Don't just find your passion, design it

Updated: Sep 18, 2019

A formula for discovering your passions and designing a passion project that is true to you.

Photo by Ian Dooley on Unsplash

People in my generation and the generations before mine grew up hearing the message that passion doesn’t necessarily belong at school or work. You work to live, not live to work. You fit in passionate pursuits around the edges, if at all.

That said, on some level, we all want to live a passionate life. We deserve to live a passionate life. Even though we crave work that engages us, less than 15% of us in the workforce are “passionate” about our jobs. We seek out opportunities to create an environment that can reconnect us with our passion, nurture it, and amplify it, assuming that our passions are fully formed and just need to be “discovered”. But this belief can limit us in our pursuit of a passionate life because it can limit our continual exploration of new fields and cause us to give up when faced with obstacles. You can live a life full of interests and inspiration that can express themselves in different ways over a lifetime.

What do you do if you don’t know what your passions are?

You discover them.

I believe that we all have something we can be passionate about. To say, “I have no passions” is a cop-out. We can have different passions throughout our lives, and we can find many ways to express them in the world. Think of life as a series of opportunities to pursue your passions.

Here’s one way to approach discovering a passion:

a passion = inspiration x (curiosity + aptitude)

Inspiration times curiosity plus aptitude equals passion. If you take something that interests you and combine it with something you are naturally good at and fuel that with inspiration, you’ll find a passion that’s true to you. A passion, not the only passion.

[We’re talking about small “p” passion here (closer to what interests you), not big “P” Passion (i.e. your life’s mission or your purpose). Who wants that kind of pressure?]

Some questions to ask yourself about curiosity might be: What are the threads running through the titles of the books that line my shelves? What do I love to talk about, learn about and teach others about? What do I love daydreaming about?

Some questions to ask yourself about aptitudes might be: What sorts of activities come especially easy to me? What makes me feel completely in my element? What can I do faster and more accurately than others?

Some questions to ask yourself about inspiration might be: What gets me fired up when I think or talk about it? What lifts my spirits or feeds my energy? What are the situations in which I feel especially engaged?

If you’re not interested in it, it’s not a passion.

If it doesn’t tap into your innate abilities, it’s not a passion.

If you aren’t fired up or motivated by it, it’s not a passion.

Because you can be curious about many things, have a range of aptitudes, and can find inspiration in various places, you can pursue different passions throughout a lifetime.

“Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” — Oprah Winfrey

What do you do with a passion you have identified?

You design it.

More specifically, you design a passion project that will allow you to express your passion in the world in a tangible way.

Passion projects are creative side projects that are connected to your deeper meaning and have tangible outcomes. Your passion project can be anything you are passionate about, and there are many ways to design your passion as a project if you use divergent thinking — that is, generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions.

The expression of one of your passions in the world could be: making wooden planters for outside your house, vlogging about fancy pancakes along with instructions for how viewers can make them too, visualizing philosophical ideas with a picture shared on Instagram, training to be an escort for a blind marathon runner and completing a marathon with them, or composing and producing original electronic music. The key is to own that passion project because it’s right for you.

Being in “the flow” is just passion in action.

What happens after I have designed a passion project?

You do it, of course!

Action (the doing) is built right into a passion project. You will have to identify and deal with any barriers and constraints (physical or mental) that might hold you back from just getting on with it. There will be some kind of timeframe (it might take a weekend to build some planters, but six months to train for a marathon). And you might want to involve others in the process — to be cheerleaders or even to join you in your passion project. The tangible expression of your passion in the world is what matters.

“Just start. Don’t wait for perfection.” — Jacqueline Novogratz

Maybe your passion project will inspire something more transformative in your life, like a career change or starting a new business. Or perhaps it will be enough to fulfill you outside of work or family and be a part of designing a life you love — a passionate one.

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