This is an excerpt from my latest book Dear Hannah: 70 Methods I Used and Abused to Change Who I Am.

One Way to Find Your Passion

Date: July 7, 2011
Age: 29
Location: Austin, TX
Subject: Aspiration Method

Hi Hannah,

I think I’m holding onto something precious right now, but I don’t want to jinx it. I call it “Aspiration Method,” which is my new unifying theory for career-search.

A month ago, I was wrapped in a whirlwind of indecision. I felt like I could go in any direction. For example, I got all worked up about local government. I mustered the nerve to write a little speech opposing the construction of the Formula 1 racetrack in Austin, and I presented it in front of City Council. Even though Mayor Leffingwell scolded me for going off-topic, the liberal faction of the audience applauded me, and afterwards, I realized how much of a thrill it was. As I sat back down, my mind flooded with ideas for new projects. Maybe I could be an activist, or maybe I could run for City Council one day. I told Alana this, and I rambled on like a maniac about how I could maybe pitch myself as the “innovation” City Council member, given how we have token City Council members in every other category (Hispanic, Black, green energy, South Austin chic, etc.).

This went on for a few days, but then I got pulled in other directions. I thought about getting back to working on 3D Porch. I thought about getting back into the stock market, maybe starting a mutual fund. It’s like I operate in a vacuum sometimes, where all of a sudden, everything seems equally enticing. I’ll binge on each path, only to disavow it a few days later and move onto the next distraction.

But I think I found a way to resolve all of that. I think I found a way to dismiss all that quarter-life crisis talk about not knowing what I want to do in life.

Here’s what you do. You pause for a second, calm your mind, and then try to think of big things you’ve always wanted for yourself. Don’t get frustrated if the answers don’t come immediately — it may take a minute or two — but deep down you’ll remember a recurring proclamation, “You know what, I just want X,” or, “I just want Y.”

I’ll go ahead and disclose what some of my “aspirations” are. These are the first two that come to my mind:

1. I want to make $10,000/mo. in passive income. (I’m not sure why I’ve always wanted that. Maybe it has something to do with freedom or with beating the system, but either way, that amount and type of income has been fixed in my mind since I was a teenager.)

2. I want to do something with my writing. (I believe I have some talent for writing somewhere, and that I need to create something of substance from it, whether it’s getting 10,000 people to buy a book of mine, or becoming a successful blogger, or writing a screenplay for a TV show that goes on for more than one season.)

I’ve since re-organized my professional decisions around those objectives. And I’ve seen something click in me. Ever since I committed to my aspirations, I’ve stopped showing up at City Council meetings, I’ve stopped drawing lines on stock market charts, and I’ve returned back to working on Nebulous Notes. It’s a text editor for iOS that I created in 2009. It’s hasn’t made me that much monthly revenue, but it’s because I only work on it sporadically. If I push on it consistently, why couldn’t it make $10K/mo.?

Or what if I really try to write a book this time? Maybe I just need to take a break from blogging and really brainstorm for concrete book ideas. I should be able to find a book idea if I just iterate on that for a while, right?

Either way, I feel a sense of purpose now not unlike when I was pursuing ThinkQuest. But I don’t think the lesson is “do it to learn,” off-goal targeting, nor aspiration method. The real lesson is the meta-method: meditation. My aspirations wouldn’t be shining so brightly if I weren’t relaxing my mind, every day. And even if I were aware of my aspirations, I’d probably abuse the method without meditation in tow. Don’t you think you could get the same renewed purpose with your writing if you maintained a daily meditation practice? Isn’t that your ultimate aspiration, to be writing, day-in and day-out?

- Phil

Admittedly, Aspiration Method is like a bucket list of “10 Things to Do Before You Die.” However, this method, and the way I formulated it, has been surprisingly enduring. Perhaps with meditation in tow, I’m not abusing goal making like I did before. I’m not writing these aspirations on a spreadsheet and obsessing about them as a way to patch my unhappiness. If anything, Aspiration Method is descriptive and not prescriptive. It simply says, “By the way Phil, this is what you happen to persistently want.” It’s like when I tried to measure my wants before, except this time with no spreadsheets, no numbers — just a verbal acknowledgment.

This is an excerpt from my latest book Dear Hannah: 70 Methods I Used and Abused to Change Who I Am.

Before Philip wrote his first line of code, he tried to re-program his mind. For his 14th birthday, Hannah gave him Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, which kicked off a life-long obsession with self-improvement. Follow Philip over 82 letters as he re-tells his journey from winning ThinkQuest, to quitting Stanford, to dealing with dating, happiness, and direction, to eventually making it as an indie iOS app developer. Dear Hannah is either a cautionary tale about self-improvement, or it is a filter for the 10% of self-help that may actually change your life.

PHILIP DHINGRA is a President’s Scholar from Stanford University, where he received his B.A. in Mathematical and Computational Sciences. In addition to authoring books on life change, he develops best-selling iOS apps including Nebulous Notes and The Creative Whack Pack (a collaboration with creativity pioneer Roger von Oech). Philip divides his time between Austin, Texas, and San Francisco, California.