Travis submitted the following question, and with 30 votes it’s this week’s topic:
What specific, objective things can you do to find your “passion”? Assuming it’s possible to make a career out of pursuing your passion(s), how do you narrow that down to one or a few things?
This is a great, but strange question. I don’t think there is a way to do this. If there is I don’t know it. Most people seem passionless about their work, much less their lives, don’t you think?
Looking backwards I see I tried different things. Over the course of my life I’ve tried to spend more time doing things I liked. The magical part is twice I’ve managed to find ways making a living doing something I’m passionate about (first with software, now with writing).
My first deep love was baseball. But by age 10 I discovered basketball, and loved that more (much less standing around waiting). It was the defining passion of my life until I was 19. Why basketball? I was athletic, I was competitive, I was better than my friends, and I discovered for the first time that hard work paid off – basketball provided an endless (at the time) path of improvement if I worked hard. But had my brother never made me play basketball at age 8, I never would have discovered this thing I love(d).
I started writing in junior year in high school. We had a poetry month in English class and I wrote poetry. Turned out I loved writing it – some of it didn’t suck. And I kept writing it on my own, after the class ended. Freshman year in college we had to keep a journal for a Philosophy course, so I did that, and by the end of the course I enjoyed it enough I’ve kept it up since. These two experiences were pivotal in me becoming a writer. Had I not been exposed twice, I probably would not be writing this right now.
My story with software is simpler. I was smart. My dad got us a computer when I was 12 or 13. I liked it and it made sense to me so when not playing basketball, I was on it hours every day. I majored in Computer Science because I found it interesting and it made sense. I liked designing things, and got very lucky – I got hired at Microsoft to lead teams and design stuff. Managed to get on the IE 1.0 team, which turned out to be kind of important. I was passionate about it because it was fascinating, I was young and had power, it was thrilling to feel smart with other smart people, and I convinced myself it mattered to the world. But after a decade those passions changed, or changed shape, so I left.
I’ve never believed in the idea of a calling. I really hate that idea. Most people can be good at many different things, and live happy lives in many different ways. If you want to find your passion I’d say put yourself in different situations, with different people, and see how it makes you feel. Pay attention to you and write down your responses so you’ll remember. Some of it will bore you. Some of it you’ll hate. But with each experience you’ll have a clearer sense of who you actually are ,what you actually care about, and what you’re good at doing.
There are at least four piles of things in the world for you:
- Things you like/love
- Things you are good at
- Things you can be paid to do
- Things that are important
But only you can sort out which things go in which piles, or hopefully, all four piles.
I think growing up we’re fed so many stories about what we’re supposed to like, or enjoy, or find pleasure in, and only some of that turns out to be true. It’s implied you need a great career to be happy, but honestly most people seem pretty damn miserable, including those with fancy careers. You can’t be passionate if you’re living your parents dream and not your own, and unless you go out on your own for awhile, you are likely trying to live someone else’s dream.
My advice is simple: Pick something. Do it with all your heart. If you can’t keep your heart in it, do something else. Repeat. Few people have the courage to do this, even for a year, much less a lifetime. But my suspicion is if you ask passionate people how they make choices, this is what you’ll hear.