Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D.

Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D.

High Octane Women

Finding Your Passion

Five tips to discovering what makes you happy

Posted Dec 17, 2011

Pursuing what you're passionate about is a key component of living a happy and healthy life. So whether you feel like you haven't quite found it yet or you need help resurrecting it, here are a few tips to help you discover (or rediscover) your passion.

1. Let go of your fears. The greatest inhibitor of pursuit of passion is fear. One of the most common fears is related to money--if I do what I enjoy, I won't make "enough" money.  Another common fear relates to what others will think of you. If these fears are getting in your way, here are a few things to consider:

  • Although it's great if your passion happens to coincide with a high-paying job, it's not necessary for your passion and your job to be one in the same. Many people pursue a passion outside of work in the form of hobbies, sports, or other extracurricular activities.
  • Passions are personal. They don't need to make sense to others as long as they are fulfilling to you.
  • When your mind retreats to, What if I fail? ask yourself, What's the worst thing that can happen? Rarely will it be catastrophic. In fact, failure often produces great learning opportunities.

2. Listen to and trust your inner voice. With an open mind and fears aside, make a list of activities or interests that excite you. What makes you happy? Here are a few exercises you can use to figure this out:

  • Think about a time when you were happiest. What were you doing? Who was around? Does any part of your current life mirror that time? If not, what's standing in the way?
  • Ask yourself, If I had more time, I would ...
  • What do you enjoy most in life? Do you like public speaking, writing, caregiving, art, singing, teaching, building, sports, gardening, hosting parties, getting people together, planning events, reading? Once you've identified a few activities or interests, consider what types of jobs, extracurricular activities, or volunteer opportunities offer these experiences.
  • What's your bucket list? If today was the last day of your life, what would you regret not having done? This may give you a good sense of where your passions lie.
  • Don't confuse passion with responsibilities (although the two may coincide). A good way to distinguish the two is to pay attention to your internal dialogue. Which activities do you think about in terms of "want to," "can't wait to," "excited about" versus "must," "need to," and "have to"?
3. Tune in to your environment. Another way to discover your passion(s) is to pay attention to the types of experiences you create for yourself or that you're drawn to.
  • When you're talking with friends, family, and coworkers, what conversations are most engaging to you?
  • What new stories, TV shows, or books do you find most interesting? 
  • You can also try what author and book mentor Mary DeMuth refers to as the three-movie exercise. Without overthinking it, list your three favorite movies, then try to find a common thread that runs through them. As an example, DeMuth's three favorite movies are Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and To Kill a Mockingbird. The common theme? Outcasts who overcome their past to change the world. DeMuth says, "You'll be stunned at how closely the thread hints at your passion."  

4. Ask others. Sometimes, we're too afraid or too locked into our day-to-day routines to recognize our true passion(s). This is where others might be able to help.

  • Ask those who know you in the various roles you play in life (employee, parent, sibling, son or daughter, friend) what they think makes you most excited or happy.
  • Another idea offered by Mary DeMuth is the "one thing" exercise. She suggests that you ask those who know you well, "What is my one thing?" DeMuth says that you'll be surprised by how insightful people are about what inspires and excites you and how similar their responses may be. 

5. Be patient and flexible. Pursuing a passion requires that you adopt a "journey" mentality, not a "straight line to a destination or bust" mentality. Simply embrace what you enjoy and create opportunities to explore these parts of yourself. Some may fit you well; others may not. That's okay. Also, it's important to be flexible in the sense that what excites and inspires you now may not necessarily be what excites and inspires you in years to come. 

In closing, remember that passion is not what you do, it's what you feel. So here's to feeling great!

Virtually every great accomplishment or movement was started by someone who believed passionately in something--and someone who believed passionately in that person -- Margaret Warren

© 2011 Sherrie Bourg Carter, All Rights Reserved

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Sherrie Bourg Carter is the author of High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout (Prometheus Books, 2011).


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