Before you can turn your dreams into reality, you need to know what they are. Here’s how to find your passion.
Last week, I recorded a podcast episode with Mariah MacInnes of The Content Queen Podcast. During our conversation about turning dreams into reality Mariah asked me an interesting question: What if you don’t know what your dreams are? How do you find your passion and decide what dreams to follow?
It was a good question. I answered it on the spot with a couple of useful strategies, but it haunted me. We start with the premise that people should be able to turn their dreams into reality. They should be empowered to follow their passion. But with that comes the assumption that you know what your passion is.
What if you don’t? How do you find one? Once you have it, how do you decide that this dream is worth pursuing? And what happens when you do?
Choice Overload: You can be anything
Many of us grew up being told that we could be whatever we wanted. The sky’s the limit, they told us. Follow your dreams, they said. We looked around us and saw famous people who had done just that. And now we’re living in a world where the entirety of human knowledge nestles in our pocket.
Humans have never had more choices. And that’s not necessarily a good thing.
Making choices is tiring. Give someone too many choices and the brain quickly gets overwhelmed. It’s called choice overload. We think we want more options, but what our brains really crave is a clear path forward.
Marketers know this, which is why they use a single clear call to action at the bottom of each blog post. They want to guide the reader to the next step in their sales process, not overwhelm them with options. Steve Jobs knew it, which is why he wore the same clothes every day. He was eliminating unnecessary decision making to free up brain power for vital business decisions.
What Prevents You From Finding Your Passion
This gluttony of choice can quickly overwhelm you. You may start to believe that among these thousands of possible paths, there must be a right one for you. A perfect path. A destiny. If only you can find it, you’ll fall so in love with what you’re doing that it will never feel like work.
But I would argue that this quest for the perfect dream is one of the major constraints holding you back from finding your passion. No path is perfect. Even if you’re absolutely in love with your work, some days will be a grind. Your passion for your career doesn’t make filing taxes less of a chore – even though that’s a necessary part of making the dream real.
In fact, I would argue that a passion and a career are not the same thing, but we’ll get back to that later.
For now, the quest to find your passion starts with leaving your starry-eyed dreams behind. You’re not looking for a path without obstacles, you’re looking for something that makes overcoming those obstacles worthwhile.
Stuck in the Crab Bucket
Knowing what you’re looking for is just the first step. Now you have to find it. Strangely, those same people who encouraged you to be anything you wanted may be the ones blocking your path here. These parents, teachers and friends love you and want what’s best for you. But they also tend to act like crabs in a bucket, pulling you back when you try to crawl away from the group.
Some people believe crab bucket mentality is caused by conscious or subconscious desire to prevent someone from outperforming them. In short: if I can’t have it, then neither can you. But I think people get crabby out of fear. They want to protect you from the world, from pain, from having your hopes dashed, and so they meet your dreams with a dose of “reality.”
They will try to keep you safe by reminding you that:
- You still need to make a living
- 45% of businesses fail in the first five years.
- That’s a competitive industry
- We’ve never had a female president
- They don’t take people with your record
- You need money, connections, or luck to do that – probably all three
These messages are so pervasive, that they seep right into your subconscious. You’ll find yourself saying them before your loving protectors can even open their mouths. There are dreams you won’t allow yourself to follow, because the crabs have convinced you how silly they are.
4 Steps to Find Your Passion
Finding your passion and realizing your dreams is a lifelong journey. As you grow and change, they will too. But here are four steps to get you started.
1. Put the lid on the crab bucket
You can’t seek your passion with the crabs grumbling in your ears, so for now, give yourself permission to ignore them. The best way to do this is by convincing yourself that you’re safe. You’re not committing to any path right now, you’re just using your imagination. No harm in that, right?
Imagine you’re taking out a map. In the center is the dot that says, “You are here.” Arrayed around you are a series of paths. You’re not walking those paths. You’re safe in your room. All you’re doing is seeing what’s out there. Just looking at the map can’t commit you to a destination. You’re totally safe. So the crabs can simmer down.
2. Remember what you loved when you were a kid
Cast your mind back to your earliest childhood memories. I always loved reading books as a child, and I probably wrote more words than I spoke once I discovered the magic of writing.
Your loves may not be that obvious. Were you obsessed with star charts, fascinated by dinosaurs? Did your parents have to practically bolt down household appliances to keep you from taking them apart?
Think about what lit you up back then. Make a list. Include everything, even if you can’t see how it could ever be a career. On The Content Queen Podcast, I used the example of being a pirate.
3. Dig deep to recognize the source
Now take your list and look for the source of each obsession. What was it about the life of a pirate that attracted you? Was it freedom, adventure, pillaging? Write it down. There are no rules here. Remember, you’re still safe in your room.
Why were those star charts so interesting? Did you imagine little green men or walking in the footsteps of Neil Armstrong? Did you like the idea of discovering a new planet or memorize the myths that named the constellations? What drove you to dismantle the dishwasher?
For me, the uniting factor was stories. I loved uncovering them and I loved sharing them. That’s why I write. Maybe the dishwasher reveals a love of problem solving, or a desire to figure out where all the food bits went. That motivating force? That’s your passion.
4. Find ways to bring that passion into your life
Now you have the information you need to find your passion. Go find ways to bring more of it into your life. You could take a class, join a club, or start a whole new career. Equipped with your passion, you can also simplify your decision making. Ask yourself, does this choice bring me closer to my passion or further away.
Or as Neil Gaiman put it in his Make Good Art speech, “Will this bring me closer to the mountain?”
The Career Equation
Most importantly, remember that passion does not equal career. Your passion is too big to be fully contained in a job title. Instead, your job should feed your passion. Your hobbies should feed your passion. Your life should feed your passion.
As a teller and collector of stories, I write books, interview experts, host a podcast, and write blog posts. But being an author is not my passion. Neither is being a content writer or a podcast host. Instead, each one of these roles gives me opportunities to transform my passion from an abstract dream into a concrete reality.
If this blog post helped you find your passion, or even get a little closer to it, I’d love to hear from you. Contact me and tell me all about it.