If I Only Knew What My Passion Was The two misconceptions about what passion is and how to overcome them

“Just do what you are passionate about.”

This must be among the ‘Top 5 Most Unhelpful Advice of All Time’. If you knew what you were passionate about you would already be doing it, right? The reason you are stuck is because you don’t know what you want. 

But why is it so hard to pinpoint your passion? I have found two common misconceptions that cause many people to get stuck on this subject. 

Misconception #1: Passion is a thing you do 

Many people associate passion with a specific activity or field, such as music, football, or geology. This misses the full picture of what passion is. 

Passion is about engaging in some kind of work that makes you happy. And there are two ways in which a task can bring you happiness: enjoyment and purpose. Enjoyment means you like doing the task for its own sake. Purpose comes from knowing that your work is improving the life of someone else.

Passion = Enjoyment + Purpose

When you associate passion with a thing you do, you focus only on the enjoyment piece. But if you only have enjoyment you have a hobby. Not a passion. Passion is both enjoyment and purpose. 

Misconception #2: There is only one path that will bring you passion

There are countless things you like doing for their own sake. You might enjoy teaching, crunching numbers, cooking, or expressing yourself in writing. There are also endless ways in which you can positively impact the lives of others in a way that feels meaningful to you. Passion isn’t a single path. It’s a feeling you find when you combine enjoyment and purpose. And there are many many ways you can do that. 

A Better Model for Passion

The most accurate passion model I’ve found is Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle. The Golden Circle consists of three different circles: WHAT, HOW, and WHY, which describe the three pieces that make up who you are. 

  • WHAT are the concrete things you do, e.g cook meals as a chef or volunteer as a soccer coach. 
  • HOW are your natural strengths, e.g you are great at solving complex problems or you enjoy meeting new people.
  • WHY is your higher purpose. It’s how you want to contribute and what impact that contribution will have in the lives of others.

My WHY is “To uplift others so that they can achieve whatever matters to them”. I love to help others find clarity and expand their abilities so they are able to experience greater happiness in their lives. 

Two of my HOWs include “Embrace the entrepreneurial spirit” and “Pursue constant improvement”. I naturally look for ways to add value, envision how things could be made better, and start new projects to meet those needs. 

My WHY is the purpose piece of my passion equation. My HOWs are the enjoyment piece. My WHATs are just the concrete things I do to bring my passion to life. 

One of my WHATs has been to start the non-profit academy Eureka that teaches math to students who don’t get enough challenge in the classroom. Another WHAT is working for a company to build a career app that helps people make better decisions about which career path is right for them. And a third WHAT is writing the Success Uplift blog. 

Your passion isn’t a single WHAT. It’s a combination of your WHY and HOWs that is simply expressed as a WHAT. And there are many possible WHATs you can be passionate about. 

So how do you find WHATs that you will be passionate about?

My advice is to focus on defining your WHY and HOWs first. This will help you know what kind of opportunities to look for. To define your WHY and HOWs, I recommend reading Simon Sinek’s book Find Your Why (it’s $11.95 on Amazon). This book was how I found my purpose and strengths. 

What will your WHY and HOWs be? 

How To Instantly Turn Frustration into Joy A simple trick for brightening your mood when you can't find anything to be happy about

Have you ever had a period when your happiness dipped despite no change in your environment? 

This recently happened to me. For 2 weeks I just felt disengaged with my work and the people around me. I was doing the same things which had excited me before. But I wasn’t as happy as I used to be. 

One evening I was studying alone in the living room when one of my roommates, I will call him Phil, came to join me. At first I felt annoyed. I had enjoyed my alone time and I didn’t want anyone to disrupt it. But then I thought “How can I appreciate Phil being here?” 

For some strange reason, I imagined Phil as an adorable 5-year old whom I was responsible for providing for. As if he was my much younger brother. Suddenly, my annoyance with Phil melted away completely and was replaced by warm compassion. I felt a responsibility to be my best self and show him how much I cared about him. We ended up having an amazing conversation and I felt such an appreciation for Phil that I spontaneously gave him a goodnight hug. I was feeling alive once again!

I had accidentally stumbled upon a solution to my disengagement. 

What if I imagined whatever frustrated me as if it was a cute 5-year old whom I was responsible for?  

This practice sounds incredibly silly. And it is. It also worked wonders for me. I began approaching every person as someone I cared about. Every individual became someone I wanted to show appreciation towards. And this shift in mindset influenced my actions. I began saying “Hi!” and stopped to chat with people I usually didn’t talk with. I listened with excitement more than I spoke. I found something to compliment in every person. And all of this made me feel happier with myself. 

I even applied this practice to material things as well. When I got caught in a downpour and became frustrated with the rain, I imagined the rain as a playful puppy. At once, my annoyance vanished and I said “Haha! Ok, rain. You felt that we needed a shower. Then keep pouring on. This is fun!”. I ended up more energized once I got back inside than when I went out. 

Childish as this practice is, there are two reasons why it is so powerful: 

  1. You start acting as a role model
    Imagine the source of your frustration as an innocent child, and you begin acting as your very best self. When I saw Phil as a 5-year old whose care I had been entrusted with, I would have felt like a complete jackass if I just left the room when he came to seek my company. I instead switched my thinking to: “How can I show Phil that I care about him?”. This inspired me to start a conversation about a topic I knew he was interested in. You set a much higher standard for yourself when you believe that others are relying on you.
  1. You begin caring more for the other person
    View someone as an adorable child who is the joy of your life, and any frustration melts away and is replaced by a desire to see them better off. You actually start caring more about the other person, and you will want to give your time, attention, and effort to help them. 

If you would like to try this practice in your own life, simply follow these steps: 

  1. Catch yourself whenever you feel annoyed, frustrated, or disengaged. 
  1. Imagine the source of your emotion as an adorable child whose care you have been entrusted with. 
  1. Take the action you know is right. 

Of course, you are not going to treat an adult as if they are a child. The purpose of this practice is only to get you into the right mood, and then let your mood guide your actions. 

Which person will you be a compassionate role model for today?