Finding Your Passion (3 Steps to Overcome your Fears and Finally Do What You Love)

nigella lawson

I wrote that title for search engine optimization and I’m not afraid to say it.

The truth is, I hate these types of posts.

For the last few months, I’ve been on a passionate quest to find my passion. My little girl entered the world last August, and it was like somebody switched a light on in my head. Somehow, my mission to find a mission has become a zealous search to prove to this tiny little girl that it’s possible: you CAN find work that you love.  (For the record, I want my boy to know this as well. But, somehow, Eva’s arrival made it so much more urgent. Does this make me sexist?)

But – back to my blog post title. I do know that there is no way to simplify the task of finding one’s passion into three easy steps. If it were really that easy, we would all have found our passion by now and there wouldn’t be a million coaches, self-help gurus and bloggers trying to tell us how to do it.

Reading about finding your passion is like reading about playing the piano, or riding a wave, or making love. Our linear, Western, science-fed, Enlightenment-trained brains want there to be a 3-step process, but all know it’s more art than science.

There is no magic formula, BuzzFeed quiz or spiritual guru that will reveal your passion.

So what am I to do?

***

A few months ago I came across the photo at the beginning of this post. I’m not sure where I found it – probably while gorging on Pinterest, or trolling through Facebook.

When I saw the photo, my heart stopped. I stared at it for a few minutes, absolutely breathless, with this thought pounding in my head: I want that.

After a few minutes of what I can only describe as rapture, I closed the photograph as quickly as I could and walked away. Literally walked away.

It was only several hours later that I could bring myself to open the photograph again and save it. I did it quickly, almost furtively, as if the mere act of saving the photo was subversive.

Why? Why was this photo so scary to me?

As you already know, I’m a perfectionist.

Therefore, the quest for my passion is tinged with a terrifying, utterly overwhelming fear that even if I do find what I love, I won’t be able to do it perfectly…or even well.

The picture above is scary to me because, let’s face it, I’m never going to be Nigella Lawson. I will never have a high-ceilinged villa with soaring bookcases, or book publishers falling over backward to publish my writing. (I will also likely never have a public life that is scrutinized by the paparazzi – so there are benefits as well.)

So when I look at a picture like that, and it fills my entire being with a sort of longing, is this even remotely constructive?

If I do find my passion – and it turns out to be an impossible dream – how in the world will I live with that?

***

In an effort to find my passion, I have been seeing a career coach. A few months ago, I wouldn’t have been able to write that without laughing at myself, but the truth is, she’s been enormously helpful and inspiring and encouraging – and if it weren’t for her help, I would have already given up on this journey.

During our first meeting, she encouraged me to review all of my current activities – career and otherwise – and ruthlessly cut out those things that did not align with my vision for my life. She showed me a framework for career decision-making that resembled a wheel, and we were going to make a cyclical journey together to find my life’s work.

Awesome, I thought. Here it is. The holy grail. A multi-step, iterative process that will help me find my passion.

I went away, reviewed my activities, and sat down at my email to begin the process of ruthlessly weeding out the things that were not aligned with my current vision for my life. An email came through. An opportunity. It didn’t seem quite aligned with my vision, but it looked really, really interesting. I said….yes.  And in the excitement of the new opportunity, I forgot to say no to all the other things that were currently filling up my inbox.

I went back to my career coach and told her that I had failed. Not only had I not said “no” to the things that weren’t in alignment, I had said “yes” to more things.

She laughed and said, you know, can we try an experiment? Turns out, she had been doing some reading and thinking about the “finding your passion” process. She wasn’t so sure that it worked. (This is why she’s great. She’s constantly reinventing herself as well.) In fact, the more she looked at the process, the more she realized that it subtly encourages us to go back to what we already do.  By weeding out the activities and not saying yes to new ones until we’re absolutely sure, we don’t get a chance to experiment – to test the waters.

She gave me a new task: say yes. To nearly everything. Well, anything that gave me a slight pitter patter of excitement, or seemed to pique my interest. Don’t go down the path of full-fledged commitment (accepting a job, or moving countries), but find ways to put a toe in the water and get a feel for it.

***

So that’s where I am today. I’m in the process of experimenting.

This blog is part of the experiment. When I sit down to write these posts, I feel slightly Nigella-esque, even though I’m usually sitting in the spare bedroom of my house rather than a soaring-ceilinged library.

I’m also working on a few other projects, things that have come my way through heading down some bunny trails and feeling a twinge of excitement. I’m talking to people who seem interesting, not with any agenda in mind, but with a curiosity for their work and their own missions. It doesn’t feel like work at all. It’s fun.

Slowly, slowly, there is a pattern emerging. It doesn’t have a name yet, but it is starting to make sense. There has been no logical process, or step-by-step. Rather, it’s a shadowy image that occasionally gets illuminated by someone’s story or by a small accomplishment.

What about you? What will you say “Yes” to today?