Three Ways to Hack Passion

JULY 23RD, 2015

Today we’ll be exploring one of my favorite subjects: Passion. Please share this with others who could benefit from it.

People often ask me “How can I find my passion?”, and I’m not talking about recent grads here, but rather accomplished professionals in their 30s and 40s, some of them C-level! They fear they’ve missed their window, or that their passion is something they should have “found” a long time ago. Many have no idea what their passion might be, whereas some feel it’s their dirty little secret. Let me make it clear for anyone who thinks they’re defective for not knowing what their passion is:

There is no “secret” to finding your passion. And there is nothing wrong with you for not knowing. There.

Passion is not something bestowed upon us from above. It’s not our “birthright” to arrive on this planet with one specific passion already pre-programmed in our minds. Sorry. The reality is that passion comes from taking action.

The good news, then, is that we get to choose our passion; we get to seek it out and create it all on our own.

But how can we go about it? Here are three guiding points to hack your way to passion:

Go hunting for passion

Go out into the world and start trying a bunch of things you find interesting, but do it with a low dose of risk and commitment. For example: you could take a 6-week coding class, where you get to see if you like this craft. The personal and financial investment was small, you got to see if it’s something you’d like to dive deeper into or not. Even if you decide coding is not for you, you’ve likely gleaned new insights from what you liked and disliked about it i.e. “I hate focusing on tiny details that could ruin the project” or “Oh my God! I never knew I’d enjoy solving this type of mental puzzle so much!” and so forth. Either way, you’ve gotten new data to help you identify a new direction in your hunt for passion — and now you know what CSS means, welcome to 2015!

Then, you rinse and repeat.

Try another thing with a low investment. Take on a freelance project with a company you’re curious about. Volunteer your skills in a different industry (Catchafire.org and Taproot Foundation will help you do this). Be patient. Hunting for your passion means you could be exploring for a while, so don’t let that discourage you. Enjoy learning about yourself and keep track of all the insights you gather along the way so that you feel you’re making progress. Enlist a friend in the process or work with a coach to help you stay focused. Soon, you’ll start seeing patterns:

Your passion is located at an intersection; it’s where pleasure (the things you enjoy) meets talent (meaning things you are naturally good at, and can do better than most people).

You only find out by testing things in real life, not just in your head. Bill Burnett (Professor in the Design Group at Stanford) has an interesting take on this concept, which he calls “running prototypes” for your life.

Generate your passion

When you’re in a job or project that you’re not excited about, find ONE thing you can get fired up about and go to town on that. Hint: there is always something. This will help you to generate passion.

Here’s a personal story of how I applied this in my life. A few years ago, I headed a public health program that ended up losing most of its funding due to changes that made prevention programs less appealing to sponsors. My organization told me and my team we’d be laid off within a few months, to give us time to close all loops with our partners and clients.

My team was devastated and I felt helpless for being unable to save the program and its jobs.

I couldn’t get motivated to go to the office every day. It was so depressing. And then an idea came to me: Why not use this time to coach my team members, to help them find their strengths, and essentially support them in preparing for their next move? And that’s what I set out to do.

In those last months, it gave me a reason to get up in the morning, and it rekindled my passion for something I loved: making a contribution to the lives of others. My experience changed from being depressing to purposeful.

In your current situation, what one thing can you commit your energy and focus to, so that you generate some passion for yourself?

Trick your brain & body into feeling passionate:

When you have to do something you don’t enjoy, bring in an outside element (it can be unrelated to the unpleasant task at hand) to make that situation more colorful. For example, I once briefly worked at a company where my job consisted of sitting at a computer all day and responding to emails, with little human interaction. I was like a flower with no water in that environment. So I brought my noise cancelling headphones to the office and played uplifting techno music all day. It made me smile and sway in my chair. It put me “in the zone” and changed my mood -like being in my own happy world.

I also decided to work out at lunch time, so that I would have something to look forward to before 5pm and to boost my endorphins halfway through the workday. I would return to the office around 2:30pm completely energized, my brain feeling fresh.

I was tricking myself into a state of passion, using my own physiology to change the way I felt about a less-than-ideal situation. It also made me a lot more driven and productive in “planning my exit”.

So, my question for you is: Out of these three techniques for hacking into passion, which one will you try this week? I’d love to hear about what you’re coming up with — it always makes my day.

And it will put you back in the driver’s seat for finding your passion.

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