I recently communicated with a college student who asked, “How do I find my passion?”  I’ve heard this question so many times I’m going to explode. This topic reminds of something that happened when I went shopping with my wife to help her look for a birthday gift for a little girl. 

We were looking for a t-shirt with a unicorn. And after just a few minutes of searching in the mall, I gave up and went to the men’s department to look for something for myself. As I walked to the rear of the store I noticed a cute pink t-shirt with a unicorn on it.

I immediately texted my wife, “I found it.”

The search for passion is similar to my experience shopping. 

The best way of finding your passion is by not looking for it and going after what you really care about.

Whether you’re in college, out of college, or in your 40’s it applies equally.

Our culture has become so obsessed with idea that you have to “find your passion” to have a career, to be happy, and to ride unicorns into the sunset. But you have a better chance of finding your passion when you stop looking for it.

‘Find your passion’ makes for a great blog post title and a great commencement speech, but aside from that, it’s impractical when it comes to searching for your vocation or work that really matters.

Let me explain…

Searching for one’s passion hasn’t worked for anyone I’ve ever met in real life. I’m not saying it can’t be done or it isn’t real, but there are other ways of finding work that matters or is engaging.

I’m about to share what has worked for me and real people I know as opposed to famous people who give commencement speeches.

1. Look for Pain, not Passion

The people I know have focused on addressing a pain or some problem they felt compelled to solve. After committing to do something about that problem the passion developed over time. Career coach Dan Miller says,

“Passion is something you discover after you’ve started something.”

Passion wasn’t there from the beginning. It may come later, but time is better spent identifying a pain (or problem) you are curious about solving. There’s purpose in pain.

At the beginning, most people start with an interest and not a passion. Am I saying that passion is not real? No. Not at all. But you have to do something and have experiences in order to have enough time to get a sense of what really interests you.

Passion only shows up after you commit to an interest and become consistent.

These famous people who give inspiring commencement speeches who preach about finding your passion actually committed to something first, had some failures, made some adjustments, but they kept going.

The road to success people talk about is not really a straight path, but an unpaved, winding, dirt road that looks more like an obstacle course.

This reminds me of the Japanese proverb,

“Fall down seven, get up eight.

Okay, so where do you start? Here’s what I figured out. Just start with your interests even if more than one. Why?

Because action removes doubt. The more action you take the more clarity you will get.

For example, personally, it has always pained me to see people with tons of potential waste it. That’s why I really enjoy coaching, leadership development, and mentoring. I want to see people do more than they thought possible. What about you?

What bothers you the most?

What problem do you feel especially interested in addressing?

What drives you crazy?

You don’t have to solve world hunger. Take baby steps and volunteer somewhere, intern or just talk people in the fields you’re curious about.

At this point in your life you’re not looking for lifelong commitment, but an opportunity to experiment, learn and gain new experiences.

2. Look for what makes you come alive.

Theologian Howard Thurman said,

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do that because what the world needs are people who have come alive.”

He’s right!

Which activities, subjects or issues get you the most excited? And by excitement, this can also mean anger or hyped up.

So what issue or problem makes you the most upset or motivated to do something? What social issues or problems drive you crazy?

The problem is most people assume that PASSION = HAPPINESS. That’s wrong.

You can be passionate about addressing some problem, helping people overcome some challenges like addiction, or you’re just angered by abuse or discrimination. Doing work that brings out your passion does not mean you’ll be overcome with happiness while you’re doing it.

Instead of happiness, I’m finding fulfillment, which lasts longer.

3. What’s your (God-given?) gift?

I love public speaking, but not just any type. I love inspiring, encouraging, and mentoring people. But I didn’t know I was good at this until people started telling me. Colleagues would ask me where I learned to speak and how many years I had been practicing.

Public speaking is one of those things that I’m naturally good at but compared to best I’m still a baby in terms of how much I have to learn.

But the point of all this to stay that maybe you have some ability or talent that you’re really good at. Maybe there’s something that comes naturally to you but is difficult for others. This reminds me of a quote from John Maxwell who said,

“God’s gift to me is my potential. My gift back to God is what I do with that potential.”

When I speak encouraging words, I get this feeling unlike anything else. It feels like time stops. I love building leaders who go out make an impact and not just an income.

4. Whom can you serve?

Another reason why passion seekers get stuck, frustrated, and even more lost is because they’re too focused on themselves. One thing that has really helped me is understanding whom I can best serve with my gift and interests.

Where I am now is not where I started. 

My first job out of high school was coaching a middle school basketball team. It wasn’t until years later that I realized how much I enjoyed leading and mentoring young people. That experience was one of the clues in helping me uncover who I loved to serve and how.

So who are you most interested in helping or serving?

Put all these things together, answer these questions and gradually you’ll start to find clues about what’s motivating you internally. External motivation is good, but the power is really in intrinsic motivation because that’s what will keep you going.

But here’s a warning:

Even after discovering my strong interest in public speaking, communication and leadership development it still took commitment, deliberate practice, and courage to step out and do it over and over and over and over again.

There’s more to this than just ‘finding your passion.’

In the end, my wife didn’t buy the unicorn t-shirt but we found something much better for the little girl. Forget about passion for the moment and focus on what you can contribute, experiment, and then stick with something long enough for the passion to develop.

If you don’t like it you can move on to the next thing.

In my book Leader by Choice, I go into more detail not just on passion, but how to find your mission, your vocation (work that really matters to you), and self-leadership.

I’m giving away my favorite chapter which can help you understand your story and how to use it instead of letting it use you.

Get it here.

Andres Valdes – Overcomer