How I found my passion

In a series of posts, called readers choice, I write on whatever topics people submit and vote for. If you dig this idea, let me know if the comments, and submit your ideas and votes.

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.

25 Responses to “How I found my passion”

  1. Scott

    Thanks for sharing how you found your passion Scott. You’ve provided, in very few words, a simple, straightforward road map for the rest of us.

  2. Elliot

    Very true. There’s a terrible misconception that you can quiz, introspect or talk your way into identifying your passion without leaving your room–the only real way is to empirically *discover* it by trying new things and experiencing life, which will usually provide enough feedback one way or the other.

  3. Sean Crawford

    I like the above two comments.

    Perhaps one could use a two-pronged approach: Try for a work passion, and also learn to have a passion for life. Some time I would love to spend a whole evening discussing how lots of people go through life never getting involved. I am not joking when I say I don’t understand them.

  4. Simon

    Totally agree. I’m on my third career since Uni already – music, law and now web design and development (4 if you count permanent nomad). The web stuff definitely hits the 4 piles for me.

    I kind of think I’m going about it the hard way – going through all of the careers and crossing them off one by one – but it’s been a lot of fun and I’m already drafting my first screenplay in anticipation of my next move…

    Never bought the idea of a calling, either. Infinitely more important is attitude – being positive and enthusiastic and running far, far away from the trolls. If ever there was a time in history where that attitude can actually pay the bills it’s right now.

  5. Kevin Burke

    Wow, I’ve followed pretty much the same path – got really into basketball for a while, then got really into blogging/ writing opinion, now doing more computer science stuff. I’ve had trouble not following through with any one thing long enough to get really good at it, though, and it’s difficult when my interests keep changing. I read a ton, and I’m hoping to get a job in SV next year.

  6. Mike Nitabach

    Yeah, I agree completely that this “calling” idea is mostly bullshit. I have had young scientists come to me feeling upset and anxious because every time they learn about some new area of scientific inquiry, they think it is totally cool and much more interesting than anything else they have learned about before. They are afraid this means that they don’t have a “calling” to focus their efforts on one particular thing.

    I tell them that this is a *good* thing, and a sign that they have the burning curiosity and enthusiasm to be a good scientist. Those who can’t seem to find anything interesting, or only find one thing interesting, tend to end up realizing they are in the wrong profession.

    And I give these curious students pretty much the exact advice you give above: Pick some particular area of inquiry, throw yourself into it wholeheartedly, and see where it takes you. If you aren’t thrilled with where it has taken you, then pick something else.

  7. Claude

    Scott, “love you, love your blog” :) and I completely agree with trying something, pouring your heart into it and then pivoting and trying something else when the fire burns out. Some people however don’t seem to appreciate this especially when looking at your resume. Mark Suster recently wrote “Never Hire Job Hoppers. They make terrible employees.”
    Thankfully I am self-employed but Mark’s post sure hit a nerve with me as I think people like him miss out on a huge pool of top talent by subscribing to this theory. Any thoughts?

  8. MW

    I also hate the idea of a calling. It seemed to make more sense in a less connected, less fungible world where you could delve into something for a lifetime, and ward off any feelings of regret with the notion that you were engaged with a ‘calling’ that was undeniable.

    I also hate the idea of a single career for the same reasons. This is probably why, at the base of it all, I never got my PhD. The idea of being an expert on a speck in a cloud of other specks that most people don’t care about and has little bearing on anyone’s quality of life seems strangely shortsighted.

    I say all this in the wake of losing my job in a few weeks. I’m jumping off into the abyss of the unknown; wish me luck!

  9. danielthepoet

    I, on the other hand, do believe in the idea of a calling. I think the fundamental issue is one of faith in God. To have a calling is to be called. To be called is to know that there is someone out there doing the calling.

    For you to have a calling, or purpose, there has to be a greater scheme of which you are a part. Until you connect with the One who created the scheme, you will continue to see callings in the light of passions.

    The problem is, you CAN do several things that you can be passionate about, but not all of them will lead to you fulfilling your purpose.

    I love basketball, writing, conversation, teaching, hearing God, and influencing people, among other things. I could do many things to influence people which would satisfy a part of my heart, but ultimately lead to a lack of life-fulfilling purpose.

    I do, however, find myself learning through the pursuit of lower passions and building skills which are and will be useful in the pursuit of my calling. I tend to equate passions with skills. We are created to enjoy what we are gifted at. And in pursuing those passions, we hone skills which will be part of our arsenal in the great pursuit and completion of our calling.

  10. David Grove

    AMEN. This sums up what I have been tying to explain to myself for a while. This article, and this xkcd cartoon ( have been a powerful motivation to not let MYSELF get in my own way. Gotta find a way to put these two items together for the neighborhood kids graduating High School this week.
    Thanks SB!

  11. Christa Avampato

    Hey Scott,
    I completely agree. I lived my life like this, too. One of my yoga tteachers always tells us, “make you can stand behind everything you say and do with total conviction and passion, and also be prepared to change your direction at a moment’s notice.” I like that. We have to live every day passionately, and what we have passion for changes over time. Life’s just like that and if we’re committed to happiness then we have to be flexible enough to follow our passion wherever it takes us.

  12. Clint Edmonson

    Amen! Follow your bliss! Who the hell ever said you had to do one thing your entire life? We’re still seeing the remnants of the 1950’s career model where pensions mattered more than making a difference. Our children will definitely have the opportunities to experience the variety of life during their careers.

  13. Elisabeth

    Considering that my new blog has the name “passionate” in it, this post really spoke to me. Rather than just adding a “me too” comment (I agree with everything you wrote :)), I do like Sean’s suggestion of a two-pronged approach. There is life and work, and one can be passionate about both.
    I used a 19-month hiatus from work to reconnect with my passions and, lo and behold, found that I could still be passionate about “work” or “career”, by simply redefining the conditions under which I choose to do “work”. (I no longer use the classic corporate ladder definition of “success”.)
    Wouldn’t you know it, I can still have a passionate hobby life that doesn’t earn me money.
    Both prongs make me very very happy.

  14. Anil Kuppa

    The link is broken. Slinkset has been retired- where readers submitted their ideas. You might want to remove the hyperlink.

    1. Scott

      Good catch Anil. Link is fixed.

      Last week I launched http:/ which is a similar design, but on my site instead of a 3rd party service.

  15. Suren

    Passion! What are dreams if there were no passion. Passion is what drives dreams to become reality. Were it not for my dreams, I wouldn’t be here at all.True, I had to go through a chain of disappointments until I heard the inner call to drive my passions to the front, to get fuel my dreams. I did waste time but I shall consider that as my learning time. Hard lessons, but useful, now the passion takes the front seat


  16. Ron Kellis

    My observation is that people with a passion don’t realize how fortunate they are. And worse, they extrapolate their experience on to what others “should” (a judgement word) feel, have, be capable of, what ever. With a result, and taking responsibility for my own feelings, that those us who have searched for “something” to fill the hole in our soul only feel worse because we can’t find it. I’m 57, long military career, BS and a MA, and pile of “I’m a gunna . . .” that accrue with thinking this one is going to be different . . . And all too aware of my own mortality.



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