The Truth About Finding Your PassionNone By Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness
At every big milestone, from graduations to athletic championships, we grew up hearing the advice that we must "find" our passion. And we weren’t alone. This was one of—if not the—most popular inspirational self-help phrases peddled to Millennials and Gen Xers.
There's only one problem: it's wrong. Very rarely do people just find their passion, or something that feels perfect from the outset. And expecting to only lessens the chance that you'll actually develop one, because you'll go from one activity or career to the next, searching for this illusory perfect fit. You'll get stuck being a seeker instead of a practitioner. The truth is that passions which are lasting are those that are developed over time. Better than trying to find your passion is to lower the bar and follow your interests.
Interest is really just another way of saying that something captures your attention. When you come across an activity or idea that subtly pulls you toward it, you are faced with a choice: Do you grant yourself permission to lean in and further explore? Or, do you let it go, ignoring it and writing it off as a momentary blip of intrigue? If you choose to ignore, you send a strong message—and one that quickly gets encoded in your brain—that the activity or idea carries little value. The next time you encounter something similar, your brain won’t send a signal for excitement; it will have already gotten the message that “there’s nothing to pursue here.” If, however, you engage during moments of initial intrigue, your brain will do the opposite, hardwiring a neural connection that says “it’s worth my energy and focus to pursue the things that interest me.” Interest is an invitation to exploration, inviting your attention toward activities that have the potential to grow into something greater. But that can only occur if you accept the invitation.
Unfortunately, far too often when a feeling of intrigue or curiosity arises, we simply let it go. In some cases, we tell ourselves that we’re too busy, quickly becoming distracted by our smartphones or the next item on our to-do list. Other times, we tell ourselves that wherever an initial spark of intrigue is leading must not be for us because it conflicts with our perceived identity; a form of resistance I couldn’t possibly do this syndrome. Common examples of I couldn’t possibly do this syndrome include: I went to and paid for business school, why should I be concerned with art? I’m a physician, not an essay writer. I’m 64 years old and I’ve never worked with my hands, why start now?
I couldn’t possibly do this syndrome only grows stronger with age. It also creates a formidable sense of path dependency, or the narrative that you are on a certain path, and the best—if not only—route is to stay on it. But path dependency prevents you from exploring opportunities that could lead to a better and more and fulfilling life. You’ll never know if you’re truly on the right path unless you allow yourself to explore and pursue the things that capture your attention, even if they seem to conflict with the current path or identity that you’ve constructed for yourself. You must resist the temptation to pigeonhole yourself into any one box, regardless of your prior experiences. Just think about how many potential passions are killed by close-mindedness; by prematurely telling yourself that an activity or idea is not worth your attention before you’ve even explored it to a sufficient degree?
Embracing exploration is so important because the path to finding your passion can be long and circuitous, with many wrong turns in the direction of activities, jobs, or other opportunities that initially appeared exhilarating yet proved to be something else. But you must have the courage to keep on exploring. This doesn’t mean you should pursue just anything and everything, but it does mean to nurture an open mind, and to not move on so swiftly from the activities and ideas that capture your attention. Be wary of fully embracing a “fit mindset” for passion, stopping any activity that doesn’t feel perfect right off the bat. Instead, give yourself the freedom to explore budding interests enough to more accurately judge if they could grow into passions, a potential that often depends on whether or not a pursuit satisfies three basic needs.
• When an idea or activity interests you, give yourself permission to pursue it.
• Don’t be constrained by the story you tell yourself about yourself or by your past experiences.
• Overcome the resistance that is I couldn’t possibly do this syndrome and allow moments of intrigue to capture your attention, even if they seem divergent from your current path.
• Remember that nearly all grand passions began as someone merely following their interests.
Reprinted from THE PASSION PARADOX: A Guide to Going All In, Finding Success, and Discovering the Benefits of an Unbalanced Life © 2019 by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness. Published by Rodale Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
Brad Stulberg has written for the New York Times, Wired, Outside, New York, Forbes, NPR, the Los Angeles Times, Runner's World, and other national outlets. He also works with top executives as a performance coach. Previously, Brad worked as a consultant for McKinsey & Company. He lives in Northern California with his wife, Caitlin.
Steve Magness coaches some of the top distance runners in the world. He has been a featured expert in Runner's World, the New York Times, The New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal, ESPN The Magazine, and on BBC. He lives in Houston, Texas.
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