Passion isn’t Found – It’s Pursued

I write quite a bit about side gigs, starting a business, and other related topics. At least more than I thought. Here’s a sampling:

Stop Job Shopping, Start a Business
Multiple Streams of Extra Income
Why Not Start a Business?
5 Ways to Generate a Second Income

More than likely, you want to pursue your own gig doing something you’re passionate about. Which is another buzz word that’s been a lexicon of the business startup vocabulary for years.

So, that’s all good and well, but what does that mean? According to recent studies, your best option is not necessarily to go with your gut. Turns out that passion is a by-product of something else—the pursuit of it. But, passion pursuit has it’s own drawbacks.

According to Cal Newport, writing at ZenHabits, faced with the task of identifying their “passion,” most people have one of two reactions:

The first is a frantic search of their lives with the aim of uncovering some magical pursuit that unmistakably sings to their soul. As a writer of student advice, for example, I frequently receive e-mails from young people that begin: “I’m trying to decide what my passion should be…” (If only it were that easy.)

We’re faced with so many options that, well, we don’t choose anything. Or we fear that in choosing one, we’ve given up on the others (opportunity cost).

The second reaction is paralysis: faced with the life-changing importance of this discovery, many people freeze — hoping for a sign from above that will make things clear. (Spoiler: This can be a long wait.)

Most of us, in my opinion, are in the second group. We “sort of kind of” have an idea of what we would like to pursue but it’s a haziness that, when questioned, doesn’t come out of our mouths very clearly. In a way, we’re frantically waiting not frantically searching.

Surprisingly, Cal makes the case that passion can’t be something that’s forcefully identified. Apparently, chanting, “I love accounting, I love accounting”, in the mirror for 20 minutes every day doesn’t turn on the accounting passion gene.

So, if I can’t force passion, what can I do? Thankfully, Cal has an answer for that.

Discovering passion requires a dedication to unstructured exploration. You have to leave large swathes of free time in your schedule (a technique I call underscheduling), and fill this time with the exploration of things that might be interesting. Of equal importance, when something catches your attention you must leverage your free time to aggressively follow up.

That’s a mouth-full for sure. I’ll go out on a limb here and translate this script. You have to make cultivating your passion a priority. It’s not something you do for half an hour each day (like exercise) and expect to get very far very fast.

Easier said than done, I know. Lately, I’ve been exploring a few creative pursuits that, unknown to me until now, have sent me into a fun, oftentimes, intense rabbit chase. Why have these creative pursuits inspired me now? Why not ten years ago? Or are they part of a larger me that’s just waiting to be explored?

I don’t know but I’m making the time for them which has caused stress in other areas of my life.

This advice can be hard to follow at first. When we think about passion we think about action—we want to start doing big things right now! But there’s more of a subtleness to that action. At times it may not look like you’re doing anything at all.

I challenge you to explore your passions (known and unknown) from this angle. It’s fun and fulfilling.

You can read the article in its entirety at ZenHabits. You can read more from Cal Newport (which I highly recommend) at StudyHacks.

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