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A Better Question to Passion and Purpose

Self-professed gurus have written books about "finding" or "figuring out" passion and purpose, often through deep introspective means.

These questions are hard to answer. (Even if you are a deeply reflective person.)

Reason #1: It creates psychological stress for us because It invokes aspects of cognitive dissonance, where we struggle with inconsistent attitudes and beliefs. Saying you are passionate about something implies that other things are 'less' of a passion, even though they may be important parts of our identity. For example, am I passionate about helping elderly people solve their computer problems? No, but I still regularly serve as the tech consultant for my parents and for the alumni club where I volunteer. If I focused only on passion, I might not opt to do things that are extremely helpful to others.

Reason #2: We live in a world filled with too many choices. Passion invokes strong arousal and emotional states. I imagine that it feels something like inspiration. Where you feel amazed and positive. However, such feelings are short-lived. What can feel like passion today, can be neutral tomorrow. That's because our brains crave novelty. Given the world we live in today and its endless deluge of awe-inspiring stories, we can constantly jump from one 'passion' to another, in search of that strong inspiration.

Reason #3: Passion and purpose are misunderstood. People often interchange passion and purpose. When you hear passion and purpose, does it make you think like you have to find a 'calling'? as if there there is ONE thing you were meant to do on this planet, in this life? and if you don't find it, you won't find success? That's a load of poo.

Rather than searching for your passion and purpose, start where you are. Especially if you're someone who has already completed college or mid-career or later.

We often have the need to 'start over from scratch' because we feel like we made 'bad' decisions. We see examples of people sitting on beaches, professing that they are self-made millionaires working 4 hours a week. Because of that, we compare ourselves to that false image. And we feel like we have to throw everything away and start over - go to a software development bootcamp, get an MBA or other graduate degree, etc.

Because we want to start over from scratch, we don't know where to begin. We start thinking about 'passion' and 'purpose', which are deeply philosophical, existential questions. I've been there - it's not helpful. We turn to resources which try to provide us with a roadmap to 'discovering' these very challenging questions.

If you're feeling stuck or feel like the resources you've used so far have not been helpful, try this: Look at your physical bookshelf and analyze what kinds of books you own. One simple exercise is to "tag" your books based on its topic. If you're not a book reader, look around your home and find a substitute. (Maybe you have paintings, etc)

Why physical? We have a deeper connection and attachment to physical objects. For books, I've made a conscious decision to keep them, although they take up space in my home. And I add more to my collection even when I have access to digital books. There is something sacred about books that makes us what to preserve them. Because deep down, they represent a moment of deep connection with an idea.

If I look at my bookshelf today, you might see the following tags:

  • leadership

  • user experience design

  • creativity

  • difficult conversations

  • innovation

  • operating a consulting/freelance business

Now you have a starting point. (There are other ways to figure out your starting point. In the future, I'll write about taking a holistic assessment of your current state and defining your areas of activity.)

Using these tags, you can formulate a next step to keep moving forward. You see, at some point, these things inspired you! and you're still hanging onto them! In some ways, isn't that indicative of an interest worth pursuing and developing further?

In a future post, I'll write about what to do once you've created "tags" for your books (or the appropriate artifact for your life). In the meantime, feel free to share your tags in the comments below!


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