Why Your Quest to “Find Your Passion” Isn’t Helping

“Find your Passion!” It’s a common advice you get from well meaning friends. Unfortunately when most of us are feeling stuck in life, this advice isn’t in the least bit helpful - it just reinforces the ‘wrongness’ of our current state. It passive-aggressively suggests that your passion is out there and you just haven’t found it yet. The focus of that statement is on blame and wrongness and nothing good comes from this. Instead we need to change our mindset about passion, and focus not on the goal of a passion-filled life, but on the steps we take to achieve one.

Below are a few ways to think about passion. If any of these speak to you leave a comment below or drop me a line.

Elizabeth Gilbert on Finding Your Passion

The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them. The hunt to discover those jewels - that's creative living.

Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of “BIG MAGIC: Creative Living Beyond Fear,” which I highly recommend to anyone who’s trying to live a more creative life. In Big Magic she touches on the concept of finding your passion, and she dives even deeper into the topic here in this conversation with Oprah. 

What’s important about Gilbert’s thoughts about passion is that it takes off some of the pressure that’s been put on you by other happy souls who tell that you just need to ‘find your passion.’ 

In her talk on OWN Gilbert suggests that the world is divided into  two types of people: There are the hummingbirds, and there are the jackhammers.

Jackhammers are people like me,” she says. “You put a passion in our hands and we don’t look up, we don’t veer, and we’re just focused on that until the end of time. It’s efficient; you get a lot done. But we tend to be obsessive and fundamentalist and sometimes a little difficult.”

Jackhammers are built to follow a single passion, and they are more than happy to pursue that. If you’re feeling stuck and haunted by the thought of finding your passion chances are that you fall into the second category - a hummingbird.

Hummingbirds spend their lives doing it very differently. They move from tree to tree, from flower to flower, from field to field, trying this, trying that. Two things happen: They create incredibly rich, complex lives for themselves, and they also end up cross-pollinating the world.

As a hummingbird you may need some anxiety around not finding your passion, but you can overcome this my finding peace with your own nature - a nature of multiple and shifting interests. Once you embrace that you’re build to move from interest to interest, to learn and cross-pollinate, you can find enjoyment in the diversity of experience that comes with being built in this way. 

Gilbert teaches us that as a hummingbird you "bring an idea from here to over here, where you learn something else and you weave it in, then you take it here to the next thing you do. Your perspective ends up keeping the entire culture aerated and mixed up and open to the new."

If you’re willing to accept this you’ll find relief from the pressure and anxiety around the topic of finding your passion. You just need to follow your path, trust it, and you’ll end up exactly where you’re meant to.

To embrace this perspective today find something you’ve been interested in and dive in - whether it be an audiobook, online course, or class at the local university. Just DO something. This action will shift your path - maybe an inch, or maybe a mile. All you need to do then is keep moving.

Mel Robbins on feeling Passion

Gilbert is a creative animal whereas Mel Robbins is a lawyer turned coach/speaker/business woman, but they both get to a very similar conclusion, albeit from a different path.

Throughout her TED Talks and coaching sessions Robbins focus on changing our mindset around passion. Passion isn’t some external thing that we stumble into. Instead it’s a natural state that we can unlock from within - it’s about energy and doing less what makes you feel tense and constrained, and more of what makes you feel expansive.

The goal here is to hone in our your natural interests and ask yourself not “what is my passion,” but “what makes me feel passionate.” Put simply, passion is what you feel when you're energized and exited about what you're doing

You may feel stuck and overwhelmed, but your body already knows the answers. Start getting in tune with your internal gauge for passion by asking yourself these questions:

  • Who am I jealous of?

  • What would I do for free?

  • What topics do you gravitate towards in the book store?

  • What comes easily to you?

  • When do you lose track of time?

  • What energizes and excites you?

Dig into these questions as much as you can and start feeling it out. When going through your day scale your energy on a gauge ranging from what makes you feel depleted and empty to what makes you feel alive, excited, and expanded. Start to understand the queues your body is giving you and lean in. Do more what makes you feel excited and through experience and growth you’ll be moving in the right direction.

Terri Trespicio on Your Search for Passion

Terri’s Ted Talk, “Stop Searching for Your Passion,” has over 5 million views, and in it she speaks eloquently about one dangerously limiting belief : that you have one singular passion, and that your job is to find it and pursue it to the exclusion of all else. That if you can achieve this then everything will fall into place, and that if you don’t then you’ve failed.

She talks about passion as a cultural imperative that’s particularly pronounced when you graduate from school and people start to ask ‘what are you going to do now?” This mindset about finding the prefect fit does nothing but instill a fear of picking the wrong path.

Instead, she wants us to understand what passion means. It’s not a job, an activity, or a hobby - passion is the full attention and energy you give to whatever’s right in front of you. If you’re busy searching for passion, the resulting tunnel vision can make you miss important opportunities that could change your life.

If you don’t know what you’re passionate about nothing is wrong with you. Instead of fixating on finding your passion spend your time and energy solving the kinds of problems that you find interesting. By solving these problems and being useful and generous people will feel helped. When your energy and effort meets someone else’s need you’ll find passion - in the realization of what you have to contribute.

She wants us to understand that passion isn’t a perfectly laid out life plan - it’s a feeling, and feelings change over time. The concept that every aspect of your daily life should fit into this ‘passion vertical’ is unrealistic, and in fact elitist. Instead - she wants us to just start. Particularly when you’re in the early stages of your career, she encourages you not to hold out for that dream job. Instead - start with what is available to you. By starting there you’ll learn new skills, draw out the experience you need, and emerge clearer than before when you’re ready to embark on the next step of your career path. She drives home the point that you don’t create a life and then live it - that you create a life by living it.

The common thread in all these ideas is that if you feel like you don’t have a passion, or simply can’t find your passion then you just need to stop searching for it. Follow your energy, your curiosity, and do more of what makes you feel good. You don’t create your life and then live it. You create your life - passion filled and expansive - while living it. Lean into your interests and do more.