Why Telling People to “Find Their Passion” is Crappy Advice
One of the most annoying pieces of advice that I’ve repeatedly heard doled out to teens is “you just have to find your passion.”
What does that even mean?
What even is a passion? How would you know that you’ve found it?
Telling someone to “figure out what they’re passionate about” has to be one of the most useless pieces of advice out there…
… but we say it because it seems like the right thing to say. Because we have nothing better or tangible to offer.
In addition to all of that, the whole idea of “finding a passion” is intimidating.
Because “passion” sounds like this external discovery that I’m supposed to make, and if I haven’t rushed towards it, found it, and lived it, then I’ve simply wasted my life.
At this point, I’d like to pause and say that I’m not against passion or life purpose at all. What I am against is telling a 17-or 18- or 22-year-old that (s)he just needs to discover it externally.
By backpacking through Europe?
Finding a job?
Taking a gap year to play video games?
Your passion isn’t some concept or interest outside of you.
I mean what if my passion was sitting on top of Mt. Everest except, I decided that I didn’t feel like climbing a mountain because I would be cold as hell (and you know, just didn’t want to train or do the trek)?
Does that mean that because I missed that activity, that I will never discover this elusive passion of mine? That I’m now doomed to spend a life of mediocrity?
Your passion isn’t something that come from outside of you, it comes from within.
Of course, at this point, you’re probably thinking, “ok, great, so now I’m supposed to tell people to look within themselves to find discover their passion?”
Well, yeah. You could just say that and walk away.
Let’s talk about a real approach to helping teens (and even adults) discover their “passion”.
Step #1: List out your curiosities.
Simply by the fact that we’re all alive, we have interests and curiosities. It’s inherent and inevitable.
What are you curious about?
When you’re not hooked on social media, what could you spend hours thinking about, looking up, and working on?
It doesn’t have to be school-related. Think outside the box.
Do you like working with kids? Volunteering? Sports? Photoshop? Writing stories? Taking pictures? Cooking/baking? Crafts? Fashion? Building computers?
Even with school, are there any specific subjects that you’re excited to walk into? Maybe psychology? Coding/programming?
So, don’t just write “sports”, instead write “what kind of diet does a weightlifter need to have?” or “what do football players do to increase their muscle recovery time?”
Don’t just say “health/diet”, instead get specific and say, “what makes the Mediterranean diet so effective?”
If you like reading or writing, think “what are the elements needed to design a story or show a character’s journey?” or “How many minor characters should a good story have?”
You can legit do this with any field.
“How do I become a great public speaker?”
“How does the human memory work if I were to study for a test last minute?
“What is it that makes some people experience bad times and flourish, while others spiral downward?”
“What do marketers keep in mind when designing ads? Why/how do they get us hooked?”
“How can I help inner-city kids get access to a great education/sports/meal?
And so on…..
Here’s the thing about interests and curiosities: the intensity that we feel towards certain topics is unique to all of us.
Do you think that Bill Gates was just born loving computers & tech? No!
But what if instead of exploring his initial curiosity, he’d pushed it aside and become a writer or a doctor instead?
Would he still have reached such an astounding level of success if he’d simply pushed himself into a field he didn’t really care about?
***Keep in mind that you can be bad at something and still be interested in exploring it. Skills improve over time, so really, you’re thinking about the areas that you’d genuinely like to dedicate time towards.
Make a list of at least 30 different specifics that you’re curious about.
Don’t BS it, you’ll just be cheating yourself. There’s a reason why I’m asking you to write so many. After a while, you’ll start noticing that a pattern emerges. A lot of your questions will come from same few categories.
Take a couple of days (2-4) to come up with these.
Step #2: Think of some of the things that make you uncomfortable or cause you pain.
We’ve all either had painful experiences – health issues, bullying, relationships, financial struggles– or seen them play out in someone else’s life.
Can you use the lessons you’ve learned and the experiences you’ve had to help others?
Step #3: Write down the problems that currently exist in the world.
These can be massive global issues, like climate change, or local concerns like the value of the arts in the K-12 education system. The list is huge at every level, so if you can’t come up with at least 10 problems that make you cringe and give you that icky feeling in your stomach, then look them up online.
Before you do online research though, genuinely think about the issues that make you cringe. It could be something you might’ve seen in your community. While the issues that people feel are important may overlap, the level of intensity that you feel towards certain topics will vary person-to-person.
That’s ok, that’s how it should be. One individual can’t solve 100% of the world’s problems, but thousands of individuals, all strongly dedicated to those one or two categories can make a huge dent.
Step #4: What are you good at?
Before you say “but I’m not good at anything!” keep in mind that this is also inherent. I mean, it’s impossible for a person to not be good at something.
Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, by default.
These can be anything – from sports to school subjects, to giving advice, public speaking, PowerPoint (this one’s mine), cleaning, rock climbing, being a loyal friend/family member, etc.
If you can’t come up with anything, ask your friends and family! They definitely know.
The most successful people in the world aren’t those who look at weaknesses and dedicate all their energy to working on them, they’re the people that spend 80-90% of their energy blowing up their strengths. The remaining 10-20% goes to some improvement towards their weaknesses, but that’s needs-based. Not all weaknesses have to be corrected, only those that directly prevent or limit your ability to reach your goals.
The point: become aware of how you operate and what you prioritize. Think about what you’re good at, what you’ve received compliments for, and write those down.
If you’re a teen (or even a parent) reading this, here’s a challenge: set all your social media and notifications aside for about a week and give your brain a break. See what it comes up with. Now, the first couple days, you’ll experience withdrawal…for sure! But after that, pay attention to the different directions your thoughts travel.
Note about tech: Please wise tech wisely. I think we’ll all noticed just how much time and emotion we can lose into the information that we consume. When I refer to the use of tech, I’m advocating it for educational purposes. Not saying that I’m amazing about my tech usage, but I did watch (and get scarred by) “A Social Dilemma” so I want to do my part in discouraging tech over usage.
Step #5: Explore & Experience! Open yourself up to new ideas and models of thinking.
Think you might like video-editing? Okay, download a free trial of a video-editing software and come up with a project. Do you find that you love working on it? That you have fun and look forward to it?
Love baking? Okay, what do you like about it? Have you played around with recipes before? Are you the type that can help a non-baker still get it right? Maybe make TikTok or YouTube videos to try it out.
Love helping people? Great, but in what specific way? Do you like volunteering at the food pantry? Tutoring kids? Playing sports with kids who may not have access to equipment?
And when you have doubts or questions: ask!
Talk to people who work in those fields, any fields.
We’re fortunate to have access to Google and LinkedIn (for teens reading this, LinkedIn is like FaceBook but for careers). You can email individuals who work in those cool-sounding jobs or companies and ask if they’d be open to a few questions. That you’re a teen trying to figure out what you like and would love/appreciate their advice. For safety purposes, please make sure that your parents are aware of who you’re reaching out to so they can double check any credibility.
Here’s the thing about humans: Our ideas, thoughts, and actions are limited to what we’ve been exposed to. If you stay in your current bubble, then you’ll have the same pool of ideas circling. You may like some, but others may make you feel stifled. You may not even know how to fully explain it.
So, try new things, find mentors, listen to talks online – check out Impact Theory on YouTube & Spotify to start with – and open your mind up to the different ideas, careers, and life paths out there.
Bottom line: Think of your passion as a large experiment. It WILL NOT just come from sitting around waiting for it. Yes, there is a level of introspection required but after that, it’s a lot of trial-and-error.
If you’re still interested in learning more about “passion” and just how to discover it, check out this video that British-Indian author, former monk (yeah, for real), and purpose coach, Jay Shetty did for the Huffington Post on How to Find Your Purpose.
Please note: this piece was inspired by the work of Jay Shetty, and author, entrepreneur, & a leading expert on human performance, Steven Kotler.
As always, I hope that you found this post to be helpful! =)
p.s If you’d like to receive weekly updates with simple action items/priorities, links to resources, templates, and strategies to help you navigate the process, please sign up here.
p.s.s If you like a post or would like to see more of a certain topic, let me know! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org .