Why The Way You Think About Passion is Broken

Passion is such a powerful trigger word.

It arouses images of happiness, sweat, racing blood, shouting from atop buildings and reaching for the stars. You expect a revelation when you land on it. A sudden strike of clarity. A light bulb or eureka moment.

Really? Me? A writer? A designer? A photographer?

You get the picture?

So when none of this happens and there are no fireworks, we assume there is nothing we are passionate about. Nothing we truly care about.

We grapple. We lurch in a million different directions trying to find that one thing.All the while the question— What are you supposed to do—looms larger and larger at the back of our minds.

We throw ourselves into our work. We try to find passion in out 9-5s. We work longer and harder hoping that this elusive being called passion is going to pop out of somewhere…or served on a platter and the world will celebrate with us saying “Congratulations! Here’s your calling!”

But it doesn’t happen that way does it? So where have we gone wrong?

The root of all this confusion and struggle is asking the wrong questions in our pursuit of passion.

Why the questions we ask don’t help

We often enlist an outcome based approach to discovering passion.

  • Will this make me money? 
  • Is this feasible in the long run? 
  • Does this maximize returns for effort? 
  • What industry is growing? 
  • What looks good on my resume?
  • What jobs are hot in the market?

These questions have nothing to do with discovering your passion. They have everything to do with consequence and results. What you should be asking are a set of questions that guide you through your past, your emotions and experiences. answer them honestly, and you may just see how your life has set you up to seize this very moment.

Questions to ask in your pursuit of passion

1. What clues do your past give you?

In  the best selling bookQuitter, author Jon Acuff says, finding your passion “is rarely a first encounter. It’s usually a reunion.” It’s things that are second nature. Things that you have been doing for as long as you remember. You may knit or bake or fix junk. Nothing is too small or insignificant and that’s the whole idea.

Often, sifting through the past doesn’t bring joy but frightening feelings of pain and humiliation. Of being told that you are not good, or that you don’t live up to expectations, or that you’ll never make it. But digging through the pain of the past is necessary because the revelations you make may be startling.

2. What makes you angry

Now I don’t mean the mindless, or violent form of anger, rather compassionate anger. Is there anything about the state of things or the world at large that makes you angry and you think there needs to be an alternative?

I came across a story about a cafe called Sheroes Hangout in Agra India that is run and served by victims of acid attacks. It was founded by Alok Dixit who was aghast at the lack of job opportunities for acid victims and the stigma they faced.

But this compassionate anger does not necessarily have to be a social ill. It could be your frustration on the lack of products, facilities or tools for a certain market.

3. What have you always been questioning?

Have you always questioned why there isn’t a better way or a better product to solve a problem? What do you silently loathe or disagree with? Let your hunches, your nudges, your ‘huh’ moments lead you.

4.What do people come to you for? 

What have you been helping people with all along? What may be insignificant to you, might just be what makes someone’s day. Ask your friends or colleagues what they see as your strengths. You will be surprised at the answers.

5. Where do you find flow?

Ever worked on something with such intense focus that you lose track of time. You look up and realize hours have gone by. That’s when you’ve experienced flow. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi terms flow the quality that sets creative labor apart from work. Take note of when these instances occur. What were you working on? what about it fuels you? You’re likely to find answers to your questions about passion in there.

6. What are you willing to suffer for today?

Passion is not about you. Passion is others-focused, not self-focused. In Die-Empty, Todd Henry speaks of productive passion. Productive passion is “what motivates you and is also beneficial to others.” It is what “drives you to labor on behalf of others rather than to simply satisfy your own needs.

He says “Instead of asking “What would bring me enjoyment?” which is how many people think about following their passion, we should instead ask “What work am I willing to suffer for today?”

Let’s fix the way we’ve been thought to think about passion

If you take the time to answer the questions above, you will start to see links and how the pieces of your life connect. It’s not a magical exercise that fixes everything, but it certainly lends light to what your reunion would be. So the next time someone says they have nothing they are passionate about, get them to ask the right questions.

Meera is a writer, mom and blogger at Meera Kothand. She helps busy solopreneurs and bloggers find focus, build authority and stand out online. Want to find more time for your side-hustle? Download her free guide of 27 productivity tools and hacks that add hours to your day.