps I never will. And that’s okay.
Maybe I have a vague idea, but I don’t have a clear plan. And that’s okay.
Maybe I have some plan, but is it the right plan, the right goal? Shouldn’t I do something else instead? I don’t know, and that’s okay.
And maybe I have a clear goal, a step by step plan, and that’s also okay.
One of the most useful models for thinking about life I have learned in the last year is to think of life as a journey of self-creation instead of self-discovery.
“Find your passion,” is an example of self-discovery thinking. You sit, think hard, and bam!—there is your answer to what you should do with your life. That’s how it works, right? Well, not for me. The problem is, there isn’t all that much to find.
Don’t get me wrong, all people have talents, interests, desires, preferences, earlier experiences, you could even use the word—passions, which are a good guide, but looking for your passion takes you only so far, rarely to the destination.
You might like horses, but does that mean you should be a horseback riding instructor, a vet, or an animal psychologist? Maybe the most suitable path is to become an entrepreneur and make enough money to buy a ranch with horses. I have no clue, and I guess neither do you. And that’s the problem with “find your passion” thinking, you can analyze the hell out of yourself, and still no end in sight.
The self-creation approach to life takes it on its head, you instead approach life with open arms and an open mind. You go and try things, you let your curiosity wander, you dip in here and there and see whether things click into place.
It’s an active approach, you don’t wait to find your passion, you create your passion by trying. Instead of ruminating about what you should do, you take a step, not knowing whether that’s the direction your life will take, but confident that moving is better than standing still.
It’s freeing and exciting to face life with open arms, taking advantage of the opportunities it offers, doing your best work, learning along the way, and one step at a time creating yourself. You stop fussing over whether you are doing the right things, and instead, you dive deep into the opportunities, interests, relationships, projects, that are right there, in front of you.
To ease the stress around this topic here is a truth that might be new; most people have no clue about what they are doing or where they are going. Most people don’t have things figured out, you aren’t alone. Let’s bring some solidarity into this, we are in the same boat. We all try to navigate our way through life to the best of our knowledge, few knowing the destination.
This year I’ve read and listened to many life stories, and I observed two patterns that kept emerging. First, the people I admired, from scientists to artists, entrepreneurs, and “normal people”, all were hard workers who had no clue they would end up where they did. The rare exception is Arnold Schwarzenegger, but he is kind of an exception in everything.
And second, they were receptive to the opportunities around them, they were active, they were stirring up the pot, creating motion, taking the initiative. And yet as Steve Jobs put it, they could only connect the dots (that led to their fulfillment/success) looking backward, never forward. They didn’t look for their passion, they did things, and one step at a time they built themselves.
I created a simple formula to illustrate this: ‘Insert whomever you admire/respect’ and add ‘had no clue that he/she would become X’.
Obama had no clue he would become the president, neither did Theodore Roosevelt. Elon Musk had no clue he would become the richest person on the planet, he took opportunities as they came and worked his ass off to make things happen. Leonardo da Vinci had no idea he would become one of the most revered artists, innovators, and frankly polymaths in all of human history. He was a curious, hard-working, ingenious person (also notorious for his inability to finish projects) that made his way through life as circumstances allowed him.
So my advice (and I write this equally for myself as I don’t have everything figured out) the next time you feel guilty or stressed about not knowing what you want to do is to try to switch into the self-creation mode, with no predetermined path you should take or person you should become. Take it one step at a time, embrace your opportunities, enjoy the excitement that comes with it, and see where life takes you. Explore your interests, indulge your curiosity, embrace the fact that you like multiple things, try them, get some experience, see if you can turn it into something long-term, and have fun.
Good luck on the road to somewhere!