The Secret to Finding Your Passion

Papa Roach Concert in Amsterdam

The Secret to Finding Your Passion

Most of us are searching for a life calling that is financially, spiritually, and emotionally rewarding. Wouldn’t it be great to get paid to do what you love? Imagine being excited to get started on Monday morning, rather than dreading the start of another soul killing week. Here is the solution, but first we need some background information.

The Problem with Passion

There are some problems with the popular views of finding your passion, that likely get in the way of finding an occupation you truly enjoy:

1. Not every passion will earn you a great salary.

You might have a passion for watching movies, reading, eating potato chips, shopping, or even drinking coffee. While it is not impossible to earn an income doing those things, it is unlikely. You might be able to find related work, but it definitely won’t be doing the enjoyable part of those activities all day long.

 2. Passion is not enough.

Really enjoying an activity is not enough. For example, you may have a passion for playing guitar, but that doesn’t mean you will automatically become a rock star. You also need the image, charisma, distribution, marketing and luck, among other things. Being a brilliant guitarist is the price of admission, all the hard work comes after that.

3. Passion is a small fraction of the work.

Imagine being a world class rock star earning millions playing a couple of 90 minute shows a week. What that ignores is all the photo shoots, interviews, travel, rehearsals, individual practice, set up, merchandising, travel, time away from home and family, life on a cramped tour bus, etc. The actual time playing music is very small relative to the total work required.

3. Are you world class?

There is a huge difference between enjoying an activity and being good enough that people will pay you for your passion. There are millions of good runners around the world, but probably only hundreds that can earn enough in sponsorships and prize money to fund their interest. Even Olympic champions find that success to be fleeting. Top athletes in the world only have a short window of opportunity to capitalize on that fame. Being good at something is not enough in many callings; you really need to be amazing. Will you put in your 10,000 hours?

4. Too much of a good thing.

Hobbies you love part-time can easily turn into something you hate if done full-time. Doing yoga every morning can be very enjoyable and energizing. Teaching five yoga classes per day is likely to get very tiring and boring.

5. Multiple passions.

We are all multi-dimensional so cutting down to a single passion is difficult, if not impossible. Focus means excluding other enjoyable activities. What if you have passions for running, playing guitar and woodworking? How do you choose what to focus on and what to eliminate? Why not do all three if they all bring you happiness? They can all be fun hobbies. It doesn’t mean that all will bring you riches. You can enjoy them in your free time.

6. Passions change.

The hobbies and interests you have now are not likely to last for the rest of your life. We all change our minds. That is normal. Searching for one passion that will keep you engaged and excited for the long term will only lead to disappointment.

False Expectations

Career advisers and personal development authors have sold us this belief that if we find our single passion then our work will become enjoyable and rewarding. This false expectation keeps people constantly searching for some mythical passion that will suddenly make everything perfect. While that message might sell books and personal coaching, I don’t think it is an accurate reflection of realty.

Happiness and personal satisfaction are not intrinsic to particular occupations. Digging holes or scrubbing floors can be personally rewarding and fulfilling with the right attitude and motivation. I have previously said that “passion really is personal excellence.” Doing your best and over-coming obstacles is where real satisfaction comes from, not the activity itself.

The Secret to Finding your Passion

Cal Newport of StudyHacks has the best approach to finding work you love I have found. Newport quotes Edward Deci and Richard Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory (SDT) :

To be happy, your work must fulfill three universal psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

As Cal defines:

  • Autonomy refers to control over how you fill your time. As Deci puts it, if you have a high degree of autonomy, then “you endorse [your] actions at the highest level of reflection.”
  • Competence refers to mastering unambiguously useful things. As the psychologist Robert White opines, in the wonderfully formal speak of the 1950s academic, humans have a “propensity to have an effect on the environment as well as to attain valued outcomes within it.”
  • Relatedness refers to a feeling of connection to others. As Deci pithily summarizes: “to love and care, and to be loved and cared for.”

This is closely related to Dan Pink’s autonomy, mastery and contribution from his book Drive.

Cal Newport’s strategy for loving what you do breaks down to two simple steps:

1. Master a skill that is rare and valuable.

2. Cash in the career capital this generates for the right rewards.

Newport goes on to say,

The world doesn’t owe you happiness. Your boss has no reason to let you choose your own projects, or spend one week out of every four writing a novel at your beach house. These rewards are valuable. To earn them, you must accumulate your own career capital by mastering a skill that’s equally rare and valuable.

It’s important, however, that you cash in this capital, once accumulated, for the right rewards. The word “right,” in this context, is defined by the traits of SDT. In other words, once you have something valuable to offer, use it to gain as much autonomy, competence, and relatedness as you can possibly cram into your life.

In a separate post, Newport summarizes his views on passion as:

On Study Hacks, I’ve been promoting the idea that you have to be good at what you do before you can expect your job to be good to you. This is why I push myself and others to stop worrying about their “passion” and day dreaming about courageously bucking the status quo. Navel-gazing and conformity-defiance, I argue, is not how people end up loving what they do. Instead, they start by getting good at something rare and valuable, and then leverage this “career capital” to construct — not discover — a fantastic career.

The secret to finding your passion, is to stop thinking about some idealistic single answer to your career conundrum and just get really good at something the world will pay you for. You won’t love every minute of it, and that is okay. Enjoy the process of doing your best and striving to get better. That is where enjoyment comes from. Use the money you earn to fund your hobbies and other activities that you are interested in. You might find that you gain the most satisfaction from spending time with family and friends, not working after all.

More Articles on Finding Your Passion

StudyHacks: Beyond Passion: The Science of Loving What You Do

StudyHacks: Are Passions Serendipitously Discovered or Painstakingly Constructed?

CJ Scott: Why Finding Your Passion Might Not Be The Right Route To Riches The Short but Powerful Guide to Finding Your Passion

Kat Eden on DumbLittleMan: How to Find Your Passion

PassivePanda: How to Find Your Passion

Michael Hyatt: Find Your Passion in Three Steps

The Change Blog: Forget about finding your passion.

The Happiness Project: Why it might not be helpful to ask yourself, “What’s my passion?”

ScottHYoung: How to Discover What You’re Passionate About

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My name is John Bardos. My wife and I gave up our business, house and possessions in Japan to search for more meaning and fulfillment in our lives. We've discovered that a satisfying life is about rich experiences, quality relationships and meaningful contribution, NOT consumption.

4 Responses to The Secret to Finding Your Passion

  1. Chris Stott says:

    Hi John,

    Nice detailed and well researched post. I particularly like the idea that a passion can change, although I normally find that a persons true interests usually follow a theme. For example, you could say your passion was technology but of course it would change over time as the genre evolves.

    Thanks for the link too.

    Pura vida,


    • John says:

      Thanks for the stopping by Chris!

      I think when people talk about passion, they are really saying they have an ‘interest’ in something. Interests change all the time, especially when people realize how much work is required to achieve any level of proficiency.

      To me, a real passion is the willingness to put in crazy amounts of time and effort into largely boring and unfulfilling tasks, just for the fleeting satisfaction of achieving something brilliant on occasion. In this case, I would definitely agree that our passions follow a theme throughout our lives.

  2. Will - Gap Daemon says:

    What a fantastic and comprehensive article on all those things I considered after giving up corporate life this year. I’ve always wondered if passion – in the way I was brought up to think of it – really truly existed. The definition that you’ve shared, and the three principles, makes a hell of a lot more sense than someone simply urging you to go out there and find it.

  3. Jannell says:

    Great insight – and resources! Thanks, John, for putting this together. Helps me keep focus.

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