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How to Find Your Passion

by: JD

by JD on November 26, 2010

“It is a big mistake to think that the best way to express yourself is to do whatever you want, acting however you please. This is not expressing yourself. When you have many possible ways of expressing yourself, you are not sure what to do, so you will behave superficially. If you know what to do exactly, and you do it, you can express yourself fully.”

Shunryu Suzuki

Note: This article is the longest I’ve written on this blog to date. It’s over 3,000 words. If you’re searching for your passion, please don’t skim this. Go grab some tea or a cup of coffee, sit back and enjoy!

I’ve started, written and re-written this article at least ten times now. This is an immense topic, and I have so much to share that it’s difficult to organize. So, I guess I’ll just start with the truth.

A Lil’ Personal History

When I was 23, I realized that I hated my life. I wasn’t happy, but I had no idea how to fix it.

College was over and my long-term relationship had dissolved. Consequently, I was left with my evenings and weekends to consider the consequences of the decisions I had made over the preceding eight years. And I didn’t much care for the reality that was starring me in the face.

I never bothered to invest in myself. I had wasted my life from the age of 16 to 23 (at least it felt like that at the time). In the past, I had been so consumed by school and my romantic relationships, that when those two things finally ended, I had no sense of what I wanted in life. No sense of myself.

So, I fell into a job at a warehouse and began my adult life.

I Don’t Know What I Want, But I know It’s Not This

Maybe you know how I felt. Maybe you feel that way now. You don’t know what’s most important to you, or what you’re passionate about, but you do know that you can’t continue your life the way it has been.

You’ve read plenty of blogs and books on purpose and passion. And you’ve listened to successful people that are telling you the path to success and a fulfilling life is to do what you love, to live your passion.

And, while I agree, that isn’t exactly a road-map for success. Sure, it’s true. But it’s also extremely vague.

What if you don’t know what you’re truly passionate about yet? I didn’t. And it took me many years to figure it out. But, I’ve got it now, and the synergy that is beginning to develop (as a result) is powerful and invigorating. I’m loving it. And you can too, here’s how:

Time For a Reality Check

I know this is hard to hear, but discovering what matters most to you in life isn’t something that happens in a few weeks or months. For most of you, this process will take a number of years. I hope this article will drastically increase the speed of that process, but I think everyone’s time table is a little different. Just as each of your lives is unique and varied, so will the process be of discovering what it is you want to do with it.

I would like to beg you, dear sir, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, some day in the far future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

Rainer Maria Rilke

I know how you’re feeling. This is frustrating. And if you’re an early twenty-something like I was, you just want to get it all figured out so you can get on with your life.

You’re going to spend some time looking within and experimenting, but if you’re not yet doing what you love, that’s because you’re not ready yet. You haven’t grown enough.

In a few months I’m outta Michigan to ride my motorcycle through the Americas. I’m amped. But two years ago I could NEVER have done this. I would have been way too scared. I had to grow into this dream, into my passion. And you will too.

The experiences that have brought me to this point in my life occurred over the course of many years. I discovered motorcycles, personal development, world travel, and blogging at all different times over the last three years. And I dabbled in each of those interests for short periods of time. But I wasn’t ready to live this journey yet.

To be frank with you. I wasn’t strong enough to do this. I wasn’t courageous enough.

If you do what I’m telling you in this article, the next few years and months will slowly yield new insights. You’ll begin to see some possible paths form. They won’t be clear at first, but you’ll start to get some ideas.

Then, slowly, without you even realizing it you will begin to daydream. You will begin to imagine what it would be like to do – something. Something remarkable.

And that’s when it will happen. You’ll have to decide if you’re ready. You will, at that point, either commit to making it real. Or, you will shy back and continue your search.

And, to be honest. It’s not wrong to wait. You’re developing, maybe you’re just not ready for the big journey yet. The passionate journey. That’s ok.

At some point (if you stay focused), you will be faced with circumstances that will allow you to build the courage necessary. And when that happens, watch out. Cause things are going to start moving. It’ll be scary, but cool.

You have to understand that this process is going to take an incredible amount of time and effort. Dig in.

It’s Not in Your Head

Forget about all the useless, crap-questions like:

“What would you do if you could do anything?”

“If you had one million dollars, what would you do?”

“What would you do if you couldn’t fail?”

Yeah, whatever. Answer: I’d have sex all day, sleep 10 hours a night and drink margaritas on a beach somewhere while all these girls hit on me and play volleyball. (Mom is gonna love that one.)

Forget about those stupid questions. They’re too general.

When I first began searching for the things I was passionate about I bought somewhere around 20 books on the issue. I filled out all the questions, did all the exercises and answered all the worksheets. And that did nothing but confuse the issue.

Sure, I learned a few tidbits about what my strengths were, but again, that’s largely useless information. Your strengths will be your strengths whether you’re consciously aware of them or not. So, it doesn’t necessarly matter if you understand them.

Stop buying books and filling out questionnaires about your life’s purpose. You can’t spit this stuff out of your skull. Passion is emotion, not logic. It’s like love. You don’t fall for people because it makes sense; they either do it for you or they don’t. Stop trying to explain it.

You’ve got to get out of your head and into your heart. Into the things that actually mean something to you and resonate with you.

This is going to be very difficult for those of you that are exceptionally logical. The head people have trouble wrapping their minds around this. I know, because I’m one of them. Perhaps that’s why this has taken me so long.

Connect With Your Heart

Yeah, ok. Sounds like a bunch of airy-fairy bullshit. (I know.)

Standby.

Check out this video with Steve Jobs.

If that did nothing for you then you can stop reading this article now. Either you’re not ready, or, my method isn’t the method for you.

For the rest of you, go watch that video again. That’s golden advice.

If you’re with me but still struggling a little, here’s how I’d get started if I were you.

Do you remember what it felt like when your dog died? Did it hurt in your head? Did you get a massive headache?

Of course you didn’t. It hurt in your heart, in your soul. The moment they put little Fluffy down you wanted one thing and one thing only, to have him/her back.

That’s normal. You’re human. (I’m sorry if you hate dogs, I got nothin’. And you’re weird.)

Now granted, that’s a pretty depressing emotion. It hurt when Fluffy died. But for people who just aren’t really in tune with their heart, that’s the best way for me to emphasize what that connection feels like.

I guess another possible example would be this:

Do you remember what it felt like to fall in love? How you couldn’t sleep at night, and the rest of the world just kinda disappeared while you spent all together too much time thinking about that new person?

That’s passion.

Now that you know what passion feels like, it’s time to apply that to your search for a passionate life.

Imagine Possible Future Lives

Now, you could go about this two different ways.

One possible approach is simply to start trying things that you think you might feel passionate about. Start getting out there and simply explore yourself and your passions by experimenting with the world. If you think graphic design does it for you, start designing. Who cares if you make any money or if anyone actually sees your work. Just start doing it.

Maybe skydiving is your thing. Then go skydive.

If you think you might like rock climbing, do that. You following me here?

Now, all of that is fine and good. But most people simply don’t have the time to run around the planet trying everything that might suit their fancy. Luckily, there’s a faster and slightly more efficient way.

Visualization

Your mind is a tremendously powerful tool, and you can probably do a pretty bang-up job of imagining what rock climbing, sky diving, or running a graphic design studio would feel like. You can do it in a few minutes and get a pretty decent idea of what you do and don’t want in life.

Close your eyes a moment and recall a memory that gives you joy. Seriously, take a second to do that.

Ok, done?

Did you feel anything while you went back to that memory? Of course you did. You felt happy.

You see, the thoughts and mental images you pull into your mind can elicit emotions. And we’re simply going to use that connection to start exploring what we may or may not be passionate about.

Every day, sit down for just 10 to 20 minutes and start imagining what your life might be like if you were doing something that you truly felt passionate about. It honestly doesn’t matter what you think about, just focus and don’t get side-tracked.

Maybe you’re imagining running your own business, hiking the Swiss Alps, or taking care of sick children.

Now explore these possible lives for a while. If you get bored with the thing you’re imagining, then you can be pretty sure you aren’t passionate about what you’re seeing in your head. Time to move on to something else.

If you do this regularly, you will begin to gather some information. You will begin to start understanding what sorts of things move you and what sorts of things repel you. Follow those clues while you continue to visualize every day.

After a few weeks or months, something will happen. You will begin daydreaming more. During dull moments, waiting in line, or in the shower, you will start to think about some of the images you’ve been focusing on while visualizing. This is good, entertain those day dreams.

Now here’s the tricky part. Eventually, you will discover at least one, probably multiple things that really excite you. You love to think about them and what it would be like to be living those dreams.

Fantastic.

You’re ready for the next step.

Mind Map It

If you’re a high school or college student, you need to read the following book. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

You Majored in WHAT? Katharine Brooks, ED.D.

Now I know I said earlier that exercises and life purpose questionnaires were a waste of time, but this is perhaps the one exception to that rule. Katharine approaches careers and passion from the angle of Chaos theory, which happens to be how finding your career actually works. Buy that book.

Anyway, one of the exercises Brook’s recommends is mind mapping. This is a fantastic way to start compiling and collecting what you’ve been thinking about and visualizing over the last few weeks and months.

Just get out a sheet of paper and in the center, write what you’re doing with your life now, e.g., your work, career, main focus – whatever.

Draw a circle around that and begin writing down what other activities that you think you might want to dedicate your time and life to. Forget about social conditioning. Forget about what your parents think you should do or what you friends and family expect you to do.

There’s only one rule here. If you think it would be cool, write it down. End of story. It doesn’t even have to be possible. So, “fly like superman” is an option at this point.

I completed that exercise in April of this year. And when I finished it, I was pretty much just frustrated. I still didn’t know what to do. But in time things started to come together. Here’s how.

After reading Brook’s book, I pretty much just went on with life. Things remained as they had been.

You will probably feel the same way. So, while you wait, it’s time for the next step.

Blog About it For 30 Days

Blogging is hard work if you do it consistently. I’m averaging 20 to 30 hours a week right now. And what am I getting in return? Nothing.

(Note: That’s not entirely true. I’m meeting people, sharing my thoughts, receiving feedback, learning to write, ok… I’m getting a lot out of this. For most of you though, the first month of blogging will be pretty lonely.)

So, if you think you’ve got an idea for what it is you might truly be passionate about, start a blog about it. However, Blogging is outside of the scope of this article, so here are a few resources.

How to Start a Blog in 4 Minutes

Blog Tyrant (Just a general recommendation)

Pro Blogger (An obvious one)

Now that your blog is setup, start writing. Honestly, at this point it doesn’t matter if you’re a horrible writer, if no one ever reads what you’re producing, or if your blog looks like shit.

All we’re trying to do here is test out your new life. You’re trying to answer one basic question.

Do I like this well enough to put massive amounts of time into it while simultaneously seeing absolutely no results?

If, after 30 days you’re kinda sick of it and don’t feel like writing, podcasting, or videoing about it anymore, its time to go back to visualizing.

If you’re really lucky, and you love it – good for you. Now you know what you want. You can continue blogging about it or pursue your passion in whatever vein fits you.

I went through this process over the course of a number of years, trying things and then having them fizzle out. In fact, I started so many businesses and blogs that I finally just quit telling people about them because I always ended up getting bored and backing out of them.

I would try and start random projects that I thought I might like, might make me money, or might turn into a career. And, as usual, they didn’t pan out and I lost interest in them.

One night I sat down on my couch and thought to myself:

“The only thing I actually want to be doing is riding a motorcycle across the world, blogging about it, and sharing that experience with the world.”

And when I looked back at the exercise I did in Brook’s book, I saw that this was a theme that came up several times.

And that’s when I realized what the problem was.

I knew what I wanted. I just didn’t have a nut-sack large enough to go after it, and, I didn’t trust myself enough to let go of my current reality and embrace a new one.

Well, that’s all changed now.

But I promise that this will happen to you too. And it will likely happen in much the same way. You will arrive at a point where there’s pretty much only one thing that you can truly imagine yourself doing (and being totally content with). But it will seem like a silly dream. It will seem like something you simply can’t do. It will appear distant and obscure.

The reason it feels like that at first is simple. You don’t have the skills, knowledge, personal power, and courage to pursue it yet. If you did, that new world that seems so enticing would already be yours. You would know how to create it.

But, if you continue to day dream and think about that new world. Eventually, you will feel as if you honestly have no other option. It’s your dream or die. End of story.

And when you reach that point. Nothing will stop you.

Wait for The Butterfly Effect

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something. Your gut, destiny, life Karma… whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path. And that will make all the difference.”

Steve Jobs

Sometimes you just have to wait. Maybe you’re simply not ready for the ambitious dream yet. I know that’s hard to hear, but sometimes we have certain personal growth experiences that have to occur before we can begin to live a life that is truly meaningful to us.

I had to go through this process of discovery, so I could share it with you and give you guidance. If I always just knew what I wanted, I would have been robbed of the journey and the lessons. And as a result, I wouldn’t have been able to help anyone else figure it out. But I had to endure a lot of really frustrating years to get there.

Life changing events, people, and books will come into your life at random times. They will seem totally unconnected, but if you stay focused on finding what it is you’re passionate about. Eventually, the dots will begin to connect.

Be patient. Eventually you will put it all together. And when that happens, things start lighting up. Trust me.

If you have any questions about any of the information I’ve presented here, please don’t hesitate to email me:

john[at]motovagabond[dot]net

I would be more than happy to talk with you over email or Skype. This shit matters to me, and I want you to get it sorted out. I care.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank December 1, 2010 at 11:52 pm

John, keep it up. This is a manifesto and it oozes power and emotion. Me likey.

John DeVries December 2, 2010 at 11:18 am

Thanks man. It took me a long time to figure all that stuff out. I hope it spares some folks from a few frustrating years!

Can’t wait to chat with you.

Quinn December 19, 2010 at 3:56 pm

John, hello!! Did you write this just for me? Because I must say it feels like you just wrote me a personal letter, a wee giftie, that resonated strongly for the ‘me’ that exists at this very moment. I didn’t even have to get a cup of tea, I just sipped up your words swiftly without it.

“You don’t know what’s most important to you, or what you’re passionate about, but you do know that you can’t continue your life the way it has been.”

That’s where I’m at now. I have no idea what’s happened to me in the past two years, but I’m gung-ho about changing it and becoming ME again. I will save this entry and re-read it I’m sure many times. Thank you for all your insights and just plain darn openess in sharing your story.

I’ve been tinkering with the idea of blogging for months now, and I just signed up for one. All I have is my “About” page filled out, and an idea. Thanks for the lil’ kick in the butt, I needed it and look forward to what the journey may bring!

All my best,
Quinn

John DeVries December 19, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Thank you so much for commenting Quinn.

Perhaps it sounds like I wrote it for you because, not long ago, I was in your shoes! At least in some form or fashion.

I hope it will serve you now, and in the future.

Get going on that blog! Starting this blog has been one of the best decisions of my life. And I know it’s only going to get better from here. With some work, I’m sure you will eventually feel the same.

Let me know if there is anything I can do for you.

Ster March 31, 2011 at 8:29 am

thank you for writing this john. you made me smile and gave me hope.

Mark Young March 31, 2011 at 10:08 am

Hi John

I am lucky. I was brought up to live my life the way you have learned to live your life. My Dad was kicked out by his parents as a child and raised himself. He missed the love, and loved the freedom. He taught me to be free and follow my own path. Keep on spreading the message and good luck with your travels.

JD April 1, 2011 at 6:56 pm

@ Ster

So glad I could have been of service, in any way. :-)

@ Mark

You are a lucky man Mark. I wish I would have made some of these discoveries much earlier in life. Thanks for the supportive comment.

Mark August 7, 2011 at 2:56 am

This article was unreal. I am so impressed with anyone who has the passion and dedication to follow their dream. I myself, am kind of “stuck” in a job which pays good money, yet there is that burning desire in me to follow my dream and kind of just take off into the unknown, see what’s out there and give it my best shot. Reading blogs like this give me the kick in the pants I need. Best of luck with your travels and I am very eager to see what happens on your travels.

I would also like to submit two quotes that have stuck with me since I was young. One quotes was from a Sylvester Stallone movie (of all people!): the person who says it can’t be done will always be interrupted by the person who just did it”. Another quote I liked is: if you do it you’ll regret it. If you don’t do it you’ll regret it. Either way you’re gonna regret it, so you might as well do it.

Best of luck.

Mark

JD August 7, 2011 at 10:43 am

Thanks for commenting Mark. I know the, “stuck” feeling. I still feel that way sometimes. But, even just working towards your dreams will help you feel better about your situation. Even if you’re not ready to make the full commitment yet.

Loved the quotes, thanks for sharing.

I hope that this blog will continue to be an inspiration to my readers. It’s been an amazing experience thus far.

eric December 4, 2011 at 1:48 am

Nice post and blog, i’m also following you on adventurerider! Keep riding!

JD December 4, 2011 at 8:36 pm

Thanks Eric. I love ADVrider. I hope my ride report does the forum justice!

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