Looking for your passions? You might be starting with the wrong question. Except in rare circumstances, passion doesn’t hit people out of the blue. You don’t just wake up one morning and discover a love for painting or polynomials. Passion starts small.
If you’re caught up in looking for the kind of burning passion that will turn your world upside down, you might miss the little things that lead to interests. Some of your interests will lead to skills. Some of your skills and experiences will grow into passions.
There are lots of guides on how to explore and develop your passions, so I won’t repeat the advice you’ll see elsewhere. Instead, let me share how I explore my interests, in case that nudges your mind.
I lucked into my big passions. I don’t remember learning how to use the computer, and I only vaguely remember teaching myself how to program.
One passion leads to another, almost without choice. My big passions span years and open up other possibilities. A passion for programming turned into a passion for open source, which led to a passion for personal information management and productivity via the unlikely conduit of Emacs. Personal information management led to a passion for social information management, social networking, and collaboration. Computing and open source led to teaching, which led to public speaking, which broadened and became a passion for communication. Looking back, each step—each evolution—seems natural and unavoidable. Each skill is a launchpad for other skills.
I think a lot about passions. I think about what I’m passionate about, how to explore that, and how to articulate that. But I’m not discovering things from scratch—I’m taking something that already exists, and I make it clearer.
This means that it’s difficult for me to help people get started and overcome inertia. Self-discovery is tough. Once you know the feeling of passion, though, it becomes much easier. I’ve thought a lot about accelerating new passions when you already have at least one. I don’t have as much advice for when you don’t know of anything you’re passionate about.
Against the backdrop of these big passions, I’ve explored dozens of interests. Many of those interests contribute to my passions in unexpected ways. Any one of those interests could become a passion—indeed, are passions for other people. I know more about exploring interests and developing them into passions than about finding passions right off the bad.
Where do ideas for interests come from? Many interests start in my curiosity about what my ideal life looks like. I think about what I might do or experience if I had all the time and money I wanted. I look for ways to start experimenting with those ideas now instead of later. It often takes less money and time than I expect.
Many interests grow out of existing ones. Sometimes they’re logical progressions. Sometimes they’re complementary pursuits.
Many interests are inspired by others. I talk to people I admire. I read books and blog posts. I flip through course catalogues. When I come across something that tickles my imagination, I see if I can give it a try.
How do I make it possible to explore interests? Living frugally means I can regularly save money in an “opportunity” fund that I use for experiences or education. This means I don’t have to worry about choosing between interests and bills. Minimizing commitments and keeping work-life balance means I can free up the time to explore emerging interests, which usually end up being quite helpful at work and in life too.
How do I explore interests? I find that teaching myself is more fulfilling and cheaper than taking a class unless I really need other people in order to explore an interest. It’s easier, too. I usually check out lots of books from the library and make time to practice. As I explore, I think about my experiences and share what I’m learning. Is it worth it compared to other ways I can spend my time? Are there more effective ways to achieve my goal?
HOW TO TRY THIS
What are you curious about? What do you want to learn?
Plan how to learn it. Make time and space for it.
Give it a try. If you like it, get better at it. You’ll like it even more as you get better and better at it. And who knows? Maybe someday, it will number among your passions.