Sometimes a career can feel more like a careen. We lurch from job to job hoping one of them will light a fire in our bellies. But finding work we are passionate about requires more than well-intentioned attempts.
When Sir Ken Robinson took to the TED stage back in 2006, he spoke fervently about the importance of finding your passion. This clearly struck a chord with a mostly bored workforce—1 in 3 people in the UK are unhappy in their jobs—as he became the most viewed TED speaker of all time.
While opportunity and education levels have never been so high, we still find it difficult to go after what we really want. Indeed, many of us don’t even know what that is. Some rare creatures have clear career objectives from a young age but for the rest of us, knowing what we want to do can be a more difficult question.
It’s quite likely that you’re rather good at many things. Being the multitalented soul that you are, you may not have specialised. Waiting for destiny to grab you by the lapels, probably isn’t the foolproof strategy you’d like it to be.
But without an overwhelming fateful sense of where you’re supposed to be, how can you find it?
What are you good at?
It’s too easy to dismiss the things that come naturally to us, but most often, these are the skills you should take notice of. Maybe if you combined your innate abilities with something you find exciting, beautiful things could happen.
Don’t tell me that you don’t think you’re good at anything, because that’s just a bad case of self-deception! If you haven’t found something yet, it probably means that either you’re harbouring a desire so secret you’ve forgotten it yourself, or maybe you haven’t tried out the thing that will appeal to you most.
What did you love to do as a kid?
I was always writing something as a child. I scribbled—and illustrated, oh yes – quite the young Sendak was I!— stories, songs and letters. Any excuse to put pen to paper was good enough for me. For my parents, it was a conveniently quiet pursuit, and all that early practice stayed with me. As I got older and started to think about what I actually wanted to do with my life, writing just seemed the obvious option. The methods may not be the same as when I was seven, but practice has developed my leanings into something stronger that I can control and change. More importantly, I can pay the bills while doing something I genuinely enjoy and look forward to every day.
What makes you lose track of time?
In creative circles there is a magic term, a much sought-after beast, known as ‘flow’. It’s like the opposite of writer’s block where instead of cursing every minute, you don’t notice time, hunger, or the zombie apocalypse because you’re so involved in what you’re doing.
We all have something that when we do it, to quote Gloria Steinem, “I do not feel I should be doing something else”. Try to be aware of when you’ve lost track of time and what you were doing when you had. It might lead to something special.
Make it fun
Don’t feel pressured to find a passion. Good things take time and care and if you’re not sure what you want right away, that’s completely fine. The important thing is to open yourself up to new things, and be ready to give anything a go. Don’t fear looking silly. Only worrying about perceptions will make you seem stilted. While you probably won’t become a prima ballerina if you’re 37, if dance is what lights your fire, find a way to get involved. Volunteer for a theatre, take some pictures, come up with a new way for dancers to learn steps. When you’re doing something you love, you won’t care about perceptions.
This is where I give a plug to my favourite TED alumnus, SirKenRob. I like that he takes passion seriously, but doesn’t do it in a poe-faced, patronising way. He wants people to do whatever inspires them and makes them happy. And that’s why he’s a bit of a hero.
I’d recommend reading his book – it really is helpful, and has exercises that you can complete to help you figure out where, and who you want to be.
Don’t wait to become someone or to be happy. You can’t wait for passion to find you. You have to go out and take it.