It is all well and good being told to follow your heart and do the work that you love, but not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to immediately grab hold of what that is. Even if you do think you know what your passion is, how do you know that will work in terms of the job you want to do, the career you want to follow, or the business you want to start? As many people know I have a love of cats, I am passionate about the four cats that choose to live with us and although I often joke about opening up a cattery I know in my heart and head that is not really for me.
This made me wonder what might be helpful in terms of helping you seek your passion. What is clear to me is that this is not something you rationally think your way into, passion is about feeling and that means you need to be in touch with more than your thoughts.
So after some self-reflection, a few conversations and some research I have come up with the following exercises, to engage body, mind and soul. They are designed to help you decide if you do want to follow your passion and if you do, exactly what that is. There are six different exercises to help you explore what it is you might want to do whether you are just starting out, changing direction or taking on something completely new.
Exercise One: Working in pairs
Write an answer to each of the following ten questions on a separate sticky note:
- When I lose track of time I am usually doing………
- What I loved doing most when I was a child was………
- If I were to win an award in three years time it would be for………….
- If I could do whatever I wanted for the next week I would………………
- I feel at my most beautiful when……………….
- When I am passionately arguing the case for something it is usually about……………
- If I was in a position to work for free it would be doing……………..
- If I had to teach someone to do something it would be…………..
- My favourite section in the bookshop is……………………..
- If I were to be thanked by someone for doing something it would be………………
Now arrange them in a circle on the wall and starting at the top compare the first two answers. If you could only keep one, which would it, be? Now move on to the next two answers and so on. Each time discard the one you don’t want to keep. You should now be left with five. Try and rank them in order of importance and reflect on what that tells you about what you are passionate about.
You might find it useful to do this exercise twice and leave some time in between to see whether your focus has changed.
Exercise Two: go for a walk, take a boat ride, go horse riding, sit by the sea, visit a museum.
Go somewhere different and do something different. It could be something you like doing but haven’t done for ages. Take yourself completely away from your normal environment. Try and do it for at least half a day and don’t think about work, planning or anything to do with your passion. When you get back from your experience just let your thoughts and feelings bubble up. What did you enjoy? What surprised you? What did it tell you about yourself? What might you have done instead? What will you do next?
Exercise Three: What did you want to do when you grew up?
Sometimes our passion is not something out there just waiting to be found; sometimes it is something within to be remembered. Go back to the earliest point you can remember thinking about what you wanted to do when you were grown up. What made your eyes shine and your head go giddy with imagining. Cast you mind back to the joys you envisaged and what they were. This is an exercise I often use in my workshops because it helps put people in touch with that open enthusiasm and you’d be surprised how often there are still echoes of those early aspirations – after all Frank Lloyd Wright loved playing with building blocks. It may help rekindle a passion that you had either forgotten about or that the practicalities of life have eroded.
As an alternative you don’t have to think back to childhood, you may have had more recent dreams or ideas that you cast aside. Think back to what it was that made you discount them and whether that has since changed.
Exercise Four: Try something different every day
OK, I know that sounds like a lot of effort and time, but they don’t need to be big things. It could be reconnecting with old hobbies, trying a new sport, or reading something you might not usually read. Set your self a time limit, it could be a week, two weeks, or a month, whatever suits you.
Find out which things really engage you, where your strengths are and keep a mental note of those points when you are really lost in what you are doing. It is best if you set a specific end date so you have a defined point to review and see what has emerged.
Exercise Five: Guess who’s coming to dinner!
Imagine yourself throwing a wonderful dinner party where you can invite eight people who have inspired you from any point in history.
Who would you invite and why? What conversations do you imagine you would have together? What might they be passionate about? What do think they might inspire in you? What advice do you think they would give you?
Exercise Six: What are you good at?
Write down a list of thirty things you are good at. Yes, at least thirty. Here are some tips to help you:
- Think about when you get excited doing certain things
- Ask friends or colleagues for ideas
- Include everything, don’t limit yourself to your work life
- Recall those things you do differently to other people, or the things others often ask you to do
When you write them down try and name them as creatively as possible, don’t just go with the usual words they tend to be overused anyway – it could be things like: cat herder, detective, treasure finder, storyteller, comfort blanket and so on. I leave it to your imagination.
What is your sentence?
Now you have given the exercises a go, see if you can come up with a single sentence, I don’t mean your elevator pitch or anything like that. Just a simple sentence that distils your passion to its essence.
(Determining a single sentence is attributed to Clare Booth Luce who asked it of John F. Kennedy in 1962. She was concerned that Kennedy might be in danger of trying to do too much, and told him “a great man is one sentence.”)