One of the questions I get asked most often is: “How do I know when I’ve found my true passion?” My usual response is something along the lines of, “Well, uh, I guess you just know when you know…”
What a cop-out. I always feel bad answering like this. Of course, it's not entirely untrue, just incomplete. I mean, I enjoy writing and blogging, and teaching, but is that enough? I never truly deconstructed just what it was that made it a passion.
After spending some time soul-searching, I've narrowed it down to three signs that let you know you've arrived at your passion — that thing that makes you never give up, that keeps you up at night, that gets you excited about starting the next day.
Here's the truth: Not everyone gets to do work they love. But we all have a shot at it, at discovering what we were born to do. And it's our responsibility to seek such work out. It may seem distant and unattainable, but it's your job to at least try to get closer to it. As you endeavor to find your life's work, here’s how to know whether it's a true passion or just an impostor.
1. You’re excited about it
I’ve been so excited about things I’m passionate about that I actually lose sleep 0ver them. Although this isn’t a good thing, it’s a clear sign that whatever I’m working has my attention.
If you’re in the midst of something that might become a “true passion” for you, try to measure and assess your own excitement level:
- Work on part of a task or project related to the passion.
- See how easy it is to “compartmentalize” after you finish.
- When you go back to your real life, is it to forget about the project?
If it keeps bugging you, then you've found your passion.
At one point, I wanted to be a full-time musician: playing gigs, selling CDs, and so on. But after years of practicing, rehearsing, and learning about the music business, I realized it didn't excite me as much as it once did.
Once I discovered I was better at helping other musicians market themselves, a new passion took hold. And I spent the next few years building an indie record store, promoting the bands I loved.
2. You’re falling behind
For me, how far behind I am on a passion-related project is a great barometer of how passionate I am about it. Sound strange? Well, hang in there with me…
When I started writing, I had a great first run of success and then plateaued. I couldn’t figure out how to develop my characters, how to transition from one scene to the next, or how to create a believable story arc. I constantly felt behind, as if I was missing something important.
After sticking with the process, I now have a 110,000-word-long novel, ready to be released. And I’m even working on another. With the second novel, I keep thinking of things I should be doing, things I've learned from doing it the first time.
And the more I do this, the more behind I feel. Which could feel paralyzing, but instead it feels empowering. This feeling is important. Why? Because it tells me I care enough the project to worry about it.
When analyzing your own passion, you may discover this same sense. It's a good thing, this behind-ness. It can be a boon to stave off procrastination and motivate you to be more productive.
Understanding how far we've come but still how far we have to go is the only way we get better.
3. You can’t easily define it
As a writer, I don’t see an end in sight. There’s no “sell a million books”-type goal that fuels me. Nor is there a specific genre I want to tie myself to or one day master. And frankly, I'm okay with that.
If you’re dealing with a true passion and not just a fleeting “side project,” you’re probably going to have a hard time defining it. When someone asks you what you do for a living, you might shrug and say something like, “Well, I, uh, blog, and create stuff, and uh…”
There’s nothing wrong with this. Feeling like you’re in a broad category of “creatives” or “artists” is totally fine. Keep your goal-setting and planning more to the project level. You can leave your core passion a little undefined.
I’ve often had more than one passion in life. Some were seasonal, while others stuck around for years. A few even took thousands of hours to pursue. What always happened, though, is that each effort eventually led to a better understanding of my purpose.
The same will be true for you. If you watch your excitement, keep striving to be better, and never give up (even when you aren't quite sure what you're doing), you'll find your passion, as well.
How do you know you've found your passion? Share in the comments.