Don’t chase passion

If passion is a flame that burns hot and bright, why do most of us struggle to connect with it, name it, and live it?

While passion is a critical part of our careers, we cannot chase after it for the same reason we cannot chase after happiness or love. For most of us, passion is impossible to pin down because it is big, elusive and intimidating.

For this reason, I will never coach you to ‘find your passion’. The beacon to follow is your curiosity. Curiosity is present every day, woven into the small things you do and therefore much easier to identify. Curiosity is an urge to acquire or express something new.

By ‘acquire’, I’m referring to what you take in by reading, studying, listening, observing, or noticing. By ‘express’, I’m referring to what you put out in the world by speaking, writing, or creating.

As you go about your day, begin to notice all that you acquire and express. Then ask yourself: How much of it actually ignites your core? How much of it is rooted in obligation towards others and leaves you feeling empty? You may quickly notice that much of what you take in and put out is dictated by what others expect of you.

In my former life as a research consultant, I would read and synthesize behemoth collections of published articles. Once this arduous and monotonous process was complete, I would write an article or grant proposal and submit my work to a panel of judges, who then scrutinized my project against a strict set of accept-or-reject standards.

I somehow believed that this hyper externally-focused process would help me find my voice. Ironically, I was chasing after a desire to develop *my own* body of knowledge by producing work that conformed to what *others wanted to hear* and was largely based on what *others had already said*.

I was at my desk one morning staring idly at a stack of unread research articles. I surfed the internet hoping to find a shred of inspiration for my day. I stumbled across a quote that magically started to chip away at the shackles on my voice: “Follow your curiosity, you’ll be amazed at where it takes you”.

I suddenly saw a sliver of an opportunity. What if I permitted myself to skim the articles and highlight only the few phrases that ignited me? What could I create with only those few pieces that intrigued me? Where would this take me next?

Over time, I realized that nearly everything I had been acquiring and expressing did not genuinely resonate with me. Except maybe a small fraction – like 1%. Zooming in on that 1%, however, was the beginning of the journey back home to myself.

That small fraction is really all you need to get started. As you give yourself permission to acquire and express what you love and what excites you – your 1% snowballs and quickly approaches 100%.

When you reflect on your professional history, can you identify the threads of your curiosity? Assuming you hated every job and task assigned to you so far – can you peer into the insights you took delight in speaking? The phrases you wrote that ignited those around you? The observations you made that opened others’ eyes to something new? Even looking at those instances where you forced yourself to say or write things that did not resonate with you – ask yourself what you would have preferred to express in those moments.

The beautiful irony in all of this? Picking up the threads of your curiosity and following the trail – without insistence on any particular outcome – will ultimately connect you with your passion.