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How to discover your passion

Nov 11, 2012 Success, Sunday Nation

Do what you love.

That is the exhortation commonly heard these days. Every motivational speaker urges you to find your passion; every pushy tweet pushes you to discover your true aptitude – that is how you will do your best work.

The late Steve Jobs, in his now legendary address at Stanford University, told us: “Don’t settle.” That sends many of us searching for our true vocation, the work that will ignite our latent passion.

Last week on this page I pointed out that most of life’s truly outstanding achievements are clocked by people who feel fervent, unbridled zest for what they do. Without this magic nectar, we are merely competing for mediocrity.

But this throws up the question I am often asked: what is my passion? How will I know what I have been put on this planet to do? What if I never discover the thing I should have spent my life doing? I have several answers for this conundrum.

The most important point is that your true vocation is not something you design or choose; it chooses you. The people who have an abiding passion for something, just have it. They feel it from a young age, and spend their lives agitating to be allowed to spend more time doing that thing that most seduces them. It could be the joy of art; the thrill of numbers; the mystery of science – but it usually casts its spell early.

If you are in the group of people that doesn’t feel the thrill, however, perhaps you need to dig a little deeper. What are the signs that you might be doing the thing that you will love? Here are some personal views.

The first is that you will stop noticing time. When you are immersed in the thing that matters most to you, you are not always looking at the clock to know when to move on to something else. Our life’s most important work sucks us in every time we do it, and we emerge, a little bedraggled and confused, hours later, wondering when it got dark.

The second sign is that it won’t feel like work when you’re doing it. You will not be that concerned about what you’re getting paid, or how long you’re taking, or how boring it all is. There is nothing else you’d rather be doing. For passion-people, ‘work-life’ balance is a strange concept. Work is life. If you wake up happy to start working, you will know what I mean.

The third sign is that you don’t feel any incongruence, any misalignment, when you’re working. Your work fits with your fundamental goals and values as a person. You feel at ease. Your life just fits.

If these apply to you, congratulations. Passionate engagement, however, is not the norm. For most people, working life is a drudgery, a necessary evil. They work just to earn their ‘daily bread.’ They work to earn money so that they can come to life elsewhere.

Those consumed by passion have no choice but to do their thing. But the vast majority of mankind may never experience euphoria in their work. That’s OK, too. Not everyone can be the blazing comet who’s found the right vocation; you can also be passionate about the way you do things.

Passion is not reserved purely for the artistic genius or the mad scientist. Whatever you’re doing, for as long as you’re doing it, do it to the best of your ability and with all your heart. Your life will be immeasurably richer, and many self-discoveries will be made.

Bill Shankly was a legendary football manager. For me his most important utterance is this: “If I was a road-sweeper, my street would be the cleanest in the borough.” Passion is also about personal standards: how you do it, not just what you do.

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