A reader of ours wrote in with concerns about feeling lost and wanting to discover what her passion and skills are in order to build a fulfilling career.
The process of discovering and claiming something you love to do has an amazing impact on your life. Think of it as a tiny, perfect raindrop landing on a previously smooth surface of water. The instant the drop hits the water, beautiful waves of ever-enlarging rings flow across the entire surface, spreading out to affect your mood, your choices, and everything else.
In college, I was feeling lost and panicked about not knowing what I loved and was good at, and I worried that I would get stuck in an unsatisfying profession – one where I wouldn’t find much meaning. When I took a class on interpersonal communications from a very inspiring teacher, I found I had an aptitude and passion for communication and an interest in designing and delivering training. I found my career in that moment. I felt buoyant and excited about the future – and everything that followed flowed joyously for me – and has for the past 40 years. Here are some steps you can take to make this possible for you.
Make an inventory of your talents and things you enjoy. For what do you have a natural aptitude? Let go of what you’re good at but don’t really like doing. Choose things for which you have a knack that delight or happily occupy you. I knew a guy who loved taking pictures. He was in a job that his sucked energy and didn’t play to his strengths. But, when he decided to make his photography hobby his career, he could hardly contain his excitement. He took on a few clients and finally gave himself “permission” to embrace more fully the pastime he loves.
Don’t be concerned if what you love isn’t practical or common. And you don’t have to be good at something for it to qualify as a passion. Also, you don’t ever have to earn a penny of income from it. Talent can simply be a clue. When it comes to your passions, the only thing that matters is that you enjoy them.
Think of what you loved to do as a child. This is probably the simplest way to unearth which pursuits hold the potential to light up your days. Before the adults got to us with their ideas, most of us as children knew exactly who we were and what would light us up.
Did you sing at the top of your lungs until people begged you to stop? Were you obsessed with horses? Loved finger painting or drawing? Danced to every song you heard? Collected stamps or coins?
Think of your favorite school subjects – loved science and joined every science fair? Sat for hours doing puzzles? Loved literature or plays?
Notice when you lose track of time, or what you hate to stop doing. When I spent time with friends, I loved listening to them – fascinated with their point of view, their struggles and concerns. I found myself at work, slowing down to dive into a colleague’s goals, concerns and issues – and spent more time than I had available thinking along with them about alternatives and strategies. It’s no surprise that in addition to training and development, I have an executive coaching practice where I create time with clients to teach, problem solve, encourage and provide support.
What don’t you ever get enough time for that you would love to spend hours doing? That’s a passion for you – and you probably could make more time for it than you are now.
Pay attention to what and who stirs up your jealousy. Is there someone in your life who you feel annoyed with because it seems they behave frivolously or may not be the most responsible? Take a closer look at that annoyance. Is the truth behind your feeling that you really wish you could live so freely that you didn’t have as many serious responsibilities, and could be as carefree as they?
When I discovered the field of training and development, some people around me thought it wasn’t a “practical” career. When I discovered my joy, even my parents said, “I don’t really get what you will do. And they would pay you for that?” Thankfully I persisted and ignored everyone who tried to discourage me. I also inspired others around me – those inclined to the same career path – to shift in the same direction.
See your hunt for your passion as a fun and joyful adventure. Part of your difficulty may be putting a lot of pressure on yourself to find your passion. While it’s critically important to discover and engage in what you find joy in, when you cultivate a child-like attitude of play, wonder and adventure, you are learning and growing. Life becomes an adventure, rather than a serious matter.
When you deliberately open yourself to noticing things you might enjoy doing, there is no “getting it wrong”. When you are on an adventure, you are in the spirit of experimentation – taking a few classes and seeing what develops. Studies in happiness show that trying new things increases your brain’s dopamine levels. This contributes to sustained levels of contentment. So the more experiments, learning and growing – the better!
In short, notice what you enjoy doing, no matter how “frivolous”. Notice what causes you to feel like you did as a child. Notice what you long to have more time for and what you see other’s doing that you wish for you. Make time for these things by taking classes or joining a group – whatever you can manage, and watch your life start to change. It will amaze you!
–Andrea Zintz, PhD
President, Strategic Leadership Resources LLC