If I had to choose one topic that prompts the most emails, raised hands, and letters in my work as a life coach, it's "How do I find my passion?" Maybe you've wondered this, too. It's a feeling we know well from childhood, when we wanted nothing more than to practice pirouettes, make sand castles, or paint all afternoon. Back then, passion was all-consuming. It ignited our imaginations and fueled our sensory, heart-centered desires. Lost in the moment, we thought of nothing else. As adults, we often lose sight of activities that bring us delight in the blur of day-to-day responsibilities. Preoccupied with our jam-packed schedules and never-ending to-do lists, we rarely experience the rich, soulful emotion of passion -- those moments when we feel awestruck, inspired, brought to tears, utterly moved. Instead, we go through the motions of life. Our hearts don't sing.
Many of us sense this void. Often it's our search for meaningful employment that leads us to wonder where our passions lie. To be sure, passion is a key ingredient in a satisfying job. But its scope extends far beyond work. It's about finding what speaks to your soul, whether it results in a paycheck or not. Discovering your passion takes a willingness to embark on a treasure hunt of sorts -- a journey of self-revelation. This process, which I call the Passion Path of Development, can help reveal those things that will bring you back to that state of childhood bliss. Whether you wind up finding your passion in collecting sea glass, saving the rain forests, or practicing tai chi, your engagement in the activities you love will enhance every aspect of your life.
Stop One: Make Space
The first stop on the Passion Path of Development requires you to make room in your life for the journey. Adding this process to an already full plate won't work. You'll need to become passionate about your self-care, slowing down and creating space in your calendar for inward focus. If you can, leave work at a reasonable hour and limit social engagements for a while. Alert family members and friends that you'll be less available to help with their needs while you attend to your own. After all, passion originates in the heart. By focusing on yourself, you'll restore the connection between head and heart, thereby improving your ability to feel -- a necessary ingredient for experiencing your joy.
Stop Two: Be an Explorer
Hidden throughout your daily life lie the clues to those ideas, activities, and dreams that matter most to your soul. These exercises will help identify activities that make you feel excited, enthusiastic, or moved. As you go through the process, keep detailed notes of your discoveries in a journal or notebook. Commit to completing one exercise each week. See your reflection in others. Our interactions with others provide us with valuable insight into those things we may feel passionate about. The parent who strongly encourages a child to pursue a certain career path or hobby may, in fact, be expressing a hidden desire to do the same. The woman who keeps dating artists may secretly long to express her own creative side. Think about the people you're most drawn to -- and those you feel jealous of. In addition to your circle of friends, family, and coworkers, consider favorite celebrities, respected authors, teachers, and public officials. What about them do you admire or envy? Are they engaged in something you'd like to be doing? Make a list of five people and, for each one, write down what they're doing that you'd like to do.
Go on a treasure hunt.
Inside your home you'll find symbols of your passion. Note the smooth stone you saved from a camping trip, the award you earned after a piano recital years ago, or the ceramic pot you made with a dear friend. Schedule some alone time to catalog the treasured keepsakes. Check bureau drawers, the attic, and boxes in the basement. List important items in your journal along with a line about why each is important.
Mind your media.
The books, journals, and videos we choose offer a window into the currents of our passions. Start looking for clues, beginning with your bookcase. Is it stocked with books on animals or sports? Historical mysteries or thrillers? Make a list of your favorite genres and titles.
Next, visit your local video store and take note of those movies you watched more than once, as well as those that triggered a strong emotional response, whether laughter, tears, or anger. Identify any patterns or themes and write them down. Finally, spend some time at a magazine stand. List any title that grabs your attention -- foreign cars, herb gardening, travel, scrapbooking, dance, pets. Choose the top five and list them in order of importance. As you continue the process, pay attention to those activities you do every day, the ones that come naturally without much thought. Remember, sometimes what we love the most lives right under our nose.
Stop Three: Find the Gold
It's time to pull it all together to see what you've learned about yourself. This will prepare you to take steps to express your passion in daily life. Set aside an afternoon to read through your journal entries. You'll find the process quite revealing. Ask yourself: What themes or patterns do I notice? What topics am I consistently drawn to? You might be surprised to find that you've kept every issue of National Geographic.
Stop Four: Take Action
Now you'll bring your passions to life. Pick one area of interest from your various discoveries above and develop a five-step action plan to explore it further. You may find yourself going back to a long-lost interest you shelved years ago as you got busy with other things. Or your area of passion may bring you to unexplored territory. Don't be afraid to try something new. If this is truly your passion, the risk will be worth it. Remember, it's more important to act now than to plot out a "perfect" course. Most people labor over their journal entries trying to find where they'll be the most successful. This is a complete waste of time. Perfection doesn't exist when it comes to passion. Just choose one thing that gets your juices flowing and act on it, whether you think you'll be good at it or not. The idea is to get started so you can see where this next phase of the journey leads you. Let's say you're interested in art and drawing. Your action plan might look like this:
Visit the library and review books on painting and illustration. Spend an afternoon at the art museum, taking note of the styles I like. Meet with my friend Joseph to discuss his work as an illustrator. Research local art classes and communities, so that I can start meeting people with similar interests. Sign up for a drawing class.
As you move deeper into your exploration, beware of getting caught up in A-to-Z thinking, focusing on the end result before you've even taken the first step. This kills momentum. Instead of worrying how you'll sell your paintings once they're done (Step Z), concentrate on learning to draw by taking an art class (Step B). To avoid thinking too far ahead, fill in the following sentence. Then print it out in big, bold letters and keep it in view:
What one simple step can I take today to keep moving forward with ?
As you begin to express those things that stimulate and inspire you, keep in mind that it doesn't just serve your best interests to engage in passionate activity. Your efforts ultimately affect us all. By living your joy, you bring your greatest self to the world.
Use these questions as launching pads to inquiry, taking the time to answer each one. Don't over-think your answers, though. Just jot down the first thing that pops into your head.
1. Imagine that your local bookstore is reducing its inventory to one category of books. If it were up to you to choose the single remaining genre, which one would it be?
2. If you could try three new and different jobs over the next year, what would they be?
3. Imagine that you were meant to teach others three things in life. What would they be?
4. If you were allowed to make one powerful, positive change in the world, large or small, what would it be?
5. What personal challenges have you overcome, and how might you help others do the same?
Finding Your Passion: 4 Success Stories
Jill Connolly identified her interests early on in life. She loved business almost as much as she loved to sing. But it wasn't until she managed to combine these contrasting pursuits that she found her passion. She now runs her own business as a voice-over talent while creatively expressing herself through singing -- an interest that recently culminated in her new CD release, "Venus in Transit." In bringing her gifts together, she found a way to live her true life. "My passion isn't about 'performing' in the sense of pleasing an audience or even a client," she says. "It's about sharing and communicating the wealth of my joy."
In the throes of singing, Jill feels timeless and open. It's a state of bliss she encourages others to experience. "If you haven't quite discovered your passion yet, tune in to the things that make you feel whole. Then listen to your body, and just choose one," she says. For those who already know where their passions lie, she offers this advice: "Believe it and do it."
Daena Giardella always knew she loved being on a stage, so it's no surprise that she became an actor. But when she experimented with improvisation, her passion for acting grew to a new level. "For me, the most exciting theater emerged in the impromptu scenes that came up in rehearsals," she says. With improvisation, she'd found a new medium to speak her own words -- not just lines from a script. "When I'm performing, my body and mind feel awake and integrated," Daena adds. "I feel totally alive, energized, plugged in."
Daena has taken her passion for self-expression into a variety of arenas. She shares her love of acting in one-woman shows that she performs in theaters across the country. She teaches others to express their creative potential through improvisational acting classes and by designing custom programs for organizations. And she recently coauthored, with Wren Ross, the book "Changing Patterns: Discovering the Fabric of Your Creativity."
For her, finding passion comes down to priorities. "What are you motivated to make time for, no matter what else is in your schedule?" she asks of those seeking to identify their passion. "Discovering your joy is like finding a new best friend. You can't wait to see each other and pick up where you left off."
Having started in fashion as a teen, Jay Calderin reached an impasse in his career by the time he reached his 30s. He'd lost his joy for design, to the point where he was considering other ventures. But then he got an opportunity to teach. "The moment I got in front of a class, I realized my passion hadn't disappeared at all," Jay recalls. "It had simply evolved. Teaching the art of design to others has rekindled my interest, and now I can't get enough it."
Currently the director of creative marketing and special projects at the School of Fashion Design in Boston, Jay says that by surrendering to his passion, he opened himself up to unexpected possibilities. He offers this advice to his students and to others seeking to discover their passion: "A healthy, powerful passion doesn't merely pass the time or fill a void. It challenges us to tap in to our essence and then bring something to the table." Since the results won't happen overnight, patience is required. "Finding your passion often starts in small ways and evolves over time," he says. "So be kind, generous, and fearless with yourself and your choices."
Wren Ross came upon her passion when she was going through a divorce. During her separation process, a phrase kept repeating in her head: "This fabric is torn beyond repair." How did she find solace? She discovered a healing influence in knitting, one that provided a ready release for creative expression. She began creating a "story of fiber coat" in which she incorporated images and symbols (such as an open heart and tap dancers with hats and canes) that reflected her emerging life as a single woman. The hobby soon grew to a full-fledged passion. "To this day, knitting is portable peace of mind for me," she says. "It's a powerful creative outlet that allows me to tell stories."
She's so passionate about her "contemplative craft" that she now teaches people with cancer to use knitting to share their own stories. Wren has also recorded a CD called "Wren Ross's Greatest Knits" and coauthored a book with Daena Giardella. A knitwear designer and self-described "fiber philosopher," she has come to depend on the expansive feeling her knitting brings. "When I'm working with yarn, I feel inspired, focused, and at one with everything around me. All is right with my world."
Text by Cheryl Richardson