How to Follow Your Passion (When You Don’t Know What It Is.)

How to Follow Your Passion (When You Don’t Know What It Is.)

Most people have heard by now about how important it is for them to find their passion, work with passion, and live with passion.

The problem is that many people honestly don’t know what their passions are, much less how to find them or turn them into paid work. Others just don’t relate to the concept or word – it’s too intense, over-the-top, or somehow inconsistent with the rest of who they are.

Visions of Van Gogh cutting off his ear for love or killing himself for his art come to mind…

Several years ago, I worked as a coach with a young woman we’ll call Tam. Tam was bright, attractive, well-educated, and soft-spoken. She was very disappointed and dissatisfied with her career in accounting. She had pleased her parents with this choice, but had made herself miserable. She definitely wanted a different career path, but she had no idea what it would be.

She was not a passionate kind of person, she said. She had no passions, in fact, so how could she possibly find her way to a career she would be passionate about?

When I asked her to tell me what the word “passionate” meant to her, she quickly responded that if you were passionate about a cause, a talent, or a person, you would be willing to die for them. She was quite sure there was nothing inside or outside herself that she felt that way about; therefore, in her mind, she was defective. She had no passions.

I suggested that we consciously put on hold the whole question of passion and career change while we took some time to follow the breadcrumbs – the more subtle clues that might point the way to a different and more satisfying direction.

To do this, we had to come up with language with which she was comfortable. Instead of exploring Loves, Hates, Deep Desires and Primary Values – all impassioned words and descriptions – we considered Likes, Dislikes, Attractions and Enjoyment. This worked; she could relate.

She became more comfortable and engaged in the process. She started perking up.

Next we worked on the Inventory of Personal and Professional Assets. These include your gifts, talents, education, training, experience, skills, accomplishments and personality traits. They invariably add up to something more valuable than the sum of the parts.

Once people can actually observe and acknowledge their accomplishments in print, they begin to get a grounded sense of who they are and what they want to spend their time doing. Then they can develop a grounded sense of the value they might bring to the marketplace. Clarity begins to emerge, and clarity is power!

What began to make a lot of sense to Tam as we side-stepped the concept of passion and took a serious look at what the breadcrumbs were telling us, was – hold on to your hats! – becoming a physical therapist. What?

It’s not just that the idea of a career in the medical field was subtle; it’s that it wasn’t even part of the conversation at all. It sort of jumped out one day in the midst of our inquiry as an “Oh, and by the way, I just remembered something that might be important. The thing I love to do more than anything is read about health, exercise, and nutrition. I know quite a bit about it. My friends call me Dr. Tam and are always asking for my advice. I am all about health and fitness.”

Suddenly everything came to a halt, and nothing was left but a pulsing silence. We stared at each other. We were thinking the same thing at the same time: woops, did we just stumble into a passion? We both burst out laughing. There was the answer, and the answer was pure delight.

Would she cut off an ear for it? Would she die for it? Probably not. But did she apply herself to it fully? Yes. Did she bring her gifts, talents, intelligence, education and accomplishments, interest and skills to it? Yes. Does she enjoy what she is doing every day? Yes. Is she making a good living and having a good life? Yes.

Are you paying as much attention to the value of your own personal and professional assets as you are to your financial assets? They might be worth something.

Our dear Bonnie Bonetti-Bell was the force behind our Career/Life Coaching services, until her passing in 2019. As a principal of our firm, Bonnie had an innate talent for seeing the best in people. Moreover, she helped others see the best in themselves. Bonnie is fondly remembered and deeply missed.

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