Every guide to finding your passion sucks.
I wish someone told me sooner that “finding your passion” by reading books and thinking doesn’t work. Damnit.
For those of you looking to figure out what in the hell you could possibly do for the rest of your life, please take this one piece of advice.
You can’t figure it out it by thinking or reading.
I’ll tell you how to find it, and how I actually ended up re-discovering mine.
A) Don’t Look For Your “Passion” (Why Books Don’t Help)
Alright – confession. I’ve read just about every book on finding your passion, and have paid for a lot of online products on finding your passion. I’m a hard worker, and I figured “just let me find what I enjoy, and I will dominate the shit out of this and make a killer business.”
But it seemed like I wasn’t getting any closer as I was going through these programs. There were some “a-ha” moments and other cool things that I learned about myself, but I wasn’t really getting excited or feeling like I had “found it.”
Around this time I was starting many jobs — startups, corporate, etc. — and when I learned everything there was to learn (usually in about 3-6 months) I would quit. Some jobs made it clear that there were “next levels” but I was a hungry bastard. I didn’t want to sacrifice my youth for even a minute and get stagnant So I quit a lot of jobs that were “perfectly adequate” (careful with those..) and went on to the next source of knowledge and experience.
One day I was pondering more about passion in work. Around this time I was spending 3-4 hours a day going through every bit of materials I could find. I would read books or paid programs, and go through the exercises, then put them in a massive word document on my computer called “Know thyself.”
I was drinking a perfect afternoon espresso one day when I realized “Hey, I worked some jobs that looked pretty shitty from the outside, but were actually kinda fun. But I never knew until I started working them.”
B) Why You Can’t Think it Through
This aha moment was the revelation I needed. Damn, you mean I actually have to test these things out in real experiments!?
My first job out of college was working as a sub teacher/teaching assistant in New York. I was never into education or teaching, but I figured it would be pretty sweet.
Tell kids to shut up? Read a book while substitute teaching? Only work 8:30-2:30 and still make 45k my first year out of school? 3 months vacation (and earning 12 months of pay?) Hell yeah.
But I hated the shit out of it once I did it.
From the outside it looked great — in fact, a lot of the days were great but the overall experience for me was not something I wanted. There were little things – like the fact that I couldn’t be friends with people I worked with (the students) because it was a conflict of interests. There was the fact that 75% of the teachers did it not because they care about teaching, but for the lifestyle.
And there was endless bureacratic shit and everyone snitching on each other to cover their own asses.
I literally had 2-3 nightmares that I was back there a few years later. I think those are called adult nightmares – instead of zombies chasing you, you’re back in a job that scares the shit out of you.
My point is this: no way in hell do you know if you like something until you have physically experienced it in your body. Not in your brain.
C) Sometimes we Avoid “Our Work” Because of Societal Pressure (and other invisible scripts)
Ramit Sethi wrote a fantastic post on the invisible scripts that guide our lives – basically the beliefs and prejudices in our heads that keep us from reaching our potential or otherwise affect our behavior.
Some of us actually avoid our passion because of societal pressure. This happens every time an artist decides to go to law school to make daddy happy and make sure he can “pay the bills.”
Another story: all throughout high school and college I knew I wanted to be a doctor that studied alternative medicines. It was without a doubt. My bookshelf was lined with books on medicine, herbal medicine, and alternative treatments. I freaking loved that stuff.
About a semester before college graduation (when I already knew that this is what I wanted to do) I decided not to go for it. There were lots of horror stories people were telling me. There was lots of stuff about “paying the same price tag as medical school but not being covered by insurance so you end up making jack shit.”
I avoided it because I wanted money, prestige, didn’t want to starve, and I weighed other people’s advice too heavily.
Instead I took the logical option and flew to Algeria for 3 weeks to meditate in the sahara desert. Woops.
But about three months ago, I ended up re-discovering “my work” once again, after “forgetting” it for 6 years.
I had reached the threshold and was sick and fucking tired of doing all these bullshit “find your passion” exercises that obviously weren’t doing anything for me. And that’s when I hit the motherload.
D) So how do you find it?
Being a scientist.
What does being a scientist mean?
It means you pick a hypothesis and you test whether or not it’s true.
Hypothesis: Internet marketing is my passion.
Test: (Assuming you have the skills) Get three clients and freelance. In a few short sessions you’ll know.
Results? Ew, hell no, internet marketing sucks.
… So you test something else.
Hypothesis: Is teaching my passion? (vague)
Test: I worked at a local nature center for a summer in college, and although I wasn’t crazy about teaching little kids that can’t focus worth shit, I really liked teaching and setting up classes.
Results? I like teaching, but didn’t like the age group I was teaching… maybe investigate this more. What do I like teaching?
This is what you would be doing in step/phase #3 when you are testing out various side hustles to see where your interests & a market converge.
But how do I know where to start? There are a million things I could be testing!!
This is the one thing that “finding your passion” books actually helped me with.
E) But Where do I Start!?
Alright — so you know you should be systematically testing things out to figure out your passion, but you have no clue where to start. You don’t know if you belong in tech, wildlife biology, medicine, internet marketing, or selling porn.
That’s a big problem, since you could test things for an entire lifetime without finding something you like. Here’s what you do: start with a well-researched guess.
I wrote a guide called the the 5 most useful tools for finding your work in life — and one particular exercise helped me a lot. It was the “flower exercise” from What Color is Your Parachute. See #3 in this blog post for instructions.
The flower exercise is super specific and will give you a rough area that you should approach, rather than just throwing stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks. From there (after doing the flower exercise), go about the testing I talked about in Part D. Within a few months you will start having more and more “A-ha!” moments.
You know how I talked about how I wanted to become a doctor my entire life, then avoided it? After doing the flower exercise, then doing lots of experiments, I came full-circle and am building a new business (in a different way) around the same passion I had for being a doctor. Kinda one of those cool destiny things.
For me, I had to rediscover “my work.” And none of that would have happened without systematically testing things out.
So maybe it’s time for you to get off your ass, put that book on finding your passion down, and start testing. Maybe you’ll find out that your hunch was right all along.
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