Are you at a career crossroads? Feeling like it’s time for a change to a career that lights you up, but not quite sure what that is or how to get there?
In this two-part article, I want to explore a different way of thinking about pursuing your passion, one that both clarifies your focus and expands the possibilities for finding that perfect-fit career.
First, I want to define passion. Everybody and their dog seems to talk about passion these days, so let me get really specific with what I mean when I talk about it. Here’s my definition:
Passion = The energy you get from bringing more of YOU into what you do.
Simple as that. Passion is the energy that comes from doing the kinds of things, in the kinds of ways, toward the kinds of outcomes, etc. that naturally energize you.
“Great,” you might be thinking. “I get it. That makes sense. But how do I bring more of me into what I do?”
It’s not about what you love. It’s why you love it.
Passion, as we’re referring to it here, isn’t about what you love doing. It’s about why you love it.
Let’s say two people both say, “I love travel.” Even though they’re using the exact same words, they might be speaking to completely different languages. Because what goes unsaid is why they love it.
So Joe Bob might love travel because of the exploration, discovery, and sense of newness. Sally Mae, on the other hand, might love it because of the opportunity for planning, logistics, preparation, and on-the-fly problem solving based on that preparation.
The exact same words – I love travel – and two completely different sets of reasons why they love it.
Why is this so important? Let’s say Joe Bob says, “I love travel, so I’ll get a job organizing tours for a travel company!” He thinks it’s his dream job since it’s travel-related, but within a week he wants to jump out the window.
The trouble is not that he’s a malcontent. It’s that the job is more about planning, logistics, and problem-solving (Sally Mae’s sweet spot) than it is about exploration, discovery, and newness.
So if you want to bring more of YOU into what you do, you can’t leave it at the level of what you love. You have to understand why you love it.
Ask what. Then ask why.
To help my clients get greater clarity on what their perfect-fit career looks like, I take them through the following exercise.
1. Make a list of things that have lit you up.
First, make a list of things that have lit you up over the years, work or play. Those might be jobs you had, specific projects you were involved in at work, hobbies, volunteer experiences, classes or subject matter in school, etc. The only requirement is that you have found the things on the list energizing.
2. Ask why. Then ask why again (and again).
From there, pick one item from the list and start asking this simple question. “Why?” Why is it so energizing? Why is it so much fun? Why is it so appealing?”
Typically you will come up with a handful of reasons. Write each of them down (no need to make it a book – a simple laundry list will suffice). Once you have recorded all the reasons that come to mind initially, go back to each of those reasons and do the same thing. Ask why. Why is that so fun, so interesting, so energizing?
As a streamlined example, I love travel. Why? Many reasons, but a big one is that sense of exploration. And what is it about that? One important aspect is the discovery that comes with it. And why is that so energizing? Much of it is about the stimulation of the new.
It might be tempting to explore a level or two down and call it done, but in my experience if you do, you’ll be leaving insights on the table. Challenge yourself to ask why at least four layers down.
One of the services I offer clients is a three-hour session where we spend the entire time doing this reverse engineering of what they love. In that three hours we’ll typically cover maybe three items from their list, but occasionally one item has so much depth to it that it takes up the entire three hours. I share that to illustrate just how much is there if you keep digging.
3. Identify the underlying themes.
As you explore multiple items from the original list you made, you’ll start to see common themes start to emerge. Similar underlying characteristics will keep coming up.
For example, the three things I mentioned in the example of why I love travel – exploration, discovery, and the stimulation of newness – all come up in different ways in things that on the surface look like they have nothing to do with each other (for example, coaching, travel photography, and genealogical research).
All three of those play a huge role in the kinds of situations where I feel most energized and alive.
4. Create your compass.
When you compile all those underlying themes in one place, you create a compass that points the way to where the energy is. Now you have a snapshot of who you are, specifically as it relates to what energizes you. I call this your Passion Core.
Planning for Passion
Now that you have that internal compass, you have a way to consciously, intentionally bring more of YOU into what you do.
The idea is simplicity itself. If a career path is chock full of opportunities to experience those underlying themes that tend to be there when you’re energized, the odds are high that you will find it energizing.
In part 2 of this article, I explore specific ways you can put your Passion Core to use as you plan for passion, including:
• Identifying your best career direction.
• Recognizing opportunities to experience more of what energizes you.
• Evaluating career opportunities.
• Improving your current work experience.
In the meantime, take a crack at the exercise I outlined in this post. In fourteen years of taking people through that exercise, I have never had it not work. Everybody has those underlying themes that are there when they are most energized and alive.
Those underlying themes are there whether you put your finger on them or not. But until you identify what makes you tick, the best you can do is guess a general direction. The ideas I have outlined here help you take the guesswork out of planning for passion so you can feel confident in and inspired by the career direction you choose.
Curt Rosengren says he is “on a mission to change the world from the inside out.” Please visit Curt’s website at CurtRosengren.com to learn more.