Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Knowing Your Passion

Occasionally people ask me for advice about what they ought to do in life. When they do, I typically tell them to look for the intersection of what they're passionate about and what they're really good at. While the exchange often ends there, the other day I got a follow-up question about how you know where your passion lies.

Though my first response was "Huh?" (how could you have trouble knowing whether you're really jazzed by something?), upon reflection I realized that it was a more sophisticated question than I first thought. For people who are highly relational, who adapt easily to what's going on around them, or who have many interests, this can be a confusing determination—because they have to distinguish exterior voices from interior ones, and that's not so easy if everyone's singing in the same choir. Even though being well appreciated (or well compensated) for something can have a definite influence on how much you enjoy doing it, what you're good at hinges on how others assess the quality of what you do; determining your passion, however, is solely up to you.

Here are some visceral clues that tell you that you're at (or at least within spitting distance of) your passionate core:

1. What gets you out of bed in the morning, raring to go?

2. Does the work energize you (rather than exhaust you)?

3. What puts a smile on your face just thinking about it? 

4. What do you dream about doing (nightmares count against it)?

5. Is there a spring in your step as the work approaches (good) or foot dragging (not so good)? 

6. What are you reading about recreationally? Hint: curiosity and passion often live in the same neighborhood.

7. Listen to your body. What's your immediate emotional response when someone brings up the topic of the candidate activity?

There are two main reasons this search is important. When you are acting in alignment with your passion it can profoundly affect: 

a) Your energy balance. Simply put, unaligned work is a slog and is delivered at a high psychic cost. You have to budget time for recovery and renewal just to get back to even. Conversely, aligned work is generative and sparkles. You start looking forward to the next day as soon as it's quitting time.

b) How your work is perceived by others. People know when someone is acting in alignment with their passion and they feel blessed by that energy. They pay more attention and they let it touch them at a deeper level. It's infectious in a positive way.

To be sure, passions can morph over time. That which floated your boat in your 20s may swamp it when you're in your 50s. Tastes change as does one's wisdom base, capacities, and sensibilities. So it's a good idea to occasionally (once a decade?) recast the net and see what comes back. Maybe the thermal vent to your soul has migrated to a new hot spot.

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