You’ve heard the advice: If you follow your passion, you’ll find happiness and success.
It sounds great. But to say you should follow your passion presumes you know precisely what your passion is. And you’re not just supposed to know it, but commit to that one thing forever. So when people ask “What’s your passion?”, we feel a bit uncomfortable and unsure as we scramble for a serviceable answer, like “helping people” or “traveling.”
Truth is, it isn’t easy to sum up all we are and care about in a clever response—and why do we need to? I gave a TEDx talk in 2015 called “Stop Searching for Your Passion,” and it must have hit a nerve, because that talk has surpassed 7 million views. (And someone even gave me the chance to write a book about it.) The irony is that I wasn’t even passionate about the topic, until it started to get a response. And then, suddenly, I was. Funny how that works, right?
The passion issue is coming up a lot lately in the wake of the pandemic. Not only have we realized what we’re not defined by (office buildings, work attire), but we’ve also given serious thought to what actually matters—and whether or not we’re doing it. In the U.S., for example, reflections like these have contributed to what is being called the Great Resignation: 4 million Americans quit their jobs in July 2021, and 10.9 million jobs were open.
While it’s important to think about the work we’re doing and the role that passion plays, to assume there is just one “right way” to do anything undermines the dynamic and evolving nature of our careers—and ourselves. But if we reinvent the way we see passion at work and in our lives, we can tap that energy to discover what’s next. Here’s how:
Beware of a fixed mindset.
The most resilient among us adopt a growth, versus a fixed, mindset. This means we’re willing to flex and adapt—helpful skills, as it turns out, when it comes to advancing our passions.
In a paper published in “Psychological Science,” psychologists conducted a series of experiments to explore if the way a person views their passions—believing they are fixed or developed—affects their interests and pursuits. They found that people who believed their passions were predetermined were more likely to curtail their interests in other areas and give up when the going got tough. After the participants were given a challenging article about their favorite subject, for example, the fixed-mindset people reported less interest than the growth-mindset people.
Bottom line? If you’re overly fixated on finding or following a singular passion, it could inhibit your ability to persist and limit the scope of your experiences altogether.
Consider passion a utility.
Passion isn’t a gift or special talent. It’s what makes us human. Think of it as a utility, like electricity or water—something that flows, takes different forms, and shows up in lots of places. It’s not like some lamps only work in the living room; they work anywhere there’s a plug.
What if we let go of the pressure to find one single, enduring passion? Instead, allow passion to do what it does best—animate, energize, and infuse all of your efforts. You’d be a lot less worried about finding or following your passion if you knew you had access to it whenever you wanted. And you do.
Let practice drive your purpose.
How do we find the motivation to persist in our careers? Often, we believe that once we find our passion, motivation will follow. But Jeff Haden, author of “The Motivation Myth,” writes that progress provides motivation. It grows from small, consistent actions. That means you don’t have to wait until you find your passion to be motivated.
Think about it: When you started your professional career, you probably found that some kinds of work excited you, until they didn’t, and then other work lit you up. You might not have guessed that your interests would take you in a certain direction. You had to figure it out as you went, learning new skills and trying different roles.
When we sharpen our skills, or deepen our relationships and mastery, we begin to see just what we’re capable of—which, in turn, can drive motivation and feed the flame of passion for a very long time.