First off, this isn’t an article about how you should follow your passion or anything like that. Actually, many people don’t know what their passion is.
Your passion is simply something you enjoy doing because hopefully, you’re good at.
Don’t say you’re not good at anything. One of the 12 myths I learned during my twenties is that everyone is good at something. The trouble is, most people don’t try enough things to figure out what they’re good at.
In school you’re only exposed to a handful of trades, but the outside world has infinite possibilities. If you haven’t found anything you’re good at, it probably just means you haven’t tried enough things.
I’ve had a variety of different interests (or maybe a short attention span) over the years, including economics, international development, Russian language, tech startups, marketing, writing and commercial real estate.
Trying these things was a combination of reading, watching informational interviews and taking classes. Basically, I approached everything out of curiosity.
Some of these stuck and others I naturally drifted away from, but the ones that stuck became my passions. Here are six common clues that let you know you've stumbled upon your own passion:
1. Positive feedback early on
Think back to your grade school days: Just about everyone played soccer or a musical instrument, at least in most suburban grade schools in the US.
By high school, however, only a fraction of people continued the activities they started when they were younger.
Why do some people continue playing, while others pack it up after a year or two? The ones who continued likely got positive feedback early on, which gave them motivation to continue.
Georgetown professor, Cal Newport, argues that to follow your passion is bad advice. He says that you become good at something, and then it becomes your passion.
I agree with this. Getting positive feedback early on is the beginning stages of getting good at something. It shows that you’ve found something you have some natural ability for.
You have to be careful here, however, as there’s pity positive feedback, which is the vague “great job” or “great effort,” along with a participation trophy and what not.
Then there’s real positive feedback where an experienced expert will say something like, “Wow, great job. I’ve known people with more experience than you who have trouble doing that.”
If you get the latter, it’s a good sign you’re walking into what could be your passion.
2. You wonder how others can’t do what comes easy to you
If you have a natural ability at something, it won’t feel like you’re good at it. You just do it and wonder how others can’t do it.
Think Matt Damon in “Good Will Hunting”: He works as a janitor at MIT, but still solves the math problem that all the professors can’t.
Now, you don’t have to be a genius or prodigy, even being good among a small circle of acquaintances is a good sign you’re onto something.
3. You read about something for fun in your spare time.
You find yourself reading about a subject over and over again without anyone forcing you to. You might even hide this from everyone except your good friends and family because outsiders might label you as weird or even obsessed.
4. You dive deep into the history of things
Your weird obsession carries on to the next level. You’re not just reading articles on the web or the most recent airport bestsellers. You go back and read about the history of something and even dive into older books that are out of print.
This isn't limited to just reading; it could be watching videos, listening or just observing something. Whatever it is, you just keep doing it and dive deeper and deeper.
5. You lose track of time
If you find yourself doing number three and four while losing track of time, then there’s a good chance you really found something you love.
The next step here is connecting this passion to market needs. In other words, you need to find a way to get paid for doing what you love to do.
The good news is that almost everything is fair game these days if you can apply some creativity. For example, Matthew Berry became a fantasy sports analyst at ESPN when the role didn’t exist. He wrote about his experiences in his book, “The Fantasy Life.”
6. You get back up after a setback
I’ve tried to get my foot in the door in a few different careers over the years. A few times I'd land interviews and end up completely embarrassing myself. Of course, I’d never hear back, and then I’d lose interest in those career paths and go on to something different.
On the other hand, I also suffered embarrassing moments regarding things I'm passionate about today, but I still kept trucking along.
A lot of this was because of number one, where I got a lot of positive feedback early on so I knew I had it within me.
Once you’ve found your passion, things don’t get easier, they get harder.
I want to dispel the myth that finding your passion is the be all, end all and that things only get better from there. Things will actually get harder, and it could be years or even decades before anything materializes.
Last year, I had a dream client I wanted to work for. I thought everything would be better if only I could start working for this client.
Well, I eventually started doing work for said client and nothing really felt different. Eventually, they fired me, and I was back to square one again.
Through this experience, I’ve learned that things actually get harder once you find your passion. Any moments of success are fleeting. In fact, most days you’ll feel like quitting or trying something else.
In just about every field about which I’ve read, it took people years of work and persistence to finally "make it," despite being good and passionate about what they were doing.
Legendary basketball coach, John Wooden, won 10 national championships with UCLA, and seven of those were in a row. That’s unheard of today. It took him 15 seasons of coaching at UCLA before he got his first championship.
Albert Einstein wrote over 250 papers in his lifetime, and he’s known for one of them.
In 2008, an oil boom hit North Dakota. It’s now America’s fastest growing state all thanks to a technology called fracking. Late billionaire, George Mitchell, is known as the pioneer of this technology. He started experimenting with it in the 80s, and it took him nearly 20 years before he saw the fruits of his labor.
Once you find something you’re good at, it becomes your passion. Once you have your passion, it gets tougher.
Make the struggle part of the passion, and persist past the point when others have already given up. Some day, you’ll experience a brief moment when the struggle was worth it.
Photo Courtesy: We Heart It