“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
– Henry David Thoreau
That sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it? But, how can we live a passion-driven life if we don’t know what truly makes our hearts sing? I used to believe that most people just needed encouragement to pursue their passion - a road map, a Sherpa, a gentle nudge in the right direction. I also used to think it was simply a matter of “manning up” – a matter of filling our lungs with air, then shoving off toward our dreams with gusto.
Looking over my margin scribbles (I take a lot of notes), I realize now, that’s not the case. Despite all of the talk about living a passionate and purposeful life – the truth is, most of us don’t have a clear picture about what makes us feel passionate in the first place.
So, before hitching up the wagons and heading out in the wrong direction, let’s take some time to explore what truly makes us tick. Below are a few strategies that have helped me find my true North. I hope you find them equally illuminating.
PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT MAKES US JEALOUS – Susan Biali writes about this concept in Five Steps to Finding Your Passion. I think this is a great place to start. She suggests that we notice what accomplishments, pursuits, or successes of others stir up our internal embers of envy. If someone has something we truly desire, then jealousy is a natural reaction. Jealousy, in fact, may indicate hitting passion pay dirt. For example; if an acquaintance just aced her LSAT exam and I feel a pang of envy – well, then maybe I need to get off my butt and apply to law school, too.
PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR OWN EXPERTISE – I noticed that many individuals who claim to be passionless are often, in fact, full of passion. They talk about certain topics with heartfelt effervescence. Sometimes, our true passion may be right under our nose. I use this strategy in session: I ask clients to tell me about some areas of interest extemporaneously for five minutes. Though responses range from baseball statistics to the history of theatre, everyone seems to have at least one area in which they can talk with astounding clarity and conviction. Topics in which we can speak “off the cuff” may be passion pay dirt. Dig there.
FIND YOUR FLOW –Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s 1993 ground-breaking book Finding Flow is still ground-breaking when it comes to helping us identify our passion. Csikszentmihalyi’s book asks us to identify which activities we are engaged in when time seems to fly. When we are totally engrossed in an activity in which time distorts, we are likely in our state of flow. Whether the activity is painting, writing, reading financial reports, or helping a child with algebra homework – it likely indicates a passion point. So, if you want a quick way to identify your passion, notice when your clock seems to spin quickly.
WHAT BOOK STORE SECTION DO YOU GRAVITATE TOWARD? The last time you were at a book store, in what section did you spend the most time? Science? Architecture? Philosophy? Home improvement? The section in which you browse most may serve as a litmus test for our passion. Our mind craves to know anything and everything it can about what stokes that fire in our bellies. As a young reader, I typically thumbed through books in the psychology/self-help section. Decades later, I’m a psychotherapist. A close friend with a life-long cook book obsession, finally quit his day job as a research assistant and now owns and operates a successful catering company.
Similarly, if you’re reading this article online, glance up at your browser. Notice what websites are bookmarked. The websites you’ve bookmarked may represent a continued area of interest consequently offering clues to an underlying, enduring passion.
Whether using the tips suggested here, reaching out to a life coach or therapist or simply by becoming still and listening intently to your own truth, I honestly hope you find your True North, your passion, your purpose, whatever makes your heart sing.
Mary Delaney is a licensed psychotherapist and relationship coach. Her areas of interest include reclaiming lost emotions, finding true purpose, overcoming childhood emotional neglect, the creative personality, and long-term recovery.