“You just need to find your passion.”
It’s quite possibly the most common advice that graduates of all levels receive. Seriously, we’ve all been there. Whether it’s the keynote speaker or the valedictorian, we’re all implored to just find our passion in life and then everything else will fall into place.
It’s as if passion is some location for us to find. But, we don’t have the coordinates and we can’t punch “passion” into Google Maps.
So… What does this mean?
It means that “just find your passion” is the worst advice we can provide to people that are transitioning in life.
If you’re ever sitting with a potential coach or mentor, or even find yourself in a job interview, and the person across the table says they want to help you find your passion? Run. Fast.
Purpose, though? That’s where the conversation should be focused.
I use the metaphor of a fire to capture this concept when coaching or presenting. Think of purpose, process, and “the work” as the wood and fuel for the fire, and when those elements are present and in action then fire is created – and the fire is your passion.
Passion is the product of a focused life. It’s not some all or nothing destination that you reach, but the result of repeated successes you experience once you’ve determined a strategic direction in life and have defined the process(es) to live into the person you wish to become.
Let’s Get Clear on Passion
Despite repeatedly being told to find it, few people can offer an articulate explanation for what passion is. Responses I receive typically revolve around enjoyment, which isn’t necessarily wrong, by the way.
There’s an issue with the whole perspective of “finding” your passion, though. This framework creates a fixed concept of passion, meaning you have it or you don’t. You find a specific thing, or you don’t.
When you adopt a fixed mindset around passion a few critical things occur.
First, you’re far less likely to try new things when you believe that passion is something you should find, especially if you “have an idea” of where it could be. Researchers from Stanford created an experiment where students pursuing degrees in STEM and Humanities were challenged to read on topics outside of their areas of focus. The study found your ability to be open to new ideas depended on your beliefs around interests and passions. If you had a fixed concept of passion, then you were far less likely to be receptive to new opportunities. If you were curious, though, when it came to your interests? These students were far more likely to be open to new ideas – and therefore opportunities to grow and learn.
Second, you’re significantly more likely to give up when faced with adversity. These same researchers created an experiment where students were exposed to a situation where curiosity could be developed in a topic new to them. They were then given a challenging paper to read on that same topic. The students with fixed mindsets on passion proved far more likely to give up on the paper than those students who believed that passion could be developed.
Believing that passion is something to be found creates a situation where you believe that the hard work is just finding something you enjoy. When that occurs, passion will kick in and carry you the rest of the way to a meaningful life. This just isn’t true, and this idea is and will continue to prove harmful for millions of people.
Why Purpose is the Answer
The reality is that your interests (passions) will change throughout your lifetime, but your purpose is more directional and is meant to evolve with who you are as a person. The very act of creating a personal mission statement – an exercise in purpose-based design – is meant to guide your journey in life. It’s the opposite of destination-based thinking.
A well-defined purpose (think personal mission statement) is the opposite of fixed or rigid, because it’s directional. It’s not telling you where you should end up, but instead pointing you in the direction you should always be moving. It embraces process, movement, the ever-changing context that comes with living life. In this way, purpose becomes a framework that is applied to each of the situations you’ll encounter in life.
And for this reason, purpose also thrives in spotting new opportunities. While a fixed concept of passion leads you to overlook new opportunities, purpose is concerned with maximizing the potential that each day brings. Everything that crosses your desk is measured against the directional focus in which you are leading your life.
Finally, where a passion-based focus can lead you to easily give up, a purpose-driven approach is all about resilience. One of the three key ingredients I share in my mission formula with clients is “necessity”. In other words, defining your purpose/mission is all about identifying the reasons you have in life for persevering through hardship. I would advise you to take it even further and put up pictures around your workspace that remind you constantly of why you need to focus and push through obstacles. Why you should never give up.
What Can You Do About It?
As I’ve mentioned a few times already, if you want to bring definition to your purpose then you should create your personal mission statement. I’ve dedicated an entire article to this exercise, and shared the formula I use with clients to help them define their purpose: direction + values + necessity.
Also, if you’re struggling with a perceived absence of passion or lack of purpose in your life, you should strongly consider hiring a coach. They can serve as a guide and source of accountability when building your mission statement and in the weeks that will follow as you attempt to live into – and improve – it. Additionally, a coach can help you determine areas in your life where you’re already achieving a sense of success and joy, and they can help you build a process to divert more time and energy into these areas.
Last, if you feel “stuck” in your current job and attempting a career change doesn’t make sense for your context, you should consider pursuing a side hustle. I didn’t say “second job”, but something you can create away from your professional work. You’re not doing this for extra money (although that could be a great benefit), but to pursue a potential interest in a way where you can generate a greater sense of self worth.
Always remember, building passion is about executing a process where you experience a series of successes that in turn inspire you to push further down the path of mastery.
“Find your passion” is awful advice for any aspect or stage of life. Instead, we should be advising people to create their personal mission statements and bring clarity to their purpose.
When you’re focused on the idea that passion is something specific you’re supposed to find, you inadvertently create a situation for yourself where you’re much more likely to overlook the many opportunities that come through your life, and where you easily give up when faced with hardship.
Instead, purpose is about strategic direction and necessity. These are two areas that will actually help you in always being receptive to new opportunities. By promoting a direction in life rather than a fixed destination, you will become more adaptable to all situations life can throw at you – positive or negative in circumstance. Additionally, you’ll significantly boost your resilience by creating awareness and focus around your sense of necessity, and in turn you’ll always have the fuel present to find your resolve to get the work done and to push through hardship.