Remember back when you were a kid? You would just do things. You never thought to yourself, “What are the relative merits of learning baseball versus football?” You just ran around the playground and played whatever looked like fun at the time. Nobody told you to do it, you just did it. You were led merely by your curiosity and excitement. And the beautiful thing was, if you hated playing kickball you just stopped playing it.
And if you loved looking for bugs, you just did that. There was no second-level analysis of, “Well, is looking for bugs really what I should be doing with my time as a child? Nobody else wants to look for bugs, does that mean there’s something wrong with me? How will looking for bugs affect my future prospects?”
I’ve received over 11,000 emails this year from people telling me they don’t know what to do with their life and if I had any ideas on where to “find their passion.” And of course, I didn’t respond. Why? Because I have no clue! If you don’t have any idea what to do with yourself, what makes you think some jackass with a website would? I’m a writer, not a fortune teller.
But more importantly, what I want to say to these people is this: that’s the whole point — “not knowing” is the whole freaking point. Life is all about not knowing, and then doing something anyway and it’s not going to get any easier just because you found your dream job. I found my dream job but it still sucks about 30% of the time…sometimes more on certain days. There’s no such thing as some passionate activity that you will never get tired of, never get stressed over, and/or never complain about.
The common complaint among a lot of these people is that they need to ‘find their passion.’ I call b.s. You already found your passion, you’re just ignoring it. Seriously, you’re awake 16 hours a day, what the hell do you do with your time? You’re doing something, obviously. You’re talking about something. There’s some topic or activity or idea that dominates a significant amount of your free time, your conversations, your web browsing, and it dominates them without you consciously pursuing it or looking for it.
It’s right there in front of you, you’re just avoiding it. You’re telling yourself, “Oh well, yeah, I love comic books but that doesn’t count. You can’t make money with comic books.” Have you even tried?
The problem is not a lack of passion for something the problem is productivity, perception, and acceptance. The problem is the, “Oh, well that’s just not a realistic option,” or “Mom and Dad would kill me if I tried to do that, they say I should be a doctor.” The problem isn’t passion; it’s never passion.
And even then, who says you need to make money doing what you love? Since when does everyone feel entitled to love every second of their job? Really, what is so wrong with working an OK normal job with some cool people you like, and then pursuing your passion in your free time? Has the world turned upside-down or is this not suddenly a novel idea to people?
The issue here is, once again, expectations. If you think it’s passion just because you’re working 70-hour work weeks and sleeping in your office like Steve Jobs you’ve been watching too many movies. Being a workaholic doesn’t mean your passionate about your job. If you think you’re supposed to wake up every single day dancing out of your pajamas because you get to go to work, then you’ve been drinking the Kool-Aid. Life doesn’t work like that; it’s unrealistic.
I have a friend who, for the last three years, has been trying to build an online business selling whatever. It hasn’t been working. And by not working, I mean he hasn’t launched anything. Despite years of “work” and saying he’s going to do this or that, nothing ever gets done. What does get done is when one of his former co-workers comes to him with a design job to create a logo or some promotional material for an event. He’s all over that and still wondering about his potential business of selling products or services. He does a great job designing. He loses himself in his work then after the design job is finished he’s saying: “Man, I just don’t know what I’m supposed to do.” Crazy.
I meet so many people like him. He doesn’t need to find his passion; his passion already found him. He’s just ignoring it; he just refuses to believe it’s viable. He’s afraid of giving it an honest-try.
It’s like a nerdy kid walking onto a playground and saying, “Well, bugs are really cool, but NFL players make more money, so I should force myself to play football every day,” and then coming home and complaining that he doesn’t like recess because he hates playing football. That’s ridiculous, everybody likes recess. The problem is that he’s arbitrarily choosing to limit himself based on some stupid ideas he got into his head about success and what he’s supposed to do.
Another email I get all the time is from people wanting advice on how to become a writer. And my answer is the same: I have no idea. As a kid, I would write short stories in my room for fun. As a teenager, I would write music reviews and essays about bands I loved and then show them to nobody. Once the internet came around, I spent hours upon hours on forums writing multi-page posts about inane topics – everything from guitar picks to the causes of the Iraq War.
I never considered writing as a potential career; I never even considered it a hobby or passion. To me, the things I wrote about were my passion: music, politics, philosophy, etc. Writing was just something I did because I felt like it. And when I had to go looking for a career I could fall in love with, I didn’t have to look far. In fact, I didn’t have to look at all…it chose me. It was already there. Already something I was doing every day, since I was a kid, without even thinking about it.
Because here’s another point that might make a few people salty: If you have to look for what you’re passionate about, then you’re probably not passionate about it at all. If you’re passionate about something, it will already feel like such an ingrained part of your life that you will have to be reminded by people that it’s not normal, that other people aren’t like that.
It didn’t occur to me that writing 2,000 word posts on forums was something a lot of people didn’t consider fun. It never occurred to my friend that designing a logo is something that most people don’t find easy or fun. To him, it’s so natural that he can’t even imagine it being otherwise. And that’s why it’s probably what he should be doing.
The truth is you already enjoy something. Finding your passion doesn’t mean you’re finding a way to make a living, it’s a state of mind. It doesn’t mean you’ll be in a state of passion all day long or every day for that matter. It just means you’re smart enough to know what you enjoy and make it happen.
You can be passionate about bowling, passionate about watching your kids play sports, passionate about going to movies, passionate about gardening, etc. What do you love doing? Congratulations, you’ve found your passion.