A common idea in the realm of work and life is this idea of “passion”, or having your job be about something you absolutely love. It’s presented to us as a necessity for living a happy and fulfilling life, and one that seems as elusive to us as finding a Samoyed in a snowstorm.
So naturally, someone (typically a false “Self-help guru”) tries to sell you on the path to finding your passion. Family members, coworkers, that random guy on Instagram that seems to be in a different country every week, all seem to have “found their passion” and are pushing you to do the same (or, sell you something to help you find it). And they frame is as this gigantic key that can unlock the door to happiness in your life. If you just find it. Or pay enough for it.
The marketing around finding your passion is as fascinating as it’s misleading. We’re led to believe that our happiness is based on our work, and our quality of work is dependent on whether it aligns with some grand purpose in our life. Some driving primal force that exists in us (and while I agree we have primal forces in our lives, the existence of them does not align with the current idea of “passion”, namely, that it’s some grand thing we need to find).
Don’t get me wrong. I think passions are important. I think doing things you love are important, and an integral part of living a good life. We’re just not looking at it the most beneficial way. It’s being framed as some grand idea that we have to obsess over and strive towards for years and years, and we have to uproot and change our whole life to achieve it. And if we don’t go to this school, take this course, have this job, we’ll never live our passion, and our life is pointless.
Not to mention how often it’s said that we need to go on some backpacking trip across Europe, some 3 week meditation retreat in the mountains, or read these books from these authors to “find our passion”. As if it’s out there in the world, buried in some random ditch in a field, waiting for us to get a shovel and dig it up. And when we finally dig it up, our passion gives us our purpose.
I don’t like this perspective (if you haven’t noticed) because I don’t believe passion works that way. It’s not some elusive concept far away in the distance, or across the world, or at the end of a 3 week course (unless you pass the written exam, which also costs $200). Passions are framed as something that exists outside of yourself, and not within yourself. Needing to “find it” makes no sense, because your passions have to do with you, and solely you. They may interact and connect with things outside of you, but your passion originates from one place; yourself. Your answers aren’t out there, no matter what anyone says. You may conceptualize them with your experiences and realize more about yourself as you navigate life, but the answers to the question “what is my passion” are within you.
Or, on the topic of “how do I find my passion” author Mark Manson says:
“I call bullshit. You already “found your passion”, you’re just ignoring it. Seriously, you’re awake 16 hours a day, what the fuck do you do with your time? You’re doing something, obviously. You’re talking about something. There’s some topic or activity or idea that dominates a significant amount of your free time, your conversations, your web browsing, and it dominates them without you consciously pursuing it or looking for it.”
Mark Manson’s challenge of our preconceived understanding of our passions is not only a fundamentally different way of looking at ourselves, but I would argue a fundamentally better way of looking at life in general. There are a few themes in this paragraph and his entire post, notably:
So we’ve challenged the idea that our passions are out there in the world and we need to find them, and have shifted the perspective to instead look at what we do now and what interests us in our lives instead. The power is now in our hands, since the focus is on what we can do right now, notably the things that we enjoy doing and are interested in.
I’d like to take it one step further, and introduce an idea I learned from Bruce Lee that I have been applying in this realm of passions & interest: honestly expressing yourself.
If you’re more of a reader, here’s the quote:
“Honestly expressing yourself… Now it is very difficult to do. I mean it is easy for me to put on a show and be cocky, and be flooded with a cocky feeling and then feel like pretty cool and all that… Or I can make all kinds of phony things, you see what I mean, blinded by it or I can show you some really fancy movement. But to express oneself honestly, not lying to oneself… And to express myself honestly… Now that, my friend, is very hard to do.”
While Bruce Lee’s philosophy comes from Martial Arts, the idea of expressing ourselves through what we do can be applied to every aspect of our life (something I believe Bruce Lee is trying to say here). It lies in our ability to look at what is in our control, and act in a way that aligns with what we believe and who we are. We’re able to share our story and our experiences in whatever we do; martial arts, pottery, writing, working with the elderly, data analysis, and essentially every aspect of our own action. We can take mundane reports we have to write our bosses and approach them in a new light, trying to show the data in a way that makes sense to you instead of taking random numbers from one excel sheet and putting them into a word doc so they make the same amount of sense, but prettier.
But when we take the opportunity to apply Bruce Lee’s philosophy and express ourselves through our work, these tasks change. Reports become a way of showing the analytical side of your mind (or if you’re more artistic, showing how artistic numbers can be when conceptualized). Your next building design can show your favourite aspects of your childhood (like the warm-feeling when you entered your grandparent’s house, or the quiet place in your schoolyard that brought you peace in difficult times). Your next speech can show your genuine belief that this project can make a difference. The way you workout, move, walk and speak has some piece, even a kernel, of an expression of yourself. Your actions have purpose now. Your purpose. One you decide.
And as we all know, purpose and passion are two sides of the same coin.
Disclaimer: Obviously do what’s required in your task, so you don’t get fired. What I’m saying is that after you cover your ass and do what’s needed, shape your task into something that shows what matters to you.
So where does that leave us? After all, thought without action is a daydream. Well, it leaves us right where we started; here, in this very moment, sitting in your room, or the coffee shop near your apartment, or in the middle of that meeting you really should be paying attention to but you’re clearly not. The only difference (I hope, or I need to get better at my job) is that you now recognize your ability to express yourself in everything you do. And how that looks is up to you; as long as you trust yourself, and as Bruce Lee says, express yourself honestly. As time goes on, you’ll find that you’ll be enjoying your day to day tasks more. They’ll bring more meaning and value to your life and the lives of others. You’ll begin to get a little bit better at living life. And one day, you’ll find yourself loving what you do. Eventually, you’ll find that you don’t need to find your passion; because you’ve already had it all along. You just didn’t express it.
So start expressing.
And as always, I’ll leave you with a quote from Dr. Viktor Frankl that summarizes this article in a much more powerful way:
“It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life — daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”
Authors that influenced this article: