“Follow Your Passion!”
“Live Your Purpose!”
We’ve all, I’m sure, heard this advice way too many times to count.
While inspiring in some cases, it can feel like slightly unhelpful advice when we’re not sure what our purpose is, or where our passions actually lie.
Discovering these things is not, of course, an overnight process. For some of my clients, the desire to get more clarity in the above two areas is the reason they hire me as a coach. They’ve usually been wildly successful doing something other than their passion or what feels like their purpose, and together we work to discover what a new path forward might look like.
Hiring a coach is a great way to gain some powerful traction on the above questions. That said, there are some small things we can do on our own, as well, to kick start the process. Here are a few of my favorites.
Pay Attention to Curiosities.
“Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” - Mary Oliver
I see many people put pressure on themselves to figure out the answers to these enormous questions about purpose and passion in one massive epiphany that comes with a bolt of lightening at 2 in the morning. While sometimes the answers come to us this way, often the answers are the result of paying better attention over a period of time.
The first thing we can begin to pay attention to is curiosities.
What are you curious about?
What are you interested in?
What do you find yourself reading about in your free time?
What types of books are you drawn to?
What do you find yourself researching online, just because you want to know more?
What are the themes of conversations you’re having with friends?
Who are the people you find yourself following or drawn to - through blogs, articles, or social media?
Pay attention. Write these things down. Make a list and continually add to it. Allow yourself to simply add to it over the course of several weeks. And then, look back to see what you notice.
Track Your Energy.
What are the things, throughout your days, that give you energy? What are the things that deplete your energy?
Pay attention. Write them down. I recommend making a good old fashioned T-Chart with a list of “+” and “-” and adding to this list throughout your days.
Do this exercise at work.
When do you feel engaged and energized?
What are the projects you feel excited to work on?
Which types of conversations energize you?
And, on the flip side, when do you feel that you’re drained or depleted?
Which projects or tasks do you dread tackling?
Write them all down on your list.
Do this exercise at home.
What are you doing when you feel totally energized at home or around the house? Are you working in the garage or tackling a craft project or cooking?
What are you doing when you feel depleted or drained at home?
Put all of these things on the list.
Do this process for a week or two and notice, without judging, what emerges. Are there any trends or patterns? Or perhaps any surprises?
This process is not only helpful for informing your passions and purpose, but also for making small tweaks that make everyday life more easeful and joyful. I’ve made several small but game changing tweaks to my everyday workflows and rhythms as a result of my findings from this process.
Go Back In Time.
Think back to when you were young.
What did you love to do when you were little?
What types of games did you play?
What were your favorite types of toys to play with?
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Think back to high school and college.
When were you happiest?
What activities were you part of?
When were you having the most fun?
When did you feel most engaged in what you were doing?
When did you feel the most fulfilled?
Make a list of everything that comes to mind. Dig up some old photos and notice what you were doing.
For most of us, there is at least some thread that relates to our passion and purpose. In my case, for example, I played school almost every day. I had an entire school set-up in my basement: blackboard, overhead projector (the old school kind with the plastic sheets and the wipe-off markers - yes, I was that into playing school), chairs, and supplies. All through high school and college I taught water aerobics to adults and swimming lessons and Spanish for kids. I absolutely loved the process of teaching and learning.
While for a long time I thought all of this meant that I wanted to be a teacher within our school systems, I realized in my adult life that I wanted to create spaces of learning and self discovery and transformation and personal growth - for adults - which is exactly what I’m doing today. Putting these pieces together was not an overnight realization - it came after much reflection, lots of additional education, and plenty of time in the corporate world doing something entirely different.
Perhaps most importantly, to discover our passion, we need to do stuff that we are passionate about. To uncover our purpose, we need to take purposeful action.
Generally speaking, we will not discover our purpose solely by sitting at home reading books about purpose. We will not uncover our passion solely by reading inspirational quotes about passion, even if they are written in perfect calligraphy (you know the ones I’m talking about).
Rather, we will discover our purpose and our passion by taking action, with purpose and with passion.
Sign up for a class. Take the workshop. Reach out to that person you worked with 10 years ago who is now doing something super interesting and reconnect. Subscribe to the industry magazine. Volunteer with an organization that sparks your interest.
Try stuff. Dabble. Tinker. Allow yourself to be curious, and unattached to the outcome.
Do stuff just for fun.
To discover our purpose, we need to take purposeful action. Purposeful action does not need to mean quitting your job on a whim and moving into a Westfalia van for the next 3 years (though it certainly could if you feel called to do so) or going on a year-long spirit quest in Bali (though it certainly could if you feel called to do so). Purposeful action can mean making a list; starting your day with intention; paying attention to your curiosities; doing things that bring you joy; and noticing what you discover along the way.