Pursuing your passion can mean different things to different people. However, no matter your definition, it seems people always have a reason why they can't do it. If you're someone who has always wanted to follow your dream but never gained any traction, here are some answers.
"I Don't Know What My Passion Is"
It's pretty hard to pursue something you aren't sure about. If you can't seem to find something you'd love doing, you're not alone. Many of us struggle with what our own ideas of what a "dream job" would be. If you feel a little like you're just floating along the river of life, it might be a good idea to grab a paddle and start exploring uncharted waters. Take a step out of your comfort zone and experience new things. When you're stuck in your bubble, you're afraid of being uncomfortable. Branch out and see what's out there. Eventually, you'll encounter something that gets you excited.
Where should you look? You must have some idea of what interests you a little bit. Once you've narrowed down the categories, Erika Anderson at Forbes recommends putting yourself out there however you can:
The advice I've given, over and over, is simple: get curious and explore. Thennotice your own reaction. Curiosity (which I talk about fairly often) is a wonderful thing. It's that feeling of "I really want to find out more about this." It's like a mental and emotional itch to understand that you just have to scratch. If our hypothetical man and woman allowed themselves to get curious about their areas of possible passion, they'd have three main avenues of exploration to satisfy that curiosity: information, people and situations.
Do research, talk to others who share the passion you're curious about, and put yourself in situations that force yourself to ask "is this something I like?" You can also ask yourself the simple question of "what do I find myself doing?" Everyone has hobbies, of course, but try to look deeper at the things that motivate you in life. Dropbox founder Drew Houston gave a great example of this type of question:
"The most successful people are obsessed with solving an important problem, something that matters to them. They remind me of a dog chasing a tennis ball… find your tennis ball — the thing that pulls you."
A big factor in finding your passion is also recognising what you're good at. You are good at something, guaranteed. Maybe you have a way with numbers, or maybe you have an eye for design. One way or another, you have an ability that's probably untapped. Leo Babauta at Zenhabits suggests asking yourself what you can do, giving yourself enough time to really think about it:
Take at least 30 minutes, going over this question — often we forget about things we've done well. Think back, as far as you can, to jobs, projects, hobbies. This could be your passion. Or you may have several things. Start a list of potential candidates.
So, what's your tennis ball? Maybe you still don't know for sure, but there are probably a few balls bouncing around your head. That's still progress. Think of all the ideas you have for what you're passionate about as flowers that need to be pruned. For your ideas to grow, they have to be trimmed down into something that can flourish. Spend enough time thinking, observing and pruning, and you'll be able to narrow down something that makes your heart skip a beat. A passion should thrill you to the core be what makes you want to live on.
"I'm Already Too Busy with Work and My Passion Doesn't Pay the Bills"
This is the most common excuse of them all. You know exactly what you want to do, but there's just too much stuff going on, right? The truth is, you are busy — everybody is — but by always thinking and saying that you're busy, you're convincing yourself that there is no possible way to find a few minutes each day to do what you want to do. There are some job exceptions out there, but you absolutely have to stop pretending like there is no time left on earth when your shift ends.
It's great to have a job while you pursue your passion — in fact it's ideal — but it's definitely not an excuse to never pursue it. There is an almost endless list of great people that worked towards their goals while holding a run-of-the-mill day job. You're tired? So were they. They had 24 hours in a day just like you.
If your job allows it, find time at work to do what you love. Every little bit counts. Obviously, you don't want your normal work to suffer, but there are plenty of ways to sneak in a little time without announcing to the world that you're blowing off your job. You don't have to write your novel in a week or perfect your chicken soup recipe during one lunch hour. Michela Aramini at weblog Levo League notes something important to keep in mind — your passion is always a work in progress:
Once you accept that you and your passion project are a beautiful work in progress, you will be able to fully enjoy working on your passion project each day and eliminate the poisonous feeling of "not enough." Set attainable monthly, weekly, and daily goals for yourself and reward yourself.
Move towards your goal step by step. Not only will you see your progress over time, but you'll be more excited about your work day. You'll be excited for that 10-minute block of time in the afternoon you get to write, or for that first half of your lunch hour that you set aside to learn how to code.
Keep in mind that pursuing your passion doesn't necessarily mean working your dream job. There are plenty of arguments that say that "doing what you love" for a job isn't possible for everyone. In fact — depending on what your passion is — trying to make your passion your job could be a really bad idea. It could lead you to financial ruin or even push you to despise what was once your passion. Fortunately, work isn't the only aspect of your life (or at least it shouldn't be). There are plenty of other avenues for you to go after that special something in your life. Work a job that's good enough for you and go after your dream on the side. There's no rule that says you can't do both, and it's more common than you think. Mike the cleaner does improv comedy three nights a week, Marge in accounting is a footpath chalk artist, and Billy the IT guy plays the standup bass in a jazz band. If work is something that has to be its own thing in your life, find your duality and do what you love with the rest of your time.
"I Don't Want to Sacrifice My Free Time"
Hopefully what you want to pursue is something you already seek in your free time. If not, this one's all on you. If you don't want to use your free time to pursue what you love, maybe you're not as passionate about it as you thought you were. It's important to avoid burnout, but your free time is the best time to work your way towards something.
This really is the test for how passionate you are and how much you want something. Are you willing to sacrifice your weekend freelancing? Are you willing to take night classes after a long day of work? The time is there, but will you use it? It's entirely up to you. If you have no free time, find a way to make it. Get a babysitter, take online classes from home, or get a friend involved. One way or another, you have the power to find time for what you love. You just have to find the right balance for you.
"I'm Afraid That I'll Fail"
Let's get it out of the way right now: you will fail. No one gets it right the first time. Failure is how we learn, adapt and toughen up so we can get to the point where we can succeed. Get over it and move forward. In our world, failure is everywhere, but it's also what keeps us all going.
Professor Larry Smith explains in the TED talk video above how just having a "good career" is an impossibility. This day and age you'll work yourself to the bone doing something you don't love in the hopes you'll have a good career, but you'll never be truly satisfied. People get there because they're afraid to fail doing something else, something uncomfortable. Failure isn't something you need to be afraid of, but it gets to all of us. Ask yourself "what if" questions so you can see the consequences for yourself. What harm is it if you want to start painting or play in a band? So what if the first play you act in is a disaster? With each failure, you get better and closer to doing the thing you love.
"I Don't Know Where to Start"
Maybe you know exactly what you want to do, but it all seems a little overwhelming. Rome wasn't built in a day, and you won't achieve your huge, passionate goals in a day either. Break that big, scary goal down into a lot of little goals. Make each goal a step in the right direction. On her Linkedin blog, Dr Julie Connor suggests creating SMART goals:
- A SMART goal is SPECIFIC. What do I want to accomplish? Why do I want to accomplish it? What are the benefits? Who is involved? Where will it be located?
- A SMART goal is MEASURABLE. How much is needed? What tools do I need to measure progress? What targets will I establish as I progress towards my goal? How will I know when it is accomplished?
- A SMART goal is ATTAINABLE. How can my goal be accomplished? How is my goal action-oriented? How much will it cost to launch and support my goal? What knowledge and skills are needed to reach this goal?
- A SMART goal is REALISTIC. Why is my goal meaningful? Why is there a need for this goal? Why is this the right time to pursue this goal? Is this goal aligned with my core values?
- A SMART goal is TIME-BOUND. Is there a time frame for implementation of this goal? When will this plan be implemented? What will I do within the next six months to reach my goal? What will I do within the next six weeks to reach my goal? What will I do this week to reach my goal?
Know exactly what you're doing every step of the way and make sure it's quantifiable. When you can see what you've accomplished so far, it motivates you to keep going. If routine is important for you, make yourself a schedule so you always know when you're making time for your passion projects. Don't make it overwhelming, but try and challenge yourself. Promise yourself that you'll work on your project for 90 minutes every day, or that you'll draw one new picture every evening. Whatever you set for yourself, the challenge will help keep you interested.
Lastly, just get started. Taking that initial leap is the most important part of any path. If you don't know what to write, just start typing. If you don't know what to paint, just start making brush strokes. If you don't know what to cook, just start pulling things out of the fridge. Force yourself to make a move and you'll jump start your motivation.
"I Can't Do It Alone"
No doubt, there are many obstacles in your life that get in the way. Maybe you have children, or maybe you have to keep two jobs to stay afloat. It's not easy. If things are bogging you down too much, remember that it's OK to ask for help. Career Counselor Markell R. Steele at Futures In Motion recommends being honest with the people in your life if you need some support:
When things aren't going well, we all have the tendency to hide the truth. If you hide behind a façade people will assume everything is good and won't extend opportunities or suggestions. Countless times I've had people tell me about great opportunities, then discount my interest assuming I was too busy to participate… If you're honest with people, you'd be surprised at how sympathetic and even helpful they can be. I'm not talking about whining and complaining. I'm talking about admitting that things are not going as well as you'd like, but you're working on improving them. It's even better if you have some clarity about your aspirations. It's been my experience that pursuing passion is often a balancing act rather than an either/or proposition.
Without support it's twice as hard to take on the weight of a new project. Passions are things that you have to give a lot of yourself to, and there's only so much of you to give. Sometimes you may need more than a helping hand, and Mark McNeilly at Fast Company explains that it's OK to open up about it all:
On the emotional side, it will be a lot easier to overcome your fears and insecurities if you have people close to you cheering you on and encouraging you. And on the financial side, you need their help to trim expenses and/or provide additional sources of income.
Talk with friends and family, significant others, or even close coworkers. Let people in on what you're doing and how it's affecting you. Chances are they will cheer you on and do whatever they can, and someday down the road you can return the favour. There is nothing weak about asking for help. It takes a lot of strength and courage to realise you need it and ask for it.
"I'll Get to It Later"
No, you won't. You'll just keep telling yourself that until it's too late. You have the time to do it right now. If you can't see it, find it or make it, because eventually you really won't have any time. Eventually, there won't be a tomorrow that you can use as a starting point. The funny thing with time is if you don't use it, you lose it. It will be difficult and it may take a long time, but you shouldn't give up on a dream just because of how long it will take.