“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?