Passion and uncertainty

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Sometimes people ask me for tips on finding their passion. I never really had a good answer for them. I stumbled across my first passions so early that I don’t remember falling in love with them. Reading and programming were just there, intertwined with my childhood. Those inevitably led to other interests that grew into passions such as writing. Now I have the beginnings of a passion for drawing, or at least I think it might be. It’s less comfortable than any of my previous transitions. It’s not as smooth. I feel more uncertain. But I’ve learned to trust that anything I learn will combine in interesting ways later on, so I keep moving forward.

When people wish for passion, I think what they’re really wishing for is certainty: the knowledge that this, here, is exactly what you are meant to do, that intersection of what you love, what you’re good at, and what the world values. The certainty that this is the best way to spend this moment in time, and the ease of not having to make yourself do something or fight distractions. Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi described the experience of flow – losing yourself in a moment of immersion.

I used to tell people to ignore the myths of a sudden calling. Passion doesn’t strike out of the blue. You find a spark of interest and you nurture it. Hard work and experience gets you past the first few ruts. You hit the part of the learning curve where you start learning faster and faster… and then you hit the plateau of mediocrity. If you have the grit to keep pushing, you might find that there’s a new height that you can reach, a new joy to discover. Or you might find that you’ve reached the end of your interest. It’s okay. Give yourself permission to move on. But if you keep going, you’ll find yourself deeper and deeper. Simple tasks become easier and more fun. Difficult tasks become engaging. Passion requires commitment in order to grow. Work at it, and you might get to that aha! moment where you feel certain that this is something you were meant to do.

Here’s what my experiment has been leading me to ask: What happens if you let go of that need for certainty? What if you do this work not to arrive at the peak of success or skill, but because the path towards it might be interesting? What if it’s okay to live a life without a passion that other people will clearly recognize, appreciate, and validate? What if your passion is life itself and what you can learn along the way? What if you can accept never being an expert and embrace always being a beginner?

This is all very meta and not something particularly useful for people who are looking for career tips. I feel a little like Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I think it will be fun.

It’s tough to give up the mythology of passion. I still cling to the need to feel confident and secure in something, to know (and be told!) that I’m good. But if I keep practising this kind of practice, I think that might lead me down interesting paths ten years down the line.

So yeah. Don’t worry about not knowing your passion. It’s not as important as people think it is. You don’t really need to package up your interests into a neat word or phrase that will make people go ooh and aah. You don’t need to be an expert in order to live a meaningful life. Live your life, work on getting better at living it step by step, and you might find that you’ll pick up all sorts of expertise along the way. (Although since I’m 29, I’m not sure if I can really say this from experience, so it would be interesting to see someone with more data either backing this up or refuting it. =) )

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  • http://twitter.com/conniesnotepad Connie

    I’m certain about my passion (ie, reading and writing), and I’ve held this passion since I was very young. I’m not sure, though, if my being aware of it has led me to certainty or made me wish for certainty. At the time when I was drunk with what I “know” I wanted to be, I was a floundering mess and I had no direction at all. I got a lot of affirmation from people, but they didn’t seem to help me find a good seat for my passion. I thought I was just another useless person with a “passion.”

    When I became a wife and a mother, many of my “Me” issues had to be addressed and resolved right away. I simply needed to move on and live life with a clear purpose. Motherhood has taught me to give/share, and this very simple virtue resonated in everything else. Time became very precious. I no longer had thre opportunity to think about my “being” or the raison d’etre of who I am. I just needed to be, to deliver, to maintain structure and a sense of order. I think that purpose + sense of order made things a lot of better for me. I found my niches as a writer, and when I decided to quit higher learning (ie grad school) I actually became more productive. I suppose I simply applied much of my theoretical knowledge into actual work when I reached the “plateau of mediocrity.”

    So I think passion can be important, too. It helps to know clearly what it is, how you can use it to help people or improve lives, and how it can also help you become a better person. We also need to learn how to manage/control this passion. I used to dream about becoming the great Filipino novelist. But now I think I just want to continue writing stories for children and a lot of how-to articles for magazines/websites. I seem to find more sense in doing these things than waiting for the “big break” to arrive. I don’t want to waste time; I just want to be useful and productive.

    According to Jose Rizal, inclination and aptitude will most likely define a person’s path. If knowing one’s passion isn’t that important, then I hope one can at least nail down their purpose in life by knowing what they can willingly do and putting much of what they know into it every single day.

    Good morning from the Philippines. Excuse me if I may seem incoherent. I just woke up kasi e. =)

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  • http://clair.craftyneko.com Clair

    Hey Sacha, this is kinda amusing for me because I’ve been pondering on this topic in the last few months. I’ve told JM before that I envy people who find their passion at an earlier age. It makes them move in a more focused manner and that’s something I wish I could do. And I think you’re right. They seem more focused to me because they are certain of the things they want to do and that’s something I know I am not doing right now.

    What I’ve been feeling these days: I want to pursue something different. Maybe it’s something really unstable in the sense of income. But it’s an interesting path. Sometimes I wonder if that path is something that will not lead me to greatness but greatness is not what I am looking for. I am looking for growth and I know that my interests vary from time to time. But I always look for something interesting because that’s something that lets me learn a new thing about myself, society and interactions in general. It’s not conventional, considering that I’ve grown up having to make sure that I finish my studies, get a job or make my own business (anything with a stable income) but as a child, I’ve always had one goal in mind: happiness. I could go on and on but maybe that’s for another discussion, an offline one. :) It’s a very personal thing for me.

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  • Quiara

    I am a novice and would like to see what I can learn regarding coding and where technology is going. I am an educator and artist. I would love to provide my nephew with resources and information on his interest in computer science. He has one more year of High School.

    Also created educational resources for my students to study and organize their studies. I would love to create a global place for educators to meet and share best practices to be master teachers.

    As an artist I would love to create a visual community that is like a free online gallery where free subscribers can upload their images and share content.

    My passion is leaving people better than the way I find them.

    Thank you for all you do and the resources you provide.
    Q