When I was a kid, I was naturally horrendous in the arts and music. I once threw a temper tantrum because my mom was trying to get me to practice Hot Crossed Buns on the recorder… for a mere 20 minutes.
Although my artistic career came to an immediate destruction, my mom signed me up for a bunch of sports, and I seemed to immediately carve out my place in life. At least for an 8-year old.
When it came to sports, I had a natural ability to shoot or catch a ball, so they became fun for me.
I still struggle sitting through a play, walking through an art gallery, or attending a concert.
But ask me to binge watch ESPN 30 For 30’s, play pick up basketball for four hours, or go to a minor league baseball game, and I’m all in.
Some would say sports are my passion. For a long time I said that too. That’s exactly what I want to talk about today: following your passion.
The more I played, the better I got. The better I got, the more fun it became. The more fun it became, the more passionate I became, particularly about basketball.
There were many mornings were I’d be up hours before school to work on my ball handling or running morning games up at the gym.
Basketball was my passion.
Then came college. I developed more of an interest in girls and beer pong than Mikan drills and jump shots. I was burnt out and needed a break from year-round hoops, so I decided not to play college basketball (when I say college basketball I’m talking Division III out in Seguin, TX not Chapel Hill, North Carolina).
I made a conscious choice to no longer “follow my passion.”
Throughout college and even after I struggled to “find my passion” again. I couldn’t find anything I loved as much as playing ball.
It was discouraging and depressing. I felt lost.
Although the advice to “follow your passion” or “do what you love” is well intentioned, and I do think it is ultimately the best advice, I think we have the formula wrong. We need to rethink the follow your passion advice. Here’s how –
Part I: Try Some Stuff
In his (incredible) newly-released book, Ego is the Enemy, Ryan Holiday defines passion as, “unbridled enthusiasm… that burning unquenchable desire to start or achieve some vague, ambitious, distant goal.”
When we see passion in this light, many of us come up empty when we ask ourselves, “what am I passionate about?”
In this light, passion seems like it’s some magical, spiritual force that touches our soul. But when we can’t find it, it’s depressing.
But that’s not how it works. Passion is something that is cultivated with some work and effort. We don’t just see attractive people and fall magically in love. We talk, we flirt, we tease, we create tension, and only then does it smack us in the face that we’re passionate about him or her.
I didn’t play basketball at first because it was my passion. I played it because my mom signed me up. I played it because I had a natural inclination to hitting a mean crossover and a smooth fifteen-footer (a lost art if you ask me).
So rather than going on a never-ending search for that intense, “unbridled enthusiasm,” just do more shit. Try things, take classes, go out with different people, travel, be exposed to different things. Make it a habit of trying things. Once you do, you’ll discover something interesting..
Part II: Get Some Mad Skills, Man.
I hated art because I sucked at it. I did a self portrait in high school that looked more like Osama Bin Laden than Danny Coleman.
I was the only person to get a “C” in Home Economics because I sewed such a crooked line on my quillow (half quilt-half pillow. I know. So dumb.).
But my nervous system was pre-programmed for juke moves and jump shots. I was naturally good at it, so it was fun. Research around passion shows that we’re more likely to be drawn to things were good at. Duh.
When we try of bunch of stuff, we’ll be naturally inclined towards some things. That’s great. When we start to develop these interests, we’ll continue to practice and invest time into an activity. The more we practice, the better we get. Again, the better we get, the more fun it becomes.
Many books on high performance say that “mastery” is a prerequisite for passion. I’m not quite sure what mastery looks like, but I’m definitely a believer that skills can help create passion. Playing to our strengths is fun. It’s fulfilling.
That’s why it’s important to stick with things you’re good at. You may not be passionate about it… at first, but that’s why this next part is important.
Part III: Time
Now you’ve tried a bunch of new things, and developed some interests and skills; both of which are essential to creating a fulfilling passion.
Now comes the third element of creating your passion.
Psychology research shows that when people spend more time doing something, they are more likely to say they’re passionate about it.
Why wouldn’t they? Their brains are screaming, “Shit bro, you’ve been doing this for 15 years. You must be passionate about it. Why else would you waste 15 years of your valuable life?”
Warren Buffet spent hours upon hours reading Moody’s Manuals. Kobe would do a practice session before and after practice. John Wooden set out to be an English teacher, but ended up spending 40-some-years coaching basketball.
Lil Wayne just started rapping because it was seen as cool and the girls at school liked it. Twelve studio albums and like a kajillion mixtapes later, we can safely say he’s passionate about rap.
Again, passion is not this magical, spiritual thing, it’s cultivated with practice and time. But this shouldn’t be discouraging. It should be exciting.
Part IV: Choose Your Passion
When you shit on the magic element of finding your passion, like I’m doing, people may get discouraged. That shouldn’t be the case. If anything, it should be empowering.
I think people should do what they love. I think we should do what we’re passionate about. It’s the first time in human history that was are not pre-destined to be a merchant, a hunter, or a peasant for life. We can, and should, do what we want.
I love what Harvard President Drew Faust said in 2008,
“You are worried because you want to have both a meaningful and successful life. If you don’t try to do what you love — whether it is painting or biology or finance; if you don’t pursue what you think will be most meaningful, you will regret it. Life is long. There is always time for Plan B. But don’t begin with it… Find work you love. It is hard to be happy if you spend more than half your waking hours doing something you don’t.”
So absolutely do what your passionate about. It’s just that now we don’t have to wait around watching Suits until our passion slaps us in the face. We can choose what we’re passionate about.
I read in one of my favorite books, Be Excellenet at Anything that, “Many researchers now believe that regardless of your inborn talent, you can achieve excellence in almost any domain through single minded focus and practice”
This is a beautiful thing. We can choose anything we want to be passionate about. We just have to stop seeing it as magic. We have to start working at it like anything else that gives us value and meaning in life.
Part V: Recap: The Formula For Passion
So don’t “follow your passion.” Set out to create it. I don’t think we should search internally or wait on it to come to us. We should manifest it. We should choose what we want to be passionate about, and then set fire to working towards it.
Years after I’ve stopped lacing up the Nike’s and stepped off the court, I would say I’m passionate about writing and business. In school, English was my worst subject. I once had a teacher grade my paper and tell me “that wasn’t very good.” I hated writing. It took me 2 weeks to write a 2-page (double spaced) paper. Now I write 1500 words with my morning coffee.
I started writing because I thought it could make me money while I slept. But over time, I got better at it. People began to encourage me to write more (like this psychic). I’ve invested 5 years of my life. And now I’m making the conscious choice to write a book, and create captivating sales letters and marketing campaigns for products that will truly help people live better lives.
I encourage you to do the same. No more waiting on passion. Go create it yourself. Be the magical, spiritual force that passion comes from. Here’s a recap of how:
- Try stuff
- Follow Your Inclination or Interest
- Practice Practice Practice
- Be patient.
Now get to creating.