WIIAWO Issue #3: What if I don't have a passion?

I'm not sure when I first heard the phrase "pursue your passion," but I know that I had internalized it by the time I was 18 and was utterly panicked and paralyzed when it came time to declare my college major. But as much as I wished for a sudden sense of purpose, I ended up becoming a business economics major because it sounded practical.

At age 36, many in my peer group are now firmly established in the careers they've been in for 15 years. In contrast, I've now had three vastly different careers: private equity research, nonprofit program evaluation, and Kwohtations (i.e. making greeting cards about my feelings).

When I look at my winding, hodge-podge path, I sometimes wonder, Did I miss my one driving passion somewhere along the way?

1. Pursue your curiosity

Instead of finding what you're passionate about, the author Elizabeth Gilbert and others have talked about focusing instead on what you're curious about.

Forget about the notion of passion, and give your attention to your curiosity. Passion burns hot and fast, and which means it can come and go. Curiosity is so accessible and available, every day of my life."

- Elizabeth Gilbert

I really like this focus on curiosity, rather than passion. For me, identifying a passion feels daunting and unattainable, while I think we can all find something that we'd like to learn more about.

A story:

In 2014, I working at a venture philanthropy nonprofit while selling blockprinted cards at local weekend craft markets. My friend Jen suggested that I look into letterpress printing my cards because it was still a handmade process but more efficient. I didn’t know what letterpress was or that there were people who still used old printing presses, but I was curious so I went to a weekend class. Ten years later, I run a full-time letterpress printed greeting card business.

Another story:
A few years ago, I watched an online tutorial on making figurines out of oven bake clay. It seemed fun, so I bought some clay and started playing around.
Making clay figures hasn't become part of my routine, an obsessive hobby or a monetized product; I'm not particularly skilled at it, nor am I aiming to be. It's something I do now and again when I'm feeling crafty. Like, I made this funny glasses holder when I was quarantining with Covid last year, and it brought me some needed chuckles and distraction.
Pursuing your curiosity won't always directly lead to your next career, but it doesn't have to in order to be a worthy and valuable endeavor. Many things are worth doing if you enjoy them, regardless of the outcome.

2. You don't need to have a passion

What I've realized is that some people have one focused passion that they build a life around, while others have lots of different interests instead. Both can have full and meaningful careers and lives.

I’m firmly in that second camp—I didn't find my passion in college, and I still wouldn't say that I've found my passion now. I love what I do. I get a lot of meaning and joy from my work, I'm deeply invested in my business, and I'm learning and growing from it. And, at some point I’ll probably become interested in doing something else, and I’ll go do that next.
While I'm still drawn to the idea of having more direction in my life, I've come to cherish the many side quests, short-lived hobbies, and random learnings that I've had in my curious wanderings.
Do you have your own story, experience, or advice about having a passion or not? If so, I'd be really interested to know what they are!  Just comment below.

1 comment

I love this – “[I]t doesn’t have to [further your career] in order to be a worthy and valuable endeavor. Many things are worth doing if you enjoy them, regardless of the outcome.”

What a validating statement! I have had similar crises of (Aggh what am I doing?! How come I haven’t found my purpose?!) especially in college. It felt un-productive to meander – but meandering is what I do best. And I’m finally remembering how to do fun things simply because they are fun… but not quite fully there yet – the conditioning towards productivity is strong!

I recently re-watched the Pixar movie “Soul” with my daughter and it weaves around a similar theme. Thank you for sharing your version of this sentiment in your WIIAWO series :)

Julia May 12, 2024

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