Professional development coach Ken Li recently asked me for my best tips for finding passion and inspiration. This past weekend, I responded with To find inspiration, stop thinking. Now, I want to finish that response with a discussion of passion.
To some extent, your passion is simply who you are. It is the thing(s) you do without realizing you are doing it, without caring if it goes somewhere. It is the thing(s) that make your heart soar, but also keep you on an even keel. If I go too long without exercising my passions, everything in my life suffers, my physical health suffers, my mental health suffers.
Find out who you are and do it on purpose. – Dolly Parton
People will ask: Why do you write? Why do you tell stories?
My simple answer is: I don’t know how not to. I have things to say, and this is how they manifest.
My deeper answer is: Because this is how I process my life and the world. This is how I learn who I am. Others might have a conversation with a friend or counsellor. I have a conversation with a note pad.
So, you may ask (Ken certainly did): How do I discover my passion?
I suspect, in some form, however small, you are already doing your passion. You just don’t recognize it as such yet.
After a childhood of storytelling—supported by an indulgent family and good teachers—I did not see where to take it and so ended up pursuing a career in science. It wasn’t until many years later, however, that I realized that science was a form of storytelling. I was using experimentation and data analysis to decipher the story of my small corner of the biological universe, stories that I related in my Master’s thesis, scientific publications, lab talks and seminars, and conversations with other scientists. When I felt less satisfied with doing science, I switched into talking about science, through writing and editing for science magazines, interviewing scientists, and eventually engaging in science podcasts and webinars.
During that period, a health scare led me to improv, which led to sketch comedy writing, which led to screenwriting, which led to teaching and blogs and back to short stories and poetry and photography and so on. All because I am a storyteller.
One of my favourite thinkers on the subject of passion is the late Sir Ken Robinson who speaks of the Element:
Where you start out is not likely to be where you will end up. Knowing what your Element is will give you a much better sense of direction than simply bouncing from one job to the next. Whatever your age, it’s the best way to find work that really fulfills you. – Sir Ken Robinson, Finding Your Element
So, what do you do in your life, right now, that brings you even a moment of peace or joy? Music, visual arts, writing, talking? Automotive, gardening, home repair? Parenting, exercise, sports, gaming?
Do more of that and if more feels better, try to find ways to expand it to other forms of expression. There is always more than the obvious.
Doing more of that will mean doing less of other things, however, which may feel selfish, and from some, may lead to accusations of selfishness. I promise, though, that although this will be selfish, it is ultimately for the greater good. Living your passions will make you a better neighbour, colleague, partner, and parent because you’ll be in a better mental and physical place.
If it feels like nothing brings you even a moment of peace or joy, then I am sorry. Everyone deserves peace and joy. Life can be difficult, and we can all use help on occasion.
In this situation, you’ll need to experiment with different activities to see which feels good, in the moment or after you’re done for the day. This could take some time, so be generous and try things a few times before deciding yay or nay. Take a class, for example, and make yourself a promise to finish the class.
Two keys to keep in mind:
Your passion doesn’t have to lead to anything beyond you feeling good, and
You don’t have to be good at it for it to bring you joy.
I have found ways to make a living from my storytelling passion, but that was never why I told stories. It was a bonus that allowed me to tell stories more often. There are storytelling formats that don’t particularly bring me joy and yet can be quite lucrative. I will tell those stories on occasion, especially when finances are tight, but I have been fortunate not to have to centre my life on those types of stories.
When first exploring a possible passion but even well along that trajectory, trying to monetize the passion can kill it. Aiming for an outcome that you may not yet be ready to achieve can add unnecessary pressure and anxiety to something that should be fulfilling. And many people equate failure to achieve the outcome with failure in themselves or in the passion. It is always good to strive, to challenge yourself. The key is how you respond if you don’t achieve the immediate goal.
My experience says it is possible to earn a living from your passion. It may be more difficult with your passion or in your life situation. It honestly doesn’t matter either way.
Discovering and living your passion is a spiritual thing. It is fulfilling. It is rejuvenating. And that, ultimately, makes everything else easier, better and/or more tolerable.
So, try, experiment, play, and explore. Relax, cut yourself some slack, and fail enthusiastically until you don’t (fail, that is).
Without our passions, Nicholas Lemon Productions wouldn’t exist, and our passions are what drive us forward. Reach out to learn more about what keeps us motivated and how you too can incorporate play, silliness, and experimentation and embrace failure on your way to a personal passion-filled life and workplace.