You don’t have to be passionate

For years, I have been angsting over ‘finding my passion’ with the intention of following it, once found, into career success. At some point I started to believe that it had run away after years of neglect, and I was doomed to live a passionless life in my current rut, working doing things I didn’t believe were my passion because I didn’t know what my passion was.

I think I have finally come to realise, intellectually if not yet emotionally, that ‘finding your passion’ is a bit like looking for happiness. The harder you look, the more remote it gets. It seems instead to be something that grabs you when you’re busy doing other things (much like life happens while you’re busy making other plans).

I’ve tried to figure out my passion by sitting down with a bunch of self help books, making lists of my strengths and weaknesses, skills and talents, and what I enjoyed doing when I was 10. This got me nowhere other than to realise that my current career choice is well matched to my strengths and skills. Which left me thinking that I must be passionless, because, while I enjoy my work, I wouldn’t describe myself as passionate about it.

My father used to encourage us to do something for which we had ‘a fire in your belly’. He was an architect, reluctant to retire, and still interested and up to date with the world of architecture both locally and abroad. He still has his passion for it. I have never felt this about anything work related. I’ve enjoyed pretty much every job I’ve had but I’ve never had that deep drive in my belly to do this one thing.

I recently read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic. It’s a marvellous book about living a creative life. Her approach is so obvious somehow: just be curious. Be alert to that little prompt that says ‘huh, that’s interesting’ when you are in the middle of doing whatever, and follow that prompt to see where it leads. I love the story she tells about a 90 year old women who, ten years earlier, had got curious about Mesopotamian history and, having spent 10 years following her curiosity about it, was now considered an expert.

I have come to the conclusion that the current emphasis on following your passion is mistaken in two ways: first, that you know in your heart of hearts what your passion is, you just have to listen to that internal voice; and second, once you find it you should monetize it.

You might not know what your passion is until you discover it, which means you need to expose yourself to all sorts of things in the course of a lifetime and yes, by all means listen for that little voice but be aware that it might just be saying ‘huh, that’s interesting’ rather than announcing with exploding fireworks that ‘this is IT’.

Second, you don’t have to monetize it. How many times have I read about Einstein working in the patent office by day and doing ground-breaking physics over his evening cocoa? And still the message didn’t get through to me that you don’t, and quite possibly shouldn’t, quit your day job to follow your passion. As Gilbert says, don’t put that kind of pressure on it. Just enjoy it. Don’t even worry about being good at it, just enjoy it.

That’s all. Do stuff, be curious, and enjoy it. I could do worse than live by those words.