Passion does exist for some people but for most of us it evolves over time. In the past, it was known as a calling or vocation. There are those who have always known what they wanted to be — physicians, musicians, writers, teachers, ministers, — and have pursued those goals diligently and can’t imagine being anything else. For most people, however, finding our passion requires life experience, exploration of different disciplines and overtime identifying a problem that you can help fix!
Most people develop their identity and their sense of self over time. The identity is constructed gradually by working in a variety of areas and immersing oneself in some task. The longer we live the more time we have to reflect on our experience and crystallize our tastes, values and our identity.
Developing our identity is similar to developing a brand: It requires time and exposure to the outside elements before it becomes known. Our identity and our purpose (or passion) are closely related and the more one understands who they are and what drives them, the closer they’ll be to discovering their purpose. Your purpose is something you are compelled to do simply because of who you are: It unfolds over time and isn’t automatic. It requires effort to learn who we are and then, to act upon this knowledge in ways that enable us to realize the potential our identities hold.
Knowing that finding your identity and your life purpose requires life experience and is a process should help alleviate some anxiety about not fully knowing what it is early in your career. No one becomes an expert or fully self-aware overnight: Most people take years to discover their unique purpose and arrive at their purpose from enduring hard work, exposure to a variety of tasks and a commitment to ascertaining what they can do to have an impact.
Becoming an expert at a task can lead to your purpose. Many of my clients express feeling overwhelmed and disconcerted that they don’t know what their passion is and therefore are paralyzed in taking an internship or job for fear it won’t lead them directly to their “passion” and they’ll go through life and never find their calling. Here’s what I suggest: Let go of the notion that your chief objective is to find your passion and this will free yourself up to channel your energy in alternative career philosophy that’s more adaptive…to discover where there’s a problem you can help resolve and become a part of the solution! Ultimately this work may lead to your calling.
Find the need
A passion can be derived from seeking out experiences that afford you an opportunity to develop and hone skills you can use to help solve problems. To lay the groundwork for a passion to grow, the first task is to consider where there’s a need that hasn’t been met. When you’re focused on adding value to your team and filling a gap that hasn’t been met you may find yourself being more appreciated. Feeling appreciated is a strong motivator: It can lead to your finding more areas where you can put your team’s goals first, earn recognition for your contribution, feel appreciated for your contribution and this positive cycle continues until voila! …you’ve discovered you’re passionate about your work!
We can strategically think of ourselves as brands and analytically assess, refine, design and live our lives with greater consciousness.
- Who am I?
- What makes me special?
- Is there a pattern to my life?
- What is my gift?
- Where am I going?
- What is my message?
Our self-confidence and self-awareness increases as we focus on self-improvement and strive to answer these questions. As we experience life more and navigate our way through challenges we discover what makes us happy, what inspires and we gain clarity about who we are and who we are not!
It can also come from what originally you think is an unpleasant or negative experience such as the rejection from a professional school or loss of a job. I remember thinking that since my father and all my brothers were lawyers and my mom was a stay at home mom the logical choice of a career was the practice of law and specifically becoming a litigator like my dad. Although my LSAT scores were decent enough to gain entry to many law schools, they weren’t remarkable enough to get me admitted to the top three schools I was “passionate” about attending. I eventually accepted my relative “defeat” and decided to work for a year and explore other areas that interested me.
In hindsight I’m thrilled that I didn’t attend Law school as I would have been stuck in a field that would have honed my skills as a debater rather than as a counselor, coach and advisor. As I’ve matured, I know that I am much more suited to be writing, advising, educating and coaching vs. in the courtroom litigating cases. The alternative path I chose allowed me to combine my passion for marketing and psychology doing what I love doing today as a career coach.
The “dream” career path for me as a lawyer would have led me to a path that would have made it difficult to stay home and raise my two children and impossible for me to fulfill my life dream to help others catapult their life dreams. The career path was indirect, unclear and yet necessary in order to reach my career destiny. The lesson here is that there are many ways to skin a cat and there are equally many ways to approach your career path. Just get started and keep your focus on identifying needs that you can fill, have a positive attitude, be flexible at work and never give up!!!!
One can learn from my situation that what at the time was a disappointment (not having scores that would get me into Harvard, Yale or Stanford) ended up being a huge blessing! If I had followed the path of my siblings and my father of going to law school, I would have unknowingly forgone the opportunity to develop my marketing and other entrepreneurial skills that I gained by pursuing an MBA and working as a computer sales rep, marketing consultant, legal recruiter, H.R. executive intern, strategic planner and finally as an author and career coach. All of the skills I gleaned over the years prepared me for the career I have today which ultimately is my calling! I didn’t know that these steps would have resulted in me choosing to become a career coach: In fact this field wasn’t even in demand earlier in my career.
The lesson one can glean from my story is that you can’t always know what career will be most suitable for you at the beginning of your career path. You don’t need to fear that you’ll miss your true calling because you don’t know “your passion” in college or even after you graduate. Passion is something that can grow over time and can evolve from developing competence in your work. What you do need to challenge yourself to identify and develop skills that are in demand so you will be able to find different jobs that will provide you both real world experience and financial security. Overtime, an outgrowth of your commitment may lead to finding your passion. Cal Newport’s, (a recent Ph.D graduate from MIT and Professor of computer science at Georgetown) wrote in a recent NY Times article, Follow a Career Passion? Let it Follow You, sums up my point beautifully. Cal wrote:
“Passion is not something you follow. It’s something that will follow you as you put in the hard work to become valuable to the world.”
This alternative career philosophy suggests that fulfillment comes over time as you become better at your job, build valuable skills and become more engaged in making a contribution to your job. The traits that lead people to love their work are general and aren’t necessarily tied to a job’s specifics. These traits include a sense of autonomy and the feeling that you’re good at what you do and are having an impact on the world.