Yesterday in my Amazing Career Project course, one of the members asked the question, “How do I find my passion? I want to build a career around my passion but I don’t know what it is.”
I’ve found throughout 13 years of coaching professionals to build rewarding, purposeful careers they love (and transforming my own unhappy corporate career to running my own coaching/consulting firm) this is a very common question and the answer is not what people think. You don’t “find” your passion. You ignite it from the inside out through essential internal and external work.
Sadly, we’re not taught in school or even afterwards the essentials of building a rewarding career, and many millions are muddling through, making painful mistakes and detours trying to get it right. I’ve discovered that there are 16 essential steps to doing just that. These are critical, sequential actions that need to be taken if you want to move from an unfulfilling, lack-luster (or miserable) professional life to one that makes you feel proud and excited to be alive, and one that allows you to make a significant positive difference in your work and leadership.
It’s not a quick fix or an instant win, and many people just won’t commit to the work. It takes time, energy, self-reflection and self-growth, courage, and a willingness to see and do things differently from how you’ve been programmed since you were a child to approach life, relationships, and work.
To get started, there are three fundamental steps to igniting passion within you (rather than searching for it outside of yourself) and then learning how to leverage that to build a happier career. They are:
Build an intimate relationship with yourself
It’s fascinating to me how very little most people know about themselves. They can’t answer the most basic yet vital questions such as: 1) What are your natural talents, gifts and skills? 2) What outcomes do you love supporting? 3) How does your work stand out from others’? 4) What job have you loved the most and hated the most, and why? 5) What are your non-negotiables and your values and standards of integrity that you won’t compromise on?, and 6) What have you done in your life that made your heart sing?
If you want a rewarding career that ignites passion within you, first you need to get to know yourself much better than you do. Uncover what you love in life, what you hate, what makes you mad in the world, the natural talents and skills you want to use, the outcomes you care about, the kinds of people you respect, and more. As a start, answer these 11 questions:
Stop looking too far down the chain of destiny
Winston Churchill made a statement that I believe holds true about our careers –
It’s a mistake to try to look too far ahead. The chain of destiny can only be grasped one link at a time.
It’s not effective (and you’ll make some big mistakes and missteps) if you try to choose a career direction just from the mere idea or sound of it – to hang all your hopes of success onto an idea that’s never been tested for you. You have to grasp the first link. I call that mistake “glomming onto the wrong form (of a job or career) before understanding the essence of what you really want.”
For example, so many professionals tell me they want to dump their current corporate careers and:
- Become an author and write a bestselling book
- Run a bed and breakfast
- Become an actor or singer
- Work in a non-profit
- Work as a teacher
- Work as a lawyer
But the truth is, most of these people have no idea what the physical, living reality and identities of these jobs are, and if they’d really be a fit. (Usually, they aren’t.) Secondly, you’ve invested a lot of time in your current career. Are you sure that chucking the baby out with the bathwater is what’s right for you now, or are there elements that you could preserve that would make you happy?
Start thinking more deeply about the why behind these desired jobs that you admire. Do you want to be a respected author so you can finally feel validated and recognized for your views, or because you want to make a difference to people in a bigger way? Do you want to become a lawyer because you think that will bring status and money to you, or perhaps you can finally advocate for a particular cause and help people who are struggling to overcome a specific challenge? Do you want to sing or act because you are deeply missing being involved in creative activities?
Look more deeply and uncover the “essence” of what you really want, and then start “trying on” new initiatives through small microsteps that will enable you to experience that essence.
Before looking too far ahead and saying “I think this is right for me” without having any clue if it is, start with one tiny step to move toward doing something that lights you up and makes your heart beat faster. A hobby, a cause, taking a class – engage in one action that makes you feel more alive. Don’t worry now if it’s going to be your “career.” Just start doing something that will allow your passion to grow from the inside and begin to see how you change from it.
Finally, strengthen yourself
To build an amazing career, people need much stronger boundaries than they have today. They need to learn how to say “YES!” to what they want, and “NO” to what is no longer tolerable or possible. They need to be able to separate from people and things that are draining them of their life’s precious energy and time. And they need to start prioritizing this journey of self-discovery and self-actualization over so much else that they’re engaged in that’s exhausting and demoralizing them every day. If you can’t say “no” to what isn’t working, than you won’t be able to say “yes” to what you want to create.
I’ve found that so many people who have lost touch with their inner joy and passion and have deeply unsatisfying careers are what I call “perfectionistic overfunctioners.” They are enmeshed with others and wedded to living life in a way that puts their needs, wants and desires last. These people are habituated to being overwhelmed and exhausted with all their responsibilities to others and they find it impossible to make time for what they want. It actually scares them to put themselves first.
If you don’t start strengthening yourself now, find brave, and learn how to prioritize your own needs and wants, you will simply never get out of the gate in terms of experiencing more passion, reward and impact in your life or career.