Seven Steps to Finding What You’re Truly Passionate About

About a week ago, I wrote an article concerning ten ways to turn your passion into additional income. This post, of course, begged the obvious question from several readers: “What do I do if I don’t know what my passion is?”

There isn’t a tried and true recipe for finding one’s passion. You can’t just sit down, take a test, and suddenly know where your passion and drive are. Instead, you have to find it, and that can be an amazing journey in and of itself.

Here are seven steps worth following if you’re trying to find your passion but haven’t quite discovered it yet.

1. Maximize your health
Before you even try to find your passion, make sure that you’re in good health and are dealing with things with plenty of energy, a healthy body, and a clear mind. If you can’t run through the following checklist without pause, focus on resolving these issues before going on.

Are you eating well? Is your diet basically healthy, meaning do you get plenty of vegetables and fruits? Are you not eating too much fat? Are you drinking plenty of water?

Are you exercising? Even a little bit of steady aerobic walking each day can make a world of difference in terms of your personal energy level.

Are you caught in any significant emotional entanglements? Are there personal relationships dragging you down and eating your focus? Get these resolved as soon as you possibly can – negative relationships drain from all aspects of your life.

Are you getting plenty of sleep and rest? If you’re constantly tired, you’ll have a hard time discovering things you’re passionate about. Look for a better way to manage your time and get caught up on your sleep.

2. Ask questions
Basically, revert to being a three year old. Whenever you observe something that you don’t understand, ask questions. Find out about how things work around you. Be curious. Make a genuine effort to learn how things work in the world around you. Even if you don’t understand at first, keep trying.

A truly curious mind is the first step to discovering your passion. If you don’t bother to investigate the many mysteries and exciting questions around you, you’ll have a very hard time finding that particular area that fills you with excitement and interest.

Try reading a wide variety of things, too. Spend an hour a day just doing a “Wikipedia stumble” – start by entering a term you’ve always wanted to know about, then follow the links within Wikipedia from there, just reading articles and seeing what you can learn.

3. Ignore what’s “cool”
Many people are hindered right off the bat by some sense of what’s “cool” and “not cool.” Most people try to prescribe such behavior to adolescents, high schoolers, and college students, but it persists throughout adult life. Think of people that you meet that you think of as “weird.” For example, I know a person that lives nearby who likes to raise bees – a lot of people view that family as “weird” and nearly ostracize them.

If you let these types of perspectives influence you, you’re again missing out on a lot of things. Don’t worry about what others think when you’re learning about a topic. Don’t be embarrassed to go to the library and check out a book on raising worms. Don’t worry about what others might think if you start a compost bin in the backyard.

4. Dabble in everything
Not only should you learn about lots of things, you should try them out, too. If you’re learning about painting, for example, go to an art store and ask if there are any “complete beginners” classes. If you’re learning about woodworking, try making a box. If you’re learning about the guitar, borrow an old one from someone.

Remember, though, at first you will be really bad at whatever you try. Don’t worry if you try for a few hours and can’t get things to turn out like you want. The real question is whether you enjoyed the process. Did you really enjoy doing it, even if it didn’t work out? Can you see new things you’re going to try next time?

5. When something piques your interest, try it again – and again
If you try something out and you find yourself strongly desiring another stab at it, that’s a good sign. Give it a second try – and a third. Again, don’t worry about failures – only worry about the process itself. Are you learning something each time? Are you enjoying that learning? Afterwards, are you yearning to try again? Those are the things you should be looking for.

This is also a good time to start looking at technique. If you’ve had fun stumbling around with a guitar, pick up a book on teaching yourself guitar and learn a basic chord or two. Practice it over and over – if you find the practice fun, you’re probably on to something!

6. Associate with people who share this burgeoning interest of yours
The next step is to find people who are interested in this area, particularly people with a much higher skill level than you. Go to these people with humility and open yourself to learning from them and “talking shop.” Spend time with them and learn what you can from them. Seek out a mentor of sorts.

If you’ve found your passion, these people will seem quite fascinating to you and you’ll naturally be drawn to them through a shared interest, even if you might not have given them the time of day before. These people will do more to help you develop and channel your passion than anyone else – work on cultivating friendships with the people who share your newfound passion and click with you.

7. Don’t keep pushing it if the passion dries up quickly
Quite often, you’ll have an initial flare of interest in something, but that flare will quickly subside as you discover aspects that you don’t like. Don’t fret – just be willing to recognize this and move on to other things. I’ve had flares of passion for all sorts of activities in my life, from woodworking to playing the banjo.

The real trick is to realize when the passion is actually dying out versus when you’ve hit a learning plateau. The real question to ask yourself is whether you still enjoy the basics of it – go back and do something very basic and see if it still gives you a tingle. That’s the difference.

You’ll know when you’ve found it.
When you finally discover a passion, you’ll know it – maybe not at first, but when you start digging in a bit. You’ll have this deep craving to do it again and again. You’ll want to learn more and more about it, and you’ll find yourself thinking about it and talking about it to others. Let this passion run wild and free for a while, then seek ways to channel it and ride the flow of that passion. If you can figure out how to ride the passion to some sort of financial destination, you’ll be living a life many dream of but few actually reach – and it’s something definitely worth fighting for.

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40 thoughts on “Seven Steps to Finding What You’re Truly Passionate About

  1. Matt says:

    I think the hardest thing for most people isn’t necessarily finding their passion but actually starting the search. When I was reading The 4 Hour Workweek and I was thinking about my dreamlines I came up with some ideas but they quickly ran out.

    Starting with what’s cool can very quickly point out things that aren’t interesting to you at all and this could be a possible starting point. You might stumble upon a new hobby that can become a passion.

    Its more of a process than anything else.

  2. Saving Freak says:

    The process of finding your passion is part of the reward. You learn so much about yourself that it frees you from many of the burdens of other peoples expectations. If you are looking for what you are passionate about and not worrying about the rest of the worlds issues life becomes much simpler.

  3. I’ve found that finding a passion is a lot of work. There is a lot of temptation to do what is trendy at that time period, but as you said, the drive quickly wears out.
    SOmetimes I think that a higher power points me toward a passion and shows me success at it – like my latest real Estate deals that brought me both excitement and profit. The process was fun and I was successful, but is it a passion? I really don’t know. It might be what is trendy right now in my market.
    This is a good exercise taht I think everyone whoudl embrace. I’m not sure it is as easy as 7 steps…but it is certainly a start.

  4. sunshine says:

    Absolutely true that you know when you’ve found it. I am a budding triathlete and I am truly enjoying training for all three sports, have hooked up with people who share my interest and have convinced a few others to join me.

    Great article!

  5. I 100% agree with the post. Health should be the #1 thing in just about every list like this. Physical, mental, and fiscal health provide the foundation that allows you to focus on important things.

    Perfect example: I was working 9.5 hours a day and starting to not like my job. I left work tired and not interested in anything but watching TV. Now I’m working 5 hours, taking a break to read or walk through town, and working another 3. That break really clears my head. I get the same work done and enjoy my job again.

    Being able to follow your passion is a great tool for a happy life. Remember passions can cost money, and there is a line between passion and obsession.

  6. clevelis says:

    Awesome summation of very important life question. I especially agree with starting at the health and relationships. I have found some of greatest cheerleaders where I least expect it. Here’s a quote that I thought would be good food for thought along those lines…

    “What you need to know is determined by what group you intend to influence.”–Dr. Ben Carson, Think Big

    As I work with others on this very same topic I find that they are too afraid to take the risks. Seeking out something new is a risk, and I can garauntee you it is well worth it.

  7. @sunshine
    I too am training for my first triathlon this summer. I came from a swimming background and have the running thing figured out now. I’m getting a bike with my tax return/stimulas package and will train with a friend that has a lot of cycling experience.

  8. I just wrote a related post today … finding your passion (better yet, your Life’s True Purpose) is the FIRST step to making it big; the second step is how to turn that into a financial goal … I believe that once you do, the rest will (almost) take care of itself.

  9. Ben Dinsmore says:

    I’ve recently begun dabbling in my new online blog. Judging by peoples reactions on my site I’m certainly not doing what’s cool.

  10. Adrian says:

    Not to be too bitchy, but it’s ironic you’re talking about “maximizing health” by getting plenty of rest, when the dominant ads on your site for the last couple weeks have been for Provigil, which is a drug supposedly prescribed for narcolepsy (!) but is actually used off-label by go-getters, yuppies, and the sleep-deprived to push themselves to the brink of exhaustion.

    The drug companies have begun to wise up to this off-label use and are denying the surprisingly many claims that average Joes are filing to be reimbursed for Provigil due to their “narcolepsy” :-)

    Anyway, I suppose I am just being bitch, after all.

  11. Great post! One more thing: With the power of the Internet and sites like Yahoo! Groups, you can explore a passion even if you don’t know a soul doing it around you. I’ve found such kind people so willing to share their passions in order to help me learn … and even if something turns out not to be my thing, I’ve learned a lot and made more connections than are easily found where I live.

    As for the drug ads, I suspect that ad found its way to the site after Trent’s post and discussion about his short-on-sleep schedule. Hopefully it will find its way off when that topic wanes.

  12. Trent says:

    Adrian, by mentioning narcolepsy, you may have just kept that ad around for a bit longer.

  13. Norman MIller says:

    I’d like to add #8, a note about expectations. At least in my experience “truly passionate” is a pretty high bar. I don’t think the great majority of people ought to set the bar this high.

    Maybe “enjoy doing” is a better expectation.

    Maybe you want to be “truly (Tiger Woods) passionate” about something. I don’t. I’m very content to “enjoy doing” a few things.

    I like to write, play my guitar, teach my daughter piano, play hockey, ski, design and build stuff, boating, et cetera.

    This of course might lead to a #9, finding a way to take 2 or 3 of the things you enjoy doing and combine them into something you can build a business or career upon.

    I had my wife write down everything she could think of that qualified as “a few of her favorite things”. Turns out that she likes cooking, gardening, and decorating a lot: Go figure.

    This little exercise changed her perspective on housework. Now, instead of viewing cooking and cleaning as drudgery, she views it as her hobby.

    She takes cooking and gardening classes with friends and family now. She’s planning on taking some classes in home decorating too.

    Seems half the battle was never finding something new or creative in what she once viewed as a chore.

  14. H-Bomb says:

    I think Norman may have just helped me out alot.

  15. !wanda says:

    @Adrian: Either use the link that says “Report this ad,” or use Adblock.

  16. Frugal Dad says:

    Another gem, Trent! I particularly enjoyed the final paragraph because I believe many people actually do discover what their passion is, but they never chase it out of fear or failure. Using The Simple Dollar as a model, you have obviously found your passion for writing and “rode” it right out of the rat race by becoming a soon-to-be full time writer. It’s not necessary that one drop everything to chase their passion, but it can be done during off-hours when you are not working your current, full-time j.o.b.

  17. Andy says:

    Here is my deal:

    I have two days (until Thursday) to decide if I want to do a PhD in archaeology or a Masters in Accounting.

    I studied Classics as an undergrad and liked it a lot. I think I would enjoy my career as an archaeologist (professor) but I don’t love the subject. I think I am more drawn to the life style, people, travel, etc. I think I would be relatively miserable in school (I am just tired of it at this point, and it is a 7 year program), but would enjoy the job. I would really enjoy the teaching, but the research I think would be a little boring for me and there is the downside of it being very competitive to get jobs which don’t pay much. For this, I think I would be happy, but I don’t know if this is my passion and purpose in life.

    I have just recently taken a couple accounting courses and enjoyed them. It would only be a little over one year of school and then I could get a job. The job is probably more active than being a professor, which I like, but I don’t really see myself working in a cubicle all day. But I don’t really know much about it. I have talked to a couple people, but I don’t know if I would like it. I could love it, or I could hate it. At the same time, it would provide more opportunities once I do it for a few years to do other things: start a business, get a PhD in accounting, etc. So this provides me with a better opportunity to find my passion, but I have a chance of ending up in a job/profession I hate.

    So what do I do? Be an archaeologist and be happy, but maybe my career is not my passion. Or do the accounting, and take a chance at being unhappy but having more opportunities to find a passion. And who knows, if I do the accounting I could realize that archaeology really was my passion.

    One last thing, this is for the most part my only chance at being an archaeologist, once you’re out of it for a few years, you won’t be accepted into top programs, which are necessary to get a job.

    I need help. I am going crazy thinking about this. Thanks.

  18. !wanda says:

    @Andy: I assume you mean you have two days to decide which offer you’d accept. Ask the archaeology program if you can take a year off before you start the program. I strongly suspect they’d say yes. If so, accept that offer and spend your year off maybe recharging a little, by working or traveling, maybe taking a few night courses in accounting, and reading and talking to people about both professions. I think in a few months, when you’re not so stressed, you’ll have a better idea of what you’d like to do.

  19. Andy says:

    Wanda,

    Yes, two days to accept either offer.

    That is a good idea. I think I would have to reapply, as that is what one of the current grad students said. But he also mentioned that they would probably accept me again as long as I only waited a year.

  20. Marta says:

    For those who might have trouble finding a passion – I highly suggest the book “The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One” by Margaret Lobenstine.

    As an avid lifelong learner with a slight twinge of ADHD, this book really helped me learn how to make a map of my passions and how I can give adequate time to pursuing many paths, not just one. The book is concisely written and the practical activities help you feel motivated not defeated.

  21. plonkee says:

    @Andy:
    If spent some of the year volunteering at an archaeological dig, I imagine that might enhance your desirability, rather than distract from it. And it would make a great vacation.

  22. Andy says:

    Marta,

    That book sounds exactly like me. Thanks! I am going to try and find it at a library tomorrow.

  23. K.J. says:

    @Andy, my dear —

    If you are not sure, do _not_ commit to either program. You are going crazy about it because neither option is a correct choice for you right now.

    Please, please, please heed my advice. I’ve done hundreds of hours of outreach with fellow graduate students at my fancy schmancy university, so I know this topic inside and out.

    The only thing that will get you through the _enormous_ sacrifices (personal time, earning potential while a student, crushing quantities of stress, horrible work-life balance) you will make as a graduate student in a Ph.D program is passion, at least at the outgo.

    Regarding accounting: lots of people view their jobs as just jobs and have fascinating and deeply satisfying experiences in their personal, off-work hours. Maybe you are one of these people. But are you sure?

    My humble but firm advice: obtain a job that pays well enough to start payment on whatever you need to pay, live inexpensively, and dig around inside yourself. And have (responsible) fun!

    In that time period, you may well (re)discover a passion for either one of these subjects. You may concede that even though you aren’t passionate about it, accounting might be it. You may well discover industries or fields you’d never considered before that would be far better matches for you.

    (I also like the idea of volunteering for a dig, or working for a historical society abroad, or leading group tours for your alumni association, or leading group tours for a tour/vacation agency of any sort, or doing something else that Is An Adventure.)

    Don’t feel pressured into the either/or, though.

  24. Marta says:

    Sorry to jump back in again but I just found a PDF of the first chapter of “The Renaissance Soul” for those who want to take a sneak peek:

    http://www.togetunstuck.com/pdfs/freerenaissance.pdf

  25. K.J. says:

    Also @ Andy — your blog is gorgeous, and you’re clearly invested in food…(cough)

  26. Andy says:

    Thanks for the advice K.J.

    I think you are right not to commit if I’m not sure. I am actually kind of excited about doing the accounting program (and I’m confident I could get through the five quarters of school without being miserable). But the main appeal of the accounting is that it will give me a skill (latin and ancient greek is not in high demand) and a good job, and from there it will hopefully open up opportunities (either from my skill set, or having the financial means to go back to school, start a business, etc) to find what it is that I really want to do.

    I have been on a few digs, which were amazing. I really enjoy the field work. Unfortunately that is only for two months of the year.

    I am definitely leaning towards the accounting because I really don’t know what I want, and the PhD would kind of lock me in to one career track. And I agree with K.J. that if I am not excited about starting it, finishing it will be incredibly difficult.

  27. Adrian says:

    @Trent – Oh I see, now it’s my fault! [roll]

  28. seasicksquid says:

    I went through this exact process, and it’s exactly how I discovered that my passion is sailing. Just remember to keep trying. If it’s what you want to do, and it gets tough, keep trying. If you’re having trouble breaking into a circle that makes it accessible, be persistent. I ran into a problem at the yacht club I first went to, where I wanted to learn to race. People there sucked! Until they realized I wasn’t going away and I had enough passion about sailing to move a boat in dead water. Eventually, I found the right group and I’m a sought-after crewmember, after a short time of sailing. Maybe someday I can find a job at a sailing school and teach others and continue my passion…

    It’s all about passion.

  29. sunshine says:

    To add to the provigil thing (and to keep it up), my gf uses it. She does not have narcolepsy; she has fibromyalgia. She has the opposite problem – she can’t sleep. So, she takes a GHB-type (yes, that’s GHB, the date-rape drug) of med to go to bed and provigil, if she needs, it to wake up. It’s very unfortunate that she’s in this cycle, but she feels better and is able to function. She has also tried Xenadrine or something like that with success and with her doctor’s approval.

    @the Weakonomist – check out beginnertriathlete.com if you haven’t already. My login’s Yogus. Great community over there.

  30. Norman MIller says:

    Andy @ 1:07 pm March 18th, 2008

    Do both!

    Study Accounting History
    http://acct.tamu.edu/giroux/history.html

  31. Mary says:

    I’ve taken provigil for ADHD and it had the opposite effect on me! I could have used it as a sleeping pill. In the paperwork they said it can be used to keep shift workers awake too. So Adrian makes a valid point.

    I also wanted to say that it’s truly sad that we feel compelled to slap labels on people and categorize them. I think that people who follow their passions, like the bee keeper Trent speaks of.

  32. Gayle RN says:

    Andy, as an old lady I can tell you that very few decisions are final. From my point of view you still have lots of choices even after you make a tentative decision. Ask the PHD program for the year off. Next semester start the accounting classes. Arrange to work on something in archaeology (say like a dig) next. If you don’t like accounting ditch it after the term. You will in any case have some knowledge which can benefit you in any career ie budgeting skills. And you will KNOW if you like it or not. I know you have always been taught to finish what you start, but it isn’t really a law you know. Maybe you would enjoy working and making money as an accountant and having archaeology as an expensive avocation. Take your vacation time and work on digs or explore the world from that unique viewpoint. This may not be an either/or choice but a how can I do both choice.

  33. I think the asking questions point is one of the strongest in this article. A lot of times people are afraid to ask questions at the risk of seeming stupid, but you can’t really worry about that. Everybody starts somewhere, and the more information you can gather, the better off you’ll be at making the decision on whether it’s the right thing for you or not.

  34. mjukr says:

    Step One: Ditch the TV! So many people waste hours a day watching TV because it’s so easy to just “veg out” and be mildly entertained rather than doing anything productive. Get rid of your TV and soon you’ll be so bored that you’ll HAVE to try new things!

  35. Melody says:

    I am so happy to read this. I think it’s helpful.
    But now I still don’t know what my dream is . Can you tell me how to know my big dream?

  36. jana says:

    reminded me of a song called “Dream” (ot “Happy talk” on an older version) where the singer sings:
    You got to have a dream, if you don’t have a dream
    How you come not have a dream come true?

  37. Marie says:

    I think the family that raises bees is cool. What courage!! Although, I probably wouldn’t want to visit with them in their backyard. (I have a slight fear of getting stung.)

  38. Joyce says:

    This is a fantastic blog. I ran upon it from a link in an article off the MSN Main Page. I am now a subscriber to your blog! Thank you!

  39. Finding Your Passion says:

    Things that you like – keep doing. That’s a good tip.

    I also think that if you can think back to the most intense NEGATIVE experiences, you can also find a clue to your passion there.

    If you feel deeply enough about something to remember it as a deep hurt… then the opposite might be your passion! OR you might have hurt because it was an opportunity you missed out on. If you are still feeling it intensely years later, maybe you need to take another run at that passion!

    Hope this helps.

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