How did you find your passion?
September 4, 2008 8:01 AM   Subscribe

How have you figured out what your passion(s) is/are in life, and how have you translated that into a successful career involving your passion(s)? I am intentionallly not including details about myself and my situation because I don't really want specific suggestions about what might be good career directions for myself or what interesting areas I might pursue. I'm looking more for concrete examples of what steps you've taken to find out what drives you, and how you were able to make a career out of that.
posted by entropic to Work & Money (25 answers total) 331 users marked this as a favorite
I find excellence to be the driver. It doesn't matter what I do... its the opportunity to work with excellent people and produce excellent products that makes the difference.
posted by ewkpates at 8:15 AM on September 4, 2008 [11 favorites]

"The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron. Now, at age 41, I am working in post production audio for television, a job I landed just about when I finished with Cameron's 12 week program. I highly recommend her books. Before you order "The Artist's Way" from Amazon, check out whether or not "The Artist's Way At Work" isn't more suitable for your situation.

Good luck!

Hens Zimmerman
posted by hz37 at 8:15 AM on September 4, 2008 [7 favorites]

Something that has gotten me closer and closer has been choosing things that I'm naturally good at instead of things that seem like what I ought to do or that would be very cool or pay a lot. The thing is, the things you're naturally good at might seem kind of pedestrian to you and so you may resist them. Maybe you really want to be a rock star but are really good at accounting. Do the accounting and play in a weekend band. When you start to do the things you're naturally good at, you get into the flow zone. And that's where you really excel (get it... accounting? Excel? Owww). You come to realize that you were really fighting yourself before when you were trying to do other things.

I suppose this has been more succinctly stated in the past by the phrase, "Do what you love and the money will follow." But I'd just amend it to say "do what you're good at and your life will be much better". Let that pave a path for you to follow and bump into other natural paths and don't project too far forward in terms of thinking where it might end up.

I note that your question was about passions instead of talents, but you may find that you become passionate about what you do when you do it naturally well and develop it.
posted by Askr at 8:33 AM on September 4, 2008 [14 favorites]

I have not pinned down really what my "passion" is and don't think something can ever really be identified objectively. It's a very subjective and relative term. It's not like you have an unchanging group of neurons that define what you really want to do. It's all in flux. Hell, right now I really want some frozen custard more than I want world peace.

Furthermore, (in my opinion, of course) the pain caused by worrying about finding your "passion", longing for that perfect job, and loathing your current situation will most likely far outweigh the happiness caused by said profession. Humans have a knack for always wanting more and the search for meaning is no different. If you find your passion and your perfect job it won't be long before it's not so perfect anymore and you're back where you started.

My advice. Don't sweat it so much. It's fine preparing for the future and pointing yourself in a direction but just don't become to attached to the idea that of a pot of happy faces at the end of the job rainbow. After I get the frozen custard or achieve world peace I will not have any more potential to be happy than I do this very moment.

But that's me, I could be wrong. Sorry to get a little off topic.
posted by wolfkult at 8:41 AM on September 4, 2008 [10 favorites]

I spent a bunch of years getting paid to read, which was the best job ever for a pedantic, introverted bookworm.

Too much of a good thing applies to work too, though, which I found out when I lost interest in reading for pleasure. Be careful about your vocation & your avocation being the same thing, esp. if your vocation is a "lifestyle" job and not just a nine-to-fiver.

I'm now on the second career & second passion, which is very different from the first. This passion came about quite suddenly as a result of a life experience, but several years passed before circumstances allowed me to pursue it as a career.

So, figure out what you like to do. And consider how your responses to life experiences made you feel fulfilled-energized-inadequate-positive-negative-etc.

I am grateful every day for the opportunity to pursue my interests in a productive way that's meaningful to me. Is there any more luxurious dilemma to be faced with than trying to figure out what to do with my life!
posted by headnsouth at 8:51 AM on September 4, 2008 [9 favorites]

I took a two-week vacation from work, and during the second week, I got *really* bored... So my wife suggested I write a book. Guess who's a best-selling author now?
posted by Vamier at 8:52 AM on September 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

I did the exercises in What Color Is Your Parachute. Even the ones I thought were stupid, I just did them.

I'd originally fancied that I wanted to be a writer, where "be a writer" meant literary fiction, intense writing workshops with my fellow geniuses in the mountains of Colorado, etc. Never mind that I didn't actually like the process of writing fiction. I liked the idea.

The Parachute book forced me to articulate the nitty gritty details of what I actually, in real life, liked to do. I came to the refreshing realization that I'm kind of boring and dorky. I now have a boring dork job - I'm a pharmacist. I love it.

Turns out the desire to be a writer was more of a desire to be heard. I still use my writing skills. For example, I'm currently helping write the protocol for adjusting warfarin dosages at the hospital where I work. It's actually really nice to be free of the compulsion to be some Great Creative Genius. The warfarin protocol I'm helping write might reduce medication errors for one of the most potentially dangerous drugs out there. Cool.

Another thing that book does is encourage you to talk to other people who may know more about what careers are actually out there. The world is an incredibly complicated place, full of all sorts of jobs I never knew existed.
posted by selfmedicating at 8:54 AM on September 4, 2008 [43 favorites]

I started reading books about various crises in Africa and it got me juiced to go and help, so I did.

AskMe was a huge help. At first I had my head in the clouds about going and helping with the Darfur crisis, and I got some excellent feedback on that one. Once I had found a position more in line with my qualifications, AskMe helped me get settled in South Africa. I got good travel advice for my time in western and eastern Africa, as well as my Kilimanjaro climb (none of those very work related, but both helpful).

A few years after picking up that first book, I have a job offer I'm mulling over with a major NGO to spend the next 2 years leading some strategic efforts in 9 more countries there. Its kind of weird to have my one-time dream now staring me in the face and I'm not entirely sure its the right move at the moment, but its certainly a sign that my career is finally turning into one that involves my passions, and that's exciting.

Happy to tell you as much or as little more you might want to know via MeMail.
posted by allkindsoftime at 9:03 AM on September 4, 2008 [6 favorites]

I found that part of the decision was not only what was my passion, but also the the structure of the job and the feedback. I do not like to report to very many people and I like instantaneous clear feedback. Trading provided that for me. It was also competitive and analytical so that too worked.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:10 AM on September 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

I figured out my 'passion' in life as a teenager from reading books. I couldn't take the financial insecurity though so now I'm (almost) a lawyer. Yayyy!
posted by norabarnacl3 at 9:19 AM on September 4, 2008

I just tried stuff. Plain and simple.

If I tried something and I hated it, I just shrugged, said, "well, now I know," and chalked it up to a learning experience.

If I tried something and I liked it, but didn't fall in love with it, it became a hobby.

If I tried something and utterly fell in love with it to the point that I would be doing it whether people were paying me or not, I pursued it, and did it for as many people as would let me, and gradually those people started paying me.

But it all started with just trying stuff out. The very worst thing you'll find if you just try to do something is that you'll learn that you hate it, and well, then, you just don't do it again.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:20 AM on September 4, 2008 [9 favorites]

Though the writer's other work is not always to my liking, I found the "how to discover your life purpose in about 20 minutes" exercise to be really useful. Basically you force yourself to sit and brainstorm what your purpose in life is, on paper, until you write something that makes you cry. It took me a good bit longer than 20 minutes (more like an hour, and I think I may have given up the first time and tried it again later), but I was surprised to find that this process really helped me put my finger on what I'm passionate about, and what kind of mark I want my life to leave on the world.
posted by vytae at 9:33 AM on September 4, 2008 [21 favorites]

I agree with suggestions to ignore what you "should" do and try a lot of things. For me, a big help was all the varied jobs and hobbies I had. I worked starting as a kid, and I had hobbies that ranged from the science-geeky to the artistic.

As I did that I noticed what I was naturally good at, what people liked me to do, and what I liked to do, and kept making decisions that brought all three of those together. Sort of a converging Venn diagram.

My first big life decision (and my best) was to live a simple life, sometimes radically simple, so I wouldn't have to have a full-time job. Then I had the freedom to experiment with approximately 93 bajillion business ideas while holding down part-time jobs. I would keep trying things out, such as asking to be put on new projects that would give me good experience for what became my best business idea (and current business).

I also realized that there are some things about society that really, really have to change. I got pretty focused on some ideas back in high school and they still fire me up 30 years later. One idea in particular fuels my business, so not only do I have creative challenge and interesting work, I feel like I'm saving the world in a small way.

So, basically, my advice would be to find a way to live that gives you the freedom to experiment. Then experiment a lot, well beyond what you "should" do.
posted by PatoPata at 9:59 AM on September 4, 2008 [5 favorites]

I got interested in something and fought for the top- doing it time after time. My advice is not so much which field, but once you're in it don't settle. If you want to be at the top, do it, even if others tell you it is impossible. I did.
posted by arnicae at 10:16 AM on September 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

I sort of fell into my passion. I think the only way you can find what you're passionate about is to try a lot of different things. In high school, I thought I wanted to be a doctor. I was sure of it, actually, and worked on getting my EMT and volunteering for Search and Rescue and the Fire Department because I thought it would help me differentiate myself on the medical school applications.

I was shocked to discover how much I liked working as a firefighter. The adrenaline, the camaraderie, the challenges. I lived half a mile from the station and whenever my beeper went off in the middle of the night I would race to the station having (little) idea what I might find when I got there.

That was the beginning, for me, of the most important thing in my life. After a couple of years working as a firefighter I graduated from high school. The summer before my freshman year, I took a leap and aimed high in wildland firefighting: I applied for a Hotshot crew, one of the elite initial attack responders to wildland fires. We hadn't seen much wildland fire at my department, but it looked like fun and they'd let me leave before school started, so I went for it. That led to becoming a Smokejumper, a wildland firefighter that parachutes into remote fires out of planes, where I was the youngest female ever.

Senior year of college, I applied for and subsequently won a grant to study wildland fires around the world. I traveled to 9 countries as a firefighter under that grant- and discovered that there are a lot of policy decisions being made abroad that we haven't been able to make here in the United States. Fast-forward a couple of years: with the ambition of working in fire policy, I'm 2 years into a PhD at UC Berkeley under a NSF fellowship and studying fire policy in the United States and have worked as a fire ecologist/contractor for a number of large NGOs including the Nature Conservancy.

All because I decided to get more experience for my medical school application by volunteering for the fire department. No one can find your passion for you- I think you have to keep muddling around, trying everything that comes your way- until something clicks. You'll know when it does.
posted by RachelSmith at 11:21 AM on September 4, 2008 [22 favorites]

Is there a difference between "discover your passion" and "discover what you want to do"?

I ask because I hear people talk about their Passion (with a capital P), as if everyone has one whether they know it or not. As it it's a special glowing ball inside each of us. Yet I see no evidence that this ball necessarily exists.

To me, it's more likely that we have things we like and things we dislike. A like becomes a passion when it repeats with regularity. For instance, I like peaches, but I don't constantly crave them. So I wouldn't call peaches a passion. On the other hand, whenever I see a book, I want to read it. I like reading... I like reading... I like reading... So I'd call reading a passion.

Is there anything like this for you, even if it's something "stupid" (e.g. watching TV or eating poptarts)? If so, that a passion for you. If it repeats with great rapidity (and if the urge is very strong), then it's an obsession. (I can't keep my hands off my iPod. I think about it all the time. If I lose it, I panic.)

You don't get to chose your passions. Since passions are just intense likings, choosing a passion would be like choosing to like eating eggplant. You either like eating eggplant or you don't. Perhaps, if you don't like it, you can learn to like it. But RIGHT NOW, you either like it or you don't.

I've met some people who don't seem to have any strong passions. Some admit to this. They certainly have likes and dislikes, but nothing specific crops up over and over. In fact, some people dislike anything that repeats too often (you could say such people have a passion for novelty). Other people DO have passions (defined as I've done so, above), but they don't think of them as such. For many people, their passion is other people: passion for their kids, passion for their families, passion for helping others in need, etc....

Many people THINK they've discovered a passion when if fact they've only found a surface activity that lays atop their real passion. For instance, I love working in the theatre. At the risk of sounding holier-than-thou, I believe my passion is pretty "pure." In other words, my passion for theatre doesn't hide a deeper passion. I love theatre because I'm fascinated by the specific mechanics of telling stories on stage. When I'm not rehearsing a play, I will choose to read a book about theatre mechanics just for fun (for another dose of my obsession).

I've met others like me, but I meet far more theatre people who seem to be USING theatre to feed some deeper passion. (Please note that I'm NOT saying that there's anything wrong with this or that I'm better than these people. I believe neither of those things. And there are plenty of other activities -- just not theatre -- that I use as tools to feed deeper passions.) Such people may be into theatre because they love attention and praise; they may love belonging to an open-minded group (many "misfits" find their way into theatre in high school and stay because they love belonging to such an accepting culture); they may even be operating on autopilot, doing theatre because for whatever reason, they got into it when they were younger and it never occurs to them to quit. (They probably enjoy having mastered something.)

I think it's useful to delve into your psychology and ask yourself WHY you like what you like. Sometimes (as with me and theatre), the answer might be "because I simply love the activity." (How do you know if this is true? Try mentally removing orbiting aspects of the activity: would I still want to direct plays if no one saw them? would I still want to direct plays if I could only work with bad actors? Would I still want to direct plays if I hated the results? Would I still want to direct plays if I always got bad reviews? etc. For me, though I wouldn't enjoy the activity as much in these cases, I'd still want to do it.)

This is useful because if you learn what your TRUE passion is (the underlying one, if there is one), you may be able to change your life for the better. You may be able to say, "Wow! It's not theatre I like, it's collaboration! Maybe I instead of continuing in theatre, I should look into all sorts of collaborative activities and get into the one that's the MOST collaborative."

Such psychological delving may also help you deal with a crisis: "Oh no! I've lost my voice. I can't act anymore. Wait a minute: it's not specifically theatre that I like, it's storytelling! I could write a novel."

There's also nothing wrong (and a lot right) with realizing, "I love attention and praise, so theatre is a great activity for me." In all of these cases, you'll have learned something about yourself.

Once you know your passion, you will be tempted to ask -- as you did -- "How can I turn this into a career?" I think that's the wrong question. I don't think it's totally wrong. I just think it's too specific. Instead, I recommend you ask yourself this: "How can I best arrange my life so that I can spend the most time engaging in my passion IN ITS PUREST POSSIBLE FORM and derive the least amount of pain doing non-passion activities?"

I am a director, but I'm not a working (as in paid) director. To pay my rent, I have a "day job." I COULD work as a director, but I'd have to direct plays that I don't want to direct. For some people, that would be fine. For me, it's not a good trade off. I'll be more happy with the day job and the ability to direct whatever I want -- forgoing pay. It took me a while to come up with that "formula," and it's a personal one. Mine won't necessarily work for you.

(If you realize you're like me, find the least painful day job you can, getting yourself training if you have to. I actually like my day job. And I continually work to make it better and more interesting. The cliche of waiting tables to support your passion isn't a necessity. If you commit to the idea of having a day job -- I'll likely have one for the rest of my life -- it behooves you to make it a good one. Or at least the least painful one you can find.)

I see a lot of people working REALLY hard to make their passion into a job, and -- tragically -- when they finally make it happen, they don't enjoy the passion any more. (E.g. a lot of working actors, who got into the business to play Shakespeare or Chekhov, spend most of their time acting in commercials.) If this happens, it's really worthwhile to do some soul searching. Would I be happier with a day job? Am I happy doing a compromised version of my passion? If I AM happy doing a compromised version of my passion, does that (perhaps) mean that what I thought was my passion wasn't really my passion? ("Hmm. I thought I wanted to act, but in order to do theatre for a living, I've had to become a producer. And -- hey -- I like it. Maybe acting isn't my real passion. Maybe my real passion is being a key part of a big project.")

I am NOT saying there's anything wrong with figuring out a way to do your passion for pay. Often, that's a great way to spend most of your time doing your passion. Just make sure that if you're doing your passion as a job, it's really your passion that you're doing and not a perverted version of it that will fail to make you happy.

So, go through this thought process:

1. I've identified my passion as X. I am now going to define X as fully as possible. For X to be X, it MUST include A and B. C is optional. It can't include D.

2. I've realized that I won't be happy unless I'm doing X for a living.

3. Are there any jobs that will allow me to do X as I've defined it? (Or that will let me gradually work towards a pure version of X?)

4. If not, then I need to either brainstorm other ways I could be happy (compromised X? doing X as a hobby?) or resign myself to unhappiness.

5. If so, then I need to make sure that I can live with non-X aspects of the job. (Wow! I can do full time, paid theatre, but I'd have to work with the dreaded Mr. Y!)

Finally: I've noticed that people (myself included) have a strong urge to classify themselves. People REALLY want to be able to say, "I'm a director!" "I'm an engineer!" "My passion is gourmet cooking!"

There's nothing wrong with that drive, but putting yourself in a category is not the same thing as actually being in that category. In fact, categorizing yourself -- since it's so final -- is a good way to thwart any attempt to discover your actual passions. Once you say, "I'm a director," it's hard to think, "Wait a minute: is it actually directing that I like or some other activity that directing helps me achieve?" Which is why, at the start of this long post, I suggested you de-romanticize the whole thing and, instead, think about what you like and dislike, rather than trying to pin down your Passion.

Maybe you don't have a Passion. Maybe you have many likes -- you like playing in the sun; you like watching movies; you like hanging out with friends... If so, you'll be much happier if you arrange your life to maximize your chances to do these activities than if you expend a ton of energy categorizing yourself.
posted by grumblebee at 12:22 PM on September 4, 2008 [1206 favorites]

If there's something you like to do that makes you feel more energized after ten hours of doing it than when you started, you may be on the right track.
posted by corey flood at 7:36 PM on September 4, 2008 [4 favorites]

I'll second what corey flood said. I thought of the things that make me feel energized and looked for a career that emphasized those activities. Seventeen years later, I'm still in that career and am still enjoying it.
posted by oozy rat in a sanitary zoo at 7:59 PM on September 4, 2008

Once you know your passion, you will be tempted to ask -- as you did -- "How can I turn this into a career?" I think that's the wrong question. I don't think it's totally wrong. I just think it's too specific. Instead, I recommend you ask yourself this: "How can I best arrange my life so that I can spend the most time engaging in my passion IN ITS PUREST POSSIBLE FORM and derive the least amount of pain doing non-passion activities?"

This sensible advice is well worth highlighting, and I think it's especially relevant and useful for artists and other creative types.

I've loved books, ideas, philosophy, writing, dance, and other creative pursuits with a passion as far back as I can remember. Whenever I've had the freedom and unstructured time to do so, I've happily worked on creative projects for days and weeks on end. Yet whenever I followed the "do what you love, the money will follow" advice (or my limited youthful interpretation of it, anyway) and tried to turn these creative pursuits into paying jobs, I found - to my great dismay and bafflement - that I no longer enjoyed the work. The joy would seep out of it slowly but surely, as if my formerly renewable wellspring of passion had mysteriously sprung a fatal leak.

Eventually I realized that I only enjoyed my creative projects under certain "pure" conditions: when I had large chunks of unstructured time, freedom to do research and pace myself without an external deadline looming over me, and so on. So I decided to arrange my life differently. I started living more simply (to reduce the amount of money I needed to earn) and began looking for a "day job" that would subsidize my creative activities without leaving me too drained to pursue them.

Along the way, I learned a thing or two about how to differentiate between authentic passions (which usually give rise to spontaneous feelings of joy and deep satisfaction, even when the task at hand seems tough or tedious) and fleeting whims/unhealthy addictive urges (which usually leave me feeling aimless, empty, or unfulfilled, even when the activity is extremely pleasurable).

I also learned that it's possible to learn to like an activity I might not otherwise have chosen, especially if I'm in the company of folks who love that activity with every bone in their body, and excel at it. I've had the good fortune of meeting a few such people, and their zest for life is wondrous to behold.

There were plenty of fits and starts along the way, but eventually I decided to go back to school and get a certificate in accounting. Through it all, I've learned the truth of the saying "Motivation comes after action, not before." Accounting is an acquired taste for me, but I've found that I really enjoy it. I find it satisfying in all kinds of unexpected ways. Accounting appeals to my geek sensibilities, as well as my sense of structure, balance, and order. I've even found enjoyable aspects of it that tie in with my passion for philosophy (especially critical thinking and ethics).

I started out with the notion that I'd just find some kind of tolerable job to subsidize my main passion - i.e. my creative work. But I ended up expanding my horizons and loving my day job too, so I feel very fortunate.
posted by velvet winter at 9:27 PM on September 4, 2008 [53 favorites]

A very good friend of mine, who is not anything like me, but who I love with all my everything, told me that I should go to law school because he went and hated it and quit after just a few weeks.

So, I went to law school, am a lawyer, and am finally happy. Really truly happy. So, I'd suggest listening to people you love, even if their suggestions seem off the wall.
posted by Capri at 10:50 PM on September 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

I agree with your point about addiction, nimwunnan, and I amended my definition on MetaTalk.

There are at least two ways to discuss addiction: as a label other people apply to you and as something you feel about yourself (though you may not call it addiction). In terms of "passion," I don't think you should care what other people think. Someone might say I have a "theatre addiction." So what? I don't really care whether we call my activity an addiction or a passion. Whatever it is, it brings great meaning to my life.

Sometimes the line between addiction and passion can be very thin. Let me bring up my iPod example again. The iPod is the only machine with which I've ever formed a deep relationship. I love my computer and my TV, but if I got stranded somewhere without those devices, I'd quit missing them pretty quickly -- as long as I had other things to occupy my mind. But new as iPods are, I literally don't know how I once got by without them.

Well, I do: when I was a kid, I used to carry around a walkman and this huge backpack with dozens of cassettes in it. I hated the idea of choosing music ahead of time. So I basically carted my whole music library around with me wherever I went. Via the iPod, I still do that, but it's no longer a hassle.

A couple of months ago, I lost my iPod, and it was much more of a catastrophe than it should have been. I felt like a junky without his fix. I literally had a hard time getting through the week I had to wait before my new one arrived in the mail. (And I spent money I could ill afford buying a new one.) Like a junky, I feel like -- if I couldn't afford an iPod -- I would lie, cheat or steal to get one. I hope I wouldn't, but at the very least, I understand the urge.

Okay, this may not be healthy, but the flip side is that they iPod gives great meaning to my life. I am doused in wonderful music all the time. I mostly listen to complicated stuff: classical and jazz. And I also listen to a ton of audio books. I just got done listening to a physics book, and now -- thanks to my iPod -- I have learned all sorts of new things. When I learn lines for a play, I record them onto my iPod and listen to them over and over, until they are lodged permanently in my brain. So is my iPod a harmful addiction or a useful, enjoyable passion? It's a bit of both.

There is a sort of addiction one can diagnose for oneself. It's the kind of activity that you do for hours, repeatedly -- like a passion -- and yet, once it's over, leaves you feeling empty or dirty inside. I sometimes get this feeling when I let my diet go South. I spend a couple of weeks indulging in whatever junk food I want. It can start to seem like a passion -- a passion for taste! But in the end, I just feel stupid for gorging myself and gaining a bunch of weight.

I'm not sure the acid test should be -- as with alcoholism -- whether or not the activity is harmful. I'm a coward, and so I'm appalled that people go hang-gliding. It's dangerous! But if someone claimed hang-gliding was his passion, I'd be stupid to deny it.

I think a passion is an addiction when it meets my "repetitive" criteria yet gives you only (or mostly) "empty calories." Like many people, I've been "trapped" into watching all-day TV-marathons. I wake up after 17 hours of "Lost in Space" or whatever, and I think, "Jesus! I'm wasting my life." I feel empty and nasty. I feel like I need a cleansing. A passion-activity is not just good while you're doing it. It's good before and after you're doing it, too.

As for your example of breathing, I don't think it counts -- even by my definition -- because, though it's repetitive, it's not something one likes to do. It's just something one does. You may not dislike it. It may be enjoyable sometimes. But most of the time, it's automatic and you don't think about it.

As for passion as "a concept through which many people construct their identities," I agree with you. But this thread -- as I understand it -- isn't about such people. It's about people who don't yet know what their passion is. If you construct your identity around something, surely you know what that something is.
posted by grumblebee at 6:08 AM on September 6, 2008 [6 favorites]

To me, passions are the activities that lead us to a satisfying life that manifests our values and joy. They are the activities that give us the deepest satisfaction as we do them. They are the activities that we naturally enjoy and are naturally good at in some way. But as the saying goes, a finger pointing at the moon is not the moon. Things that we like doing aren't necessarily our passions; they are fingers pointing the way.

The WHY of the passion is a mix of our values and that personal, layered, inscrutable something inside us that makes the activity satisfying.

An addiction is something that is so rewarding that it is hard to resist, even though it may block us from being who we want to be or realizing our passions. They may enable us, or destroy us in the end. But they are part of our wiring -- not just genes, but also the activities through our lives. "High-functioning" addicts are those that can continue being productive in the face of the addiction. If we want to eliminate them, we need to practice enough to develop new brain wiring. We can do this with thoughts just like we would do practicing tennis or painting. The more we do anything, physical or mental, the more our brain tries to make it easier for next time.

I think it is useful to look for passions that satisfy us as we do them. The product of passionate work is beautiful and rewarding, of course, but I don't think that piling up accomplishments is a passion to me. I think the fruits of my passion have became most satisfying when I trusted the satisfaction in the act would produce satisfying results. That viewpoint alleviated the need to wait until I was "finished" before I felt good about the work.

Another thing comes to mind: what prevents us from having multiple passions? I tend to think of defining passions loosely so they may evolve over time. This evolution supports changes from inside and outside -- changes in our self-awareness and changes stemming from our reactions to the events of our lives. The more we discover things about our selves, the more we can find new passions that can come forth.

As for making a living at a passion, I agree that its not necessary. But it sure is cool when it happens. I abandoned a career in software to search for a more creative, satisfying life. A couple of years into this search, I found a passion and turned it into a business. That business truly became a dream come true. But five years more of it has caused me more pain than anything else in my life, and finally I realize that I cannot continue making a living this way. Since it was painful, does that mean it wasn't a passion? I think it was, just not sustainable. And now I feel like that passion helped refine my search for a new passion as the next stage in my life. I don't feel the need to call one thing my passion and feel unsatisfied until I find it.

So I continue the search for a new passion to return to a satisfying life that manifests my values and joy. Even people who have "found their passion" can still continue looking. Why not?

The search for our passions can go on for the rest of our lives. It's for us to decide. It can be reached or not. Maybe we're already doing them. The first clues are the activities in our lives that gave us the deepest satisfaction we can remember. Look for the common themes in those moments. Tune in to what made those moments so good for you. Now look at what you are doing these days. Do the things you're paying attention to now bring about the same themes of those past signature moments? If so, do more of that. If not, what do you think would bring about those themes?

I'd say don't worry about finding it; just pay attention to what you're paying attention to, assess how natural it feels to you, and stay open to what you find along the way.
posted by buzzv at 11:54 AM on September 6, 2008 [6 favorites]

I initially did a job that I thought was fun and became a publicist. After four years and a master's, and a terribly unprofessional boss who was someone I couldn't respect, I became a paralegal. The people I work for are brilliant, well-mannered
And I respect them because, unlike PR people, they are smart and funny and work very hard. I found that I HAD TO work around people who worked hard and were brilliant, because it was the only way I could respect people I worked with. So while PR was fun for a little while, I discovered how serious I am and how I needed to be in a job where hard work was respected and supported.
posted by onepapertiger at 4:04 PM on September 6, 2008 [5 favorites]

Addiction is different from passion because addiction-- by definition-- has negative consequences. Not just risk: actual, repeated consequences that cause harm.

Addiction makes your life worse-- passion makes your life better. If it's getting in the way of love or work-- it's addiction, not passion. Addiction involves avoidance of life, passion involves engagement.

Although something-- let's say mountain climbing-- can be a passion for one person and an addiction for another. The first person wouldn't do risky climbs when he or she has a young child. The addicted climber- and to my mind, such a person is no less selfish than addicts who risk their lives when they have dependent children-- would climb Everest with a one-in-five risk of death while their partner is home with the baby.

It's all about context.
posted by Maias at 8:25 PM on September 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Surprised no one has mentioned this, but check out: Paul Graham's answer to your question. Unbelievable stuff.
posted by oqrothsc at 3:24 PM on December 20, 2008 [10 favorites]

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