In my work, I am surrounded by people who rarely—if ever—have asked themselves: ‘what am I passionate about?’ From the time most of them were little, they knew what they wanted to do. Singing, dancing, and acting were in their blood, and still is.
I remember having conversations with my friends in high school about this. They all thought I was lucky to essentially 'be born' knowing what my passion was.
In many ways, they were right. Knowing what I cared about—music—certainly gave me a direction for my focus and a clear path that I could follow toward even clearer goals. Meanwhile, many of my friends went onto college uncertain of what they cared about, choosing majors and careers still uncertain of ‘their thing’.
‘Finding your passion’ is a huge topic in our culture. So many people work and live without it in jobs that just pay the bills. They’re certain that if they only knew what it was they were ‘meant to do’, they would be happy, inspired, and successful (or more so).
Yet in trying to discover our purpose, we so often miss the true essence of both purpose and passion: knowing what your purpose is and what you’re passionate about has nothing to do with whether or not you live a life of purpose and passion.
A couple of examples.
I had dinner last night with my dear friend Arjen. He’s a medical doctor but never enjoyed the private practice aspect of his work. So years ago, he gave it up. Today, for far more than he made in private practice, he consults 20 hours a week on clinical trials he finds interesting from home—which four days a week is on a sailboat.
I have another friend who plays rugby with a man who chose to forgo his cushy job as a Wall Street broker to become a garbage collector for New York City. Over drinks a couple of years ago, he explained what to many might seem like a bizarre choice. Yet for him, life was simply too short to be that stressed out and away from his family 60+ hours a week. His new job allows him to be outside all day, to talk to people all over Manhattan, to work a healthy number of hours—with a very healthy pension and benefits—and to use his body as well as his mind (he was catching up at the time on the latest political audio books).
What do these two people have in common?
It may not be for their jobs, specifically. These two men didn’t dream as children of becoming consultants and trash collectors. But what they did decide, as adults, was to live a life that they enjoyed. To turn their circumstances toward their favor and create a lifestyle that would let their passion for life flow through them.
This is a choice every one of us has to make. For even those fortunate enough to know what matters to them contend with issues of doubt and uncertainty. As a matter of fact, the smaller the distance between you and the object of your passionate affection means that attachment rather than commitment tends to be the name of the game. Which breeds its own set of problems, including—very commonly—the desire to quit and ‘do something I don’t care so much about.’
Whether or not you know what your passion is doesn’t preclude you from having passion, using your passion, and living a life of passion. As a matter of fact, it’s necessary if you really do want to discover what you care about and ‘find your bliss’.
1) Because passion is not just a noun. It is a muscle. You have to use it to strengthen it. If you’re looking at life through a black and white lens, how will you ever see color? Only when you choose to engage in life with passion—regardless of your circumstances—will you begin to see life, people, and opportunities emerge for you in new, exciting ways.
2) Because not bringing passion to your every day life is nothing more than an excuse to never really put yourself out there. No one enjoys risking failure. But life—a real, passionate life—means dancing on the edge of failure and discovering the sweet freedom that comes from becoming its friend.
How many people told Arjen he was insane to leave his thriving practice to live on a sailboat? How many thought leaving Wall Street for cleaning the streets was nothing short of insane?
There is safety in life, and then there is life.
Stop worrying about what job will bring you passion. What hobby. Or even what person. Be passionate and its spirit will call itself out, attracting life to a you that is ready, willing, and able to dance that kind of dance.
Jennifer Hamady is a voice coach and counselor specializing in emotional issues that interfere with self-expression. Click here to learn more about her book: The Art of Singing: Discovering and Developing Your True Voice, heralded as a breakthrough in the psychology of personal and musical performance.