Find your passion. That’s always the message floating around inspirational Instagram posts. I’ve spoken to so many people over the years, though, who are turned inside out by not knowing their passion, and therefore, their one big thing.
Feeling passionate about your work is incredible but “find your passion” is confusing advice, and at worst, it leaves people feeling like there’s something wrong with them if they don’t know what it is. Instead of worrying about finding your passion, practice taking note of what’s meaningful to you and what’s absorbing your attention, and let it develop organically over time. Let’s go through a couple of ways to do that.
Purpose is why you do something; what makes it meaningful to you. Purpose connects to your values, the things that are important to you. Everyone’s values are unique to them and whilst they include biggies like altruism, honesty, integrity, social justice, they also include more workaday ones like order, teamwork, efficiency, accuracy. Values make sense of your life and where you’re putting your energy and they connect you to the bigger picture. That bigger picture doesn’t have to be saving the world, it could simply mean making someone smile, being a good colleague, or being financially independent. It’s your picture, after all.
Take notice of when you feel most yourself, proud, satisfied, or even happiest. These are good indicators of when you’ve tapped into a value. Figuring out your values is not always straightforward, not least of all because we don’t often have the words to describe them. A values assessment can give you a start, and I’d encourage you to think further on this over time, rather than come up with a definitive list in one sitting and ticking it off as done.
Most people will have some understanding of purpose, even if they don’t know theirs yet, though flow is a lesser-known concept. Flow is the feeling of being completely absorbed in something, an exceptional experience, when what you feel, what you wish, and what you think are in harmony, often described as being in the zone. It’s linked to goals, skills, and feedback, so it’s not surprising that a flow moment can leave you feeling pretty damn good1. When was the last time you had a moment like this? Take note of it and any new moments as they happen too. You want to get as much data on yourself as possible. Consider the tasks you were doing, the context, all the different elements. Don’t be put off by a flow moment not happening at work, nor the opposite. What you’re looking for here are clues: what were the factors that made this a good experience? What can you learn from it to make it happen more often?
A typical day is full of anxiety and boredom. Flow experiences provide the flashes of intense living against this dull background.Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Finding Flow
Write it down
With both purpose and flow, writing down these details will help you make sense of it. Firstly, it gets it out of your head. It takes effort to remember this stuff. Put it in writing so you know you won’t forget, and you’ll relieve your mind of the task of remembering. Phew. That give you some more mental space for the important part, understanding it. Secondly, reflective journaling is a tried and true method that helps people make sense of their experiences. If you cringe at the thought of a diary entry, don’t despair, reflective journaling is more about describing what happened, analysing it, including how you felt, and then thinking about what you learned or what you’d do next time. It can be bullet points and notes if that’s what works for you. Just give it a try.
Where to from here
Passion is an emotion, and emotions come and go. Purpose and flow tap into deeper parts of you and build a foundation to help you reach life satisfaction. Stop worrying about finding your passion, do some work on understanding yourself for a little bit. You might just find it happens despite you, or you might find something else entirely that’s even better.
1 Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life. , pp 30-31. Basic Books.