How to Find Your Passion
As the saying goes: Love what you do, and you’ll never work a day in your life. For most of us, however, this is so much easier said than done! If you’re one of the many not quite sure what you’re passionate about in life, fret not—here’s a simple exercise that might just change your life!
Before we dive in, a quick word on my qualifications as a peripatetic passion hunter. I’ve always had big questions and a small attention span, a dangerous recipe to be curious about everything and settling on nothing. I flitted from subject to subject in school, switched majors five times in university (math, aerospace engineering, psychology, computer science, and finally ecology and evolutionary biology), pursued a farrago of job fields post-college (education, primatology, and marine ecology), and am now halfway through an interdisciplinary PhD program in ecology and environmental policy. So, all this is to say, if even I can make my passion puzzle pieces fit, you surely can too!
Let’s start sifting through your own lives and find the things you most like, love, and loathe to do. So, what exactly is passion? True passion comprises two components: fun and fulfillment. These are subtly different, but also more interrelated than one might think. A fun activity is one where you actively enjoy its process or performance as it’s being done. Perhaps this is something that exhilarates and excites you, or something you actively want to re-do or re-live in your free time. For me, this “fun list” includes playing squash, photographing wildlife, and scuba diving. Your fun list might include playing Call of Duty and the violin, baking biscuits with your mom, skateboarding—literally anything. Activities that are fulfilling, on the other hand, are ones that exhibit a certain degree of delayed gratification. These might not be fun to do in the moment, but are activities you nevertheless still perceive to be worthwhile after the fact. My “fulfillment list” includes piano and swim practice, coding and data wrangling, and hanging out with my grandma.
Now that we have a working understanding of the components of passion, grab some pen and paper, and start making your own fun and fulfillment lists for your own lives. It might help to map out a typical week for you, and bin each activity into different categories (e.g., school, extracurriculars, free time, etc.) before looking for the things you find fun, fulfilling, neither, or both. Go slowly with this! It helps to think carefully about the many ways you are spending your most precious commodity—time.
As a guiding example, here is a snapshot of a typical week for me:
As you do this exercise, you might notice activities in your life that you neither enjoy doing in the moment (not fun), nor are you happy to have done after the fact (not fulfilling). I’ve labeled these chore-type tasks as “fluff” on my sample schedule. While some of these might be unavoidable, these activities are clearly also not where your passions lie, and not where you are at your most (if at all) productive. Hold on to this insight regardless of what your family, friends, or society suggest to the contrary. Cross these activities out on your page.
Next, notice the activities that you find fun; those that you actively enjoy doing in the moment. For me, this includes dinner with friends at that Szechuan restaurant, playing badminton, and reading science-fiction anthologies. These activities are often relatively easy to find, as many of us already know how we like to spend our free time. Highlight these with a colored pen or pencil.
Do the same for activities that you find fulfilling: those that you might not have perceived as fun in the moment, but were ultimately happy to have done looking back from the future. (Be honest with yourself! You are the only person you can help or hurt here.) For me, this list includes meditating, playing with raw data in R, and teaching undergraduates in my psychology class.
Now, the final step. Go back and find the activities in your life that are the closest to being both fun and fulfilling. That is, not only do you enjoy doing these activities in the present, you’re also happy to have done them looking back from the future. These activities are the gold passion-nuggets we’re after; the types of things that are viable candidates for how you ideally should be spending your time. Crafting your college major, career goals, and side hustles/hobbies around these types of activities will best align your pursuits with your passions and ensure that you find yourself working hard and hardly working!
-Bing, CRI Mentor