Here’s why people fail in their search for one
At age 23 I didn’t know what to do with my life.
Now, that’s no surprise for most 23-year-olds. It’s actually normal in your 20s and 30s when everyone’s telling you that you should “figure it out”.
This is the story of how I desperately looked for a passion to make it my full-time job, how I got discouraged by the many failures I faced, and how I discovered that motivation and inspiration are only tiny components to finding and keeping a passion.
I grew up in a tiny rural town in Italy, where the options to “make it” seemed quite limited to me. That always made feel a bit out of place. I was an ambitious kid, but whenever someone asked me:
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
All they’d get in response was a blank stare.
The only thing that was clear to me, was that I wanted to travel and to be my own boss one day, but I had no passions.
I used to believe I had zero learning skills, and I’ve always struggled with authority, discipline and learning. My education and school life were an absolute train wreck. I sucked at school so badly that I failed 4 classes in the span of 5 years from age 14 to 19. That’s not ideal when the common perception around you is that when you get a degree, everything else just “falls into place”.
I was practically fu**ed.
I tried to keep it to myself, but I really felt that pressure to “figure it out”.
I knew I needed to find my dream job, my big passion — or at least something close to it — if I ever wanted to get out of the mediocrity spiral I’d got myself into.
At one point, I had to choose between settling down and keeping my job helping out the family business, or flying out to a different country in hope to find my calling.
So I moved to London, hoping it would give me some answers.
In just under 5 months I would quit my job, pack my bags and return back home. In my mind, I had checked all the boxes:
- I travelled
- I experienced new things
- I met new people and
- I put myself to the test
But my passion was still nowhere to be found.
Just like my school days, I judged every effort I took by the result I obtained, and at the first sign of failure, I would just quit.
I didn’t know it back then, but there was a big lesson to be learned from that approach: I needed to fall in love with the process, instead of getting hung up on the outcome.
Falling in Love With the Process
When speaking about creativity, Steve Jobs hit the nail on the head with this definition:
Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.
What’s the best way to make new connections, if not by learning and trying consistently, giving your admittedly obsessive focus to it?
In the creative industry, there is a saying that goes:
“Trust the process, not the outcome”
Trusting the process means sticking to a well-proven methodology to accomplish a long-term goal. But here’s a question:
Would you trust a creative process to work specifically without seeing it in action or without having tested it yourself?
Because I’m a romantic, the first analogy I can think of, is one of a relationship. I waited a long time for my passion to materialise in front of me, you know, as it happens in movies: the main character finds “The One” and she falls in love at first sight. I thought it was just meant to be and that my passions would come to me eventually.
But relationships don’t just happen to us, we have to make them work. Very much like our relationship with the process:
The more you fall in love with it, the more you trust it.
The more you communicate with yourself through introspective questions, the stronger it becomes.
The more hard work and practice you give to it, the more it brings you joy.
So where do you start to discover your passion?
Everyone has different ways to do it, here’s what worked for me:
1) The Why: Kill your limiting beliefs
Who you think you are, your self-image, your worldview and your sense of judgement are all part of your identity. Having a strong and positive identity is huge, but it’s easier said than done when our inner voices decide to sabotage our plans.
The self-sabotage you do in your head is called having limiting beliefs.
A limiting belief is a false belief that a person acquires as a result of making an incorrect conclusion about something in life. For example, a person could acquire a limiting belief about his/her ability to ______ as soon as he/she fails.
You can fill in the blank with anything you can think of: be creative, succeed, be intelligent, write a book, run a marathon. You name it.
“Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.” — Henry Ford
The opposite is also true. Before teaching myself how to design a website, I didn’t think I was capable of doing it because of my difficulties with learning. Now it’s my full-time job.
My latest limiting belief was telling myself that I’m not a writer, in spite of that, I still hit the publish button.
Your identity and beliefs will shape your behaviour. Define who you are and who you want to be before even worrying about what to do. What you repeat in your mind begins to wire your brain differently.
The important questions to ask yourself are:
- What kind of person am I, right now?
- What’s the best version of myself that I could put out there?
- What kind of person do I want to become?
- What are my limiting beliefs, and how are they stopping me from becoming that person?
Recommended read (Paid): In the book The Brain That Changes Itself, Psychiatrist and Psychoanalyst Norman Doidge will leave you astonished at the capabilities of the human brain and the power to change which lies within it.
Recommended read (Free): Matthew B. James, Ph.D. explains the 4 steps to release “limiting beliefs” learned from childhood.
2) The What: Develop a craft, make it your passion
If you’re waiting for your passion to come to you as I did, you could be in for a rude awakening. You’ve gotta make your work, your craft, part of your life.
You won’t find a passion unless you develop it.
As a kid, I liked drawing characters from Dragon Ball Z (shout out to you if you know what I’m talking about). In my early teens, I played different musical instruments. I really had a passion for many things, but growing up meant I had to just quit doing them.
Of course, growing up is, most times, just an excuse. Yes, I had more things to do and different responsibilities, but really I just stopped being curious and passionate about my crafts and got lazy.
Only years later — when I picked up design — did I rediscover that passion.
Passion will move men beyond themselves, beyond their shortcomings, beyond their failures. — Joseph Campbell
Writing has only recently become a passion of mine because I’ve been doing it consistently enough to know if I want to stick around or not. I developed a passion for it, it didn’t come to me.
When you know it’s the one, be ready to commit to it long enough till you’ve fallen in love with it, or at least until you’ve made it a habit.
The important questions to ask yourself are:
- What are my passions?
- How can I cultivate my passions further?
- What can I do to bring out my passion?
- What new skill/craft can I pick up to enhance my creative process?
Recommended read (Free): I recently started picking up skills that I either wanted to refine or that I’ve never practiced before in my life. That’s when I came across Danny Forest’s articles. If you’re not sure where to start, this is a good point: The 8 Timeless Skills to Change Your Life Forever
3) The How: Make your craft a non-negotiable habit
Consistency is one of the hardest parts of the process. I used to see passions as something you only get to do when you’re inspired. Reality is that I always relied too much on motivation, and it stopped me from being consistent with my practice.
Don’t get me wrong, motivation is a huge component in succeeding at what we do, but I don’t believe we can just place trust in our inner fire alone to keep us going and get the results we want. There needs to be a system in place to be able to put your passion into action and to maintain it.
The key to solidifying a passion is in understanding how productivity and good habits work.
I believe that you do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems. — James Clear
There are proven ways to create and maintain new healthy habits, same applies for getting rid of unhealthy ones. Habit formation is something I’ve always struggled with in my life, so I started doing some research on it. Turns out that our brains unknowingly trick us into making it hard.
Thanks to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, we have something called the “4 Laws of Behaviour change” which allow you to recognise where you do well, where you fail, and how to address it.
The 4 Laws to create and maintain a habit:
- The Cue – Make it obvious: The cue triggers your brain to initiate a behaviour. It is a bit of information that predicts a reward. Because the cue is the first indication that we’re close to a reward, it naturally leads to a craving.
- The Craving – Make it attractive: Cravings are the motivational force behind every habit. Every craving is linked to a desire to change your internal state. The thoughts, feelings, and emotions of the observer are what transform a cue into a craving.
- The Response – Make it easy: The response is the actual habit you perform, which can take the form of a thought or an action. Whether a response occurs depends on how motivated you are and how much friction is associated with the behaviour.
- The Reward – Make it satisfying: Rewards are the end goal of every habit. The cue is about noticing the reward. The craving is about wanting the reward. The response is about obtaining the reward. We chase rewards because they serve two purposes: (1) they satisfy us and (2) they teach us.
The important questions to ask yourself are:
- What do I know about my habits?
- Do I just rely on motivation for consistency in practicing my craft?
- How can I change my unhealthy habits?
- How can I turn my passion into a daily habit?
Recommended read (Paid): Atomic Habits is one of the most practical books on the subject. It’s a great and to the point read, with insights on how to think about your habits.
Recommended read (Free): James Clear’s website is packed with articles on behavioural psychology and habit formation.
4) The Who: Define how you’re going to contribute
This isn’t just about one person anymore. When you’ve acquired new skills through your passion, it’s time to start thinking about how you can help others, whether it’s family or someone you don’t know.
Deep down we all like to feel that we contribute, add value, make a difference. No matter how big or small your contribution is, it’s still a contribution.
Like having a sense of purpose, contributing to other people’s lives is what makes your passion worthwhile.
“It is the ultimate luxury to combine passion and contribution. It’s also a very clear path to happiness” — Sheryl Sandberg
My goal is to help others through design and writing. If I can make someone’s experience easier, inspiring, or a little less sucky, that’s how I make my contribution.
Use the skills you acquired to give back in some way and you will be able to create a virtuous win-win circle.
The important questions to ask yourself are:
- How am I going to contribute to help others grow?
- How can I contribute through the skills I’ve developed?
- What can I create to improve other people’s lives?
- What kind of contribution would make me the happiest?
Recommended read (Free): American author and philanthropist Tony Robbins give his take on how to contribute by giving back.
What I just described is a minuscule part of my life: going through the doubt, the comparison with others, the pressure to keep up, the struggles in school and the numerous tries and fails in finding something that was fulfilling. I’m willing to bet you’ve been through some of these.
The above might not be a process by definition, but it’s my process and it’s what works for me. Different steps might be involved for different people but I stand by this: Everybody should ask themselves some uncomfortable questions and start to think and act differently if they’re not happy with their situation.
Not everyone is blessed with a passion from the get-go. But when you start to work on improving yourself, when you carve some free time to practice your craft, things start to change. There will be many mistakes and failures along the way, but failure and struggle are good things to experience if you face them with the right attitude. Fucking up is not bad, as long as you keep trying.
Do not fear mistakes. There are none. — Miles Davis
The results of your effort shouldn’t control how you judge yourself, because most times you can’t control the outcome. Set the intention to do your best and to fall in love with the process. Results will come as a consequence.
Go and find your passion now!
Thanks for reading and sharing 🙂