Forget Passion, Be Curious

“Find your passion.”  Sometimes it’s “follow your passion.”  How many times have young people heard this piece of advice?  The “find/follow your passion” mantra is not just for the young.  It’s common advice for dissatisfied or uninspired professionals at any age looking for a better path.

It’s so prevalent because it holds a lot of truth.  We invest huge amounts of time and energy into our jobs.  If you aren’t excited about your work, you are bound to end up unhappy and bitter.  Successful, happy people are the ones who find work that excites and motivates them.  Passion is more important than money.  The world is full of unhappy wealthy people.  It’s hard to find someone who is passionate about their job and unhappy.

But what if you’re just starting out in your career and you don’t know what you’re passionate about?  You don’t have to be young to have this problem.  Perhaps you’re in the middle of your career and feel stuck in a job that bores you.  Regardless of life stage, how does one “follow their passion” if they’re not sure what their passion is?

Some people from a young age develop interests in a particular thing that focus their career aspirations.  Professional athletes come to mind.  But this is true as well for those who pursue more common careers.  Those people are fortunate to have such clarity. 

I was not one of those people.  And from my experience most people aren’t born knowing what their career passions will be.  Typically, it takes a while to “find your passion.”  Telling a people like this to “follow their passion” can be bad advice if they haven’t figured out what that is yet. 

The other thing to keep in mind is that not all passions make for sound career choices.  I love to play golf and read, but those are hobbies, not jobs, for me.  Not everyone who loves to cook should be a chef or open a restaurant.  You need to think carefully before turning your hobby into a career.  You can end up unhappy in your career choice and hating the hobby you once loved.

So how does one go about finding their professional passion?  Well, this may sound strange, but I think Ted Lasso gave us a big clue.

If you haven’t seen or know about Ted Lasso on Apple TV, it’s worth $6 to get Apple TV for a month and watch it.  Ted Lasso is an eternally optimistic, hyper friendly American college football coach from the Midwest who moves to London to coach an English soccer team, a sport he knows nothing about. But Ted does know people and is a master at building winning cultures.

One of my favorite scenes is from the show’s first season.  Ted has challenged Rupert, the arrogant schemer who used to own the team Ted coaches, to a game of darts.  If Ted loses, Rupert gets to set the line-up for the team’s upcoming matches.  At the start of the game, it looks like a hopeless bet.  Rupert is an expert player who carries his own set of darts with him.  But what Rupert didn’t realize is that Ted grew up playing darts every weekend.  Ted stuns Rupert by throwing two triple 20’s and a bullseye to come from behind and win on his last turn.

As he’s schooling Rupert on his final throws, Ted tells a story about why people like Rupert always underestimated him throughout his life.  It took him a while, but eventually Ted found the answer in a quote from Walt Whitman, “Be curious, not judgmental.” Ted realized the people underestimating him were too busy judging him rather than asking questions to get to know him.  They were judgmental rather than curious.  In this case, Rupert was so certain in his assumptions about Ted that he didn’t bother to ask if he ever played darts before.

Be curious is great advice when it comes to finding our passion.  People think of passion as a burning desire and unquenchable hunger.  Those aren’t things that readily come to mind for most people when thinking about making a career choice, at least in the beginning.  It’s hard to go find something that isn’t there.

But it’s not hard to identify the things we are curious about, even if just a little.  Are there articles about certain industries you find yourself reading just because you want to?  Perhaps you bought a biography of a successful businessperson because you were curious to learn their story.  Or maybe you are curious to learn how a product was made.

It doesn’t have to be a strong feeling.  Curiosity is more like a gentle itch.  Scratching that itch to learn more is where passions begin for many people.  I know that’s how it started with me.  The PR agency I worked for years ago had a subscription to BrandWeek.  Over time I realized the articles I was most interested in had to do with sponsorships and promotions.  Eventually I decided to switch from PR to consumer promotions and got a job at an agency that ultimately opened doors for me into larger roles in media and marketing.  Mu curiosity led me to a career I became passion about it.

As I said, there are people who know early on what they want to do with their lives.  That’s wonderful.  But if you’re one of the many not blessed with such insight, my advice is to ignore the “find your passion” advice, at least in the beginning.  Rather take a page from Ted Lasso and be curious.  Identify the things you have questions about.  This path is far less daunting and ultimately will lead you to the work you were meant to do.

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