What if I told you that obsessing over how to find your passion pushes you further away from finding it? It’s important to find work you enjoy, but most people never reach that point because they think about the process the wrong way.
They sit around waiting for the perfect idea to fall in their lap. They have tons of different ideas about what they might like to do with their life, but they don’t actually do anything.
Or, those who do try out a new career or business don’t experience the passion they thought would come right away.
That’s the key phrase—right away.
Passion is something that takes time to cultivate. It’s something you’ll start to experience after you put in a certain amount of work.
There are clues and hints that can point you in the right direction, but the answers will reveal themselves over time if you put your focus on the right actions.
Understanding where passion comes from will help you find it
Compelling careers often have complex origins that reject the simple idea that all you have to do is follow your passion.
Cal Newport is a professor and has published multiple books on productivity and career advice. In his book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, he argues that passion is the inevitable result of gaining competence instead of focusing on passion first.
In his view, focusing on your feelings first is a self-centered approach. Instead, if you focus on the value that you can provide to your company, the marketplace, or the world, you’ll gain passion from those feelings of accomplishment. You have paths you’re suited for, yes, but if you focus on the path itself more than the act of progressing, you may never “find” your passion because you spent too much time looking for it.
I can attest to this. I’ve published hundreds of articles and three books myself. I enjoyed writing from the start, but I derived most of the passion I feel now from the impact I’ve been able to make with my work. That—combined with the pride that comes from getting better at the craft itself—created much more passion than simply identifying as a writer.
Most people get into my profession with the belief that they should feel great about writing immediately, but they have neither the skills nor the impact early on. This causes most of them to quit because they thought they should feel amazing about simply being a writer. When you put the cart before the horse, you don’t realize that passion is right around the corner if you just do the work and wait.
Working and waiting are two underrated concepts in our instant gratification world. We see people who look like they found overnight success online, but the truth is that passion is something you earn, not something that simply comes to you. So, how do you earn these feelings? You start on the path and make a critical decision when the time comes.
Give your path a test run and look for signs along the way
At a certain point when you’re working on a new career path, you’ll have to decide whether or not you want to stick with it long-term. Time will reveal whether or not you’re really meant to do it, but what are the signs?
There are many different clues that you can use to move forward that have nothing to do with feeling the ultimate level of bliss and joy. And ultimate joy doesn’t need to be the aim. Keep these things on your radar:
A sense of autonomy
You want to feel like you have some level of control over the role you have in your work. If you run a business or a side project, you have the ultimate level of control. As long as you feel like you’re doing what you want to do, instead of what you have to do all the time, you’re on the right track.
Your role caters to your strengths
The easiest way to quickly gain a sense of competence is to focus on a path you already have an aptitude for to begin with. I had the sense I could take pretty quickly to writing and I did.
There’s no need to be the best at what you do right away or have a huge platform/business, but there will be early signs of positive feedback you can use to stay motivated—e.g., growing responsibility in your role, a growing audience, a growing customer base. This growth doesn’t have to be huge, just steady.
Being a key player
Seth Godin wrote a book called Lynchpin that talks about the importance of playing a critical role in your company or business by going above and beyond with your effort in creativity. This is something you can do in any profession.
Meaning doesn’t mean you have to change the entire world with what you do, but you don’t want to feel that the work you do has little to no meaning or level of contribution to the world either. You can have a meaningful role in something seemingly mundane like being an accountant if you look at it the right way, e.g., you’re helping people make a positive difference in their life by helping with finances.
Many people are in a position where they’re ready to make a switch. You can read this article for a better explanation of doing that. But, remember, when you do decide to try something new, you have to make a real decision to do it and stick with the process when times get tough. (And they will get tough.) Also, making a transition takes time and it’s important to have the right attitude in the present moment before you can fully pivot.
Start wherever you are and commit to improving
Grant Cardone went from being broke to owning a billion-dollar real estate portfolio. He’s someone who’s very passionate about the work he does now, but he credits his success from building a foundation with work he didn’t enjoy at all.
Years back, he sold cars. And even though he didn’t enjoy it, he resolved himself to become the best car salesmen he could be anyway. He took the knowledge he learned from selling cars and created a series of sales seminars and programs based on his experience. He then took that money and used it as seed capital for his first real estate investments.
Grant’s advice? Get good at what you hate. The numbers are clear. Most people are dissatisfied with their jobs. But most people make the mistake of thinking that they’ll suddenly work much harder once they find their passion. The apathy they have in their current jobs spills into their efforts at trying something new. Or it keeps them from getting started at all.
What if, right now, you just decided you were going to do everything in your life as well as possible, regardless of how you feel?
You’d develop some level of pride in the work you do, even if you don’t enjoy it. You’d have momentum.
Since you’re already good at doing something you don’t love, you’ll have that much more energy when you try a new path that has the potential to become something you love. With all that work ethic as a foundation, your chances of sticking with your new path will be that much higher.
Along with instant gratification, our culture has now shifted toward a sense of entitlement. Many have forgotten the value of hard work and paying your dues before success and passion come. Doing dirty work is part of any successful long-term career and trying to avoid it won’t bring you any closer to finding your passion. Be willing to work hard now, no matter what, and reap the rewards later.
Final thoughts on finding your passion and building your career
To recap, the core pillars to eventually building a career you love are:
- Understand that passion comes from getting good at important work
- Look for signs of potential while you’re on your new path and don’t quit
- Focus on being the best at what you do, right now, even before you decide to make the switch
Ironically, it takes a certain level of dispassion to find passion. Instead of waiting to have the fire lit inside of you, decide to calmly and rationally focus on building a solid career first. Then, along the way, as your skills grow and you’re able to have an impact on more people over time, you’ll start to feel great about what you do.
Life isn’t all about work. You can do things you love in every area of your life without needing a dream job to fully scratch that fulfillment itch. In the long run, yes, avoid work you absolutely hate. But take a measured approach in finding something better in the future.