You might read this title and think, wait, how can anyone need help finding their passion? If you’re passionate about something then surely you know it, maybe even can’t escape it, right?
Well….not always. For starters, we’re all super busy with the stuff of life – working, mowing the lawn, keeping little people fed/clean/alive, paying bills, fixing stuff around the house, switching energy providers, doing the admin of life, taking out the rubbish, and wait, is it already time to mow the lawn again?
It’s so easy to go from one thing to the next without having anything that is just for you, something you care about, something that allows you to learn and grow and develop and express yourself, something that gives you space to lose yourself in the flow of it.
The reason it is so easy to have unknown passions is the same reason it is so important to have passions: following your passion helps you carve out the space to be yourself in the truest sense, not someone’s parent, spouse, or employee. Just you.
But what if you’re not sure what your passion is? If you don’t have any hobbies you’re itching to take up?
Here are a few self-coaching questions you can ask yourself. If you like, you can journal your answers (just try to keep your pen moving, even if just to write the prompt again or the same word again). Or if you prefer, use voice memo on your phone and talk into it (again, try to keep thinking aloud – so say blah blah blah or just keep talking. You’ll sometimes surprise yourself by what you say).
1. What did you enjoy doing as a child?
Sometimes what we enjoyed as a child is a good clue to what makes you tick. Author Gretchen Rubin writes about creating little books and magazines as a girl, gathering quotes and ideas. Now she gathers research, quotes and anecdotes to create successful books, a podcast, and even an online course about happiness and habit forming.
Mine were less obvious, but I loved self improvement, even as a kid. I distinctly remember looking forward to the challenge of giving up something for Lent, and chose behaviours to refrain from, like gossiping, over things like chocolate or TV. I also loved books by Louisa May Alcott, which always had a moralistic angle (which was part of what I liked most about her books). I also loved writing and kept a journal and even at a young age took stabs at poetry from time to time. When I was looking at my own passions and hobbies, I was not surprised to see personal development/psychology/happiness and writing kept coming up.
2. If you could only shop from one section of the bookstore for the rest of your life, what genre of book would you choose?
This is great to give you insight into what you’re interested in, what keeps your attention, and where you go for pleasure and enjoyment.
Again, I found fiction was my first response but also knew pretty instinctively that the self-help section would be an important contender. And indeed, much of the fiction I love has that element of discovery, learning, and personal growth. I like fiction where the character becomes a better person and a truer version of themselves, or fiction that helps me become a better, truer version of myself. This again showed me an insight into myself and hinted at my passions.
3. If your house caught fire and you had time to grab three things (assume all pets and living things are safe), what items would you grab?
This is a bit cliche, but again, interesting to see what of your stuff is most important and particularly what the stuff means to you. Don’t think practical; allow your gut instinct to speak out here. Is it a cherished bowl you threw at a pottery class years ago? Maybe that’s a clue to a deep-rooted desire to create. A favourite outfit? Then what do you associate the outfit with – perhaps you feel confident in it and have fond memories wearing it to the theatre with friends, in which case perhaps enjoying theatre is what the item represents. Perhaps your camera, which has photos from all of your travels. Maybe travelling and seeing other cultures is what makes you tick. See what comes up for you, and take some time to reflect on what the item represents for you.
For me, I remember my journals being something I would want to grab. When I reflected on what these journals represent to me, I realised that they were the tool I used for years to help me make sense of my feelings and what was going on around me. They represent a very reflective aspect of my nature, and even though I very rarely go back and reread any of my old journals, that instinct to rescue them allowed me to reflect on how important writing things down is for me, as well as how I cherish thinking deeply about things.
4. If you won the lottery and had time and money to take a class, what class would you take?
This is a twist on the old guidance counsellor question meant to help you figure out what career you should pursue (which always reminds me of the film Office Space, a personal favourite). The idea here is looking at growth and learning for the pleasure of it. You don’t have to do a class to get a particular job that will enable you to buy a particular thing. It’s just growth for its own sake.
Would you do something with your hands, making something from nothing, like baking, joinery, or art? Perhaps there’s an urge there you could explore. Or maybe you would learn a language? Possibly hinting at your desire to travel or communicate.
Right now, when I ask myself, I would love to do a mindfulness course. It’s difficult to do logistically right now as I have a breastfeeding baby, but the idea of a weeklong retreat with mindfulness and yoga and walks in nature sounds amazing. This isn’t a huge surprise to me, as I know that mindfulness, yoga, and the insights I get about myself and my life when I’m alone, silent, and in nature are all major contributors to my happiness.
Now pull it together.
Take some time to review your answers to your questions. Are there any themes that come up? Any surprises? Were some questions more difficult to answer? What answers seem to resonate for you? I always feel a strange feeling, like a stone dropping in my abdomen, that tells me when something rings true for me. Some people get goosebumps. Pay attention to your physical responses as you review your answers. Take time to read them and then reflect, maybe coming back to them again after a few days.
It can be useful to make a list of contenders at this point. We’ve generated several lines of enquiry, not necessarily a clear-cut answer. When I did this exercise, writing came up as a possible passion, but so did teaching and drawing. So I explored all of these. I set up my first blog and started reading lots of different kinds of fiction (I thought writing fiction might be my thing – it wasn’t). I tried drawing more. I researched teaching as a career. The one that stuck was the writing.
So the next step can be to draw up an action plan. Any classes you can sign up for to see if something is indeed a passion for you now? Activities you can schedule for an upcoming weekend? A windowsill herb garden to see if gardening might be the thing for you?
Perhaps it’s interesting to note here as well that I asked myself these questions at different points in my life when exploring what made me tick. Once was in 2010 when I was considering a career change and therefore wanted to see what really mattered to me, and I went through a similar exercise exploring hobbies and passions outside of work in 2014 after having my first son and returning to work. But despite going at it at different times in my life and using different questions, the self-reflection and writing came up both times. But it wasn’t until 2014 that I pulled the two together – I am a writer, but not a fiction or creative writer. What I do love is writing about happiness and personal development.
Finding your passion can take a bit of legwork and a few false starts, but it’s so worthwhile. I’ve loved tapping into my passion and being me again, even amid the demands of caring for young children, a house, and working.
I also feel like I have invested in my own future happiness. I know that as my boys grow, the ways they will need me will shift. I’ve already seen that with my older son, and he is still quite young. But I feel like when the day comes, eventually, when my children are busy with their friends or when they finally fly the nest, I will have been investing in myself as me. I will have something to fill my empty hands when my sons no longer need to hold them (at least not every day). I’m able to hold onto who I am so when this season of life comes to an end, I can seize the next stage of life with vigour and passion.