What comes first, the action or the passion?
Without a doubt, one of my favorite things to do is to listen to people speak about the things they are passionate about. This is the reason I'm clinically obsessed with TED talks. Perhaps you know how I feel. When the person believes in what they are saying with all of their being, you can see it in their eyes, in their expression, in the way they walk. That sort of euphoric love of something is contagious. I don't even have to like whatever the topic is - it could be biology - and I'll sit on the edge of my seat grinning from ear to ear as I listen to this person go on and on about microbes and slime.
After listening to something this inspiring, have you ever sat in awe, wishing that you had that sort of indescribable, all-consuming passion about something? I know I have. But here's where I've seen a lot of people's thought processes break down: they stop at wishing. After they spend a few minutes fantasizing about sharing that fiery passion for slime, they make the fatal assumption that since they aren't passionate about something now, they not have a passion. Ironically, this assumption isn't necessarily off-base because it's a self-fulfilling prophesy. When you don't feel like you have a passion for anything, you won't live in targeted pursuit of something and therefore will never discover the passion that could be. It's a classic "What came first, the chicken or the egg?" scenario. Our inaction is rooted in a belief that passion comes first - that passion inspires action - when it's precisely the opposite.
Passion is the byproduct of action not the motivator.
How do you think Mr. Microbes decided that he loved bacterium causing disease or fermentation? I'm guessing that it wasn't instinctual from birth. No doubt he had an aptitude or a natural bend toward science that he discovered as he learned a variety of different subjects through highschool. Perhaps then, he narrowed his focus during college and his subsequent years in the workforce. All this time, he continued making decisions to spend time on that which resonated with him - the flame that lit up each time he got near it and reminded him of what he loved. Microbes.
You see, passion is a full-contact sport.
To discover it, you must begin where all good discoveries begin - with a search. Though you may grow up enjoying math or photography, these interests will never mature into passion without intentional action motivated by an insatiable thirst for more. Through the action, you feed your emotional brain and, in turn, love and nurture that interest into passion. In a cyclical fashion, passion demands action to continue fueling the flame. So once you have taken action along a particular path, your momentum is lost when action is shelved and begins gathering dust. Simply put, in order to perpetuate your desires, you must feed them.
I love listening to older generations talk about what they used to love growing up. Some, having given up on such things long ago, recall those experiences with a hopeless regret. Others recall them with fondness and a longing in their eyes. But some - just a handful or so - have continued to do what they love all their life. Sixty year olds building model airplanes. Seventy year olds gardening. Eighty year olds trading stock on Wallstreet. Their action kept the fires of their passion alive and in a beautiful way, continues to keep them alive as well.
So... where to begin? To help give you a nudge in the right direction, here's a few things to keep in mind:
1. What are you curious about?
Sure, you may not have your whole life planned out in a nice little timeline - heck, you may not even know where to start. But surely you're interested in something.
Here's a little experiment for you. For the next 24 hours, take notice of how your time was spent. See what you naturally gravitated toward, what you read, what you watched, what you clicked on, what you picked up, what you listened to. Just be aware of how you react to the millions of stimuli each day. Are you attracted to commercials about fitness? Do you enjoy the subtleties of a beautifully prepared dish of food? Do you find yourself analyzing your shows on Netflix to see what angle and lighting they used in that shot?
These little things will give you a bit of insight into what excites your mind. Follow that.
2. Ask "why?"
Maybe you really enjoy messing around in the garden out back. That's great! Ask yourself why. Is it because you like the physical nature of getting your hands dirty? Is it because you enjoy nurturing the vegetation and seeing its progress? Or maybe you really love the shift toward preparing organic meals and want to try your hand at growing your own food.
Whatever the answer, asking "why?" helps you peel back another layer of you and understand the deeper implications of #1 - your curiosity.
3. Listen to Others
I love talking to people who are passionate about what they do because I know that at some level, they see something incredible in that particular thing that I don't see. I would love to love biology so I listen to people who know about biology and the intricacies of it. People who can enthusiastically convey those rich elements of it to me. Who knows - maybe I'll latch on to something that resonates with me!
Every person brings something unique to the table - background, experiences, faith, knowledge, wisdom etc. Each of the nuances of who they are defines their passion and I enjoy finding out why they love what they love. Give them the chance to show you.
Now, don't be fooled! Passion is not the end game. What you do with it matters just as much, if not more so. But that's another post. Don't wait for your passion to find you by accident. Experiment and experience new things with eyes wide open - for all you know, that slime you stepped in could be your future.