Ten years ago, and I was sitting in seemingly endless meetings listening to my colleagues throwing around phrases like “paradigm shifts,” “moving the needle” and “pain points” without even the slightest hint of irony.
Were they all faking it, or did they really care about the arbitrary milestones some bloke wrote on a whiteboard six months earlier? And if they did care, what were they on and where could I get some?
Why couldn’t I too get excited about kicking the value needle? Or whatever.
I felt stuck on a corporate treadmill, dragging myself out of bed each day to do work that felt ultimately pointless to me, and then escaping my soulless misery with gin and shopping.
I desperately wanted a passion. I intuitively knew that people with a purpose were happier. And research published just last week in the Journal of Health Psychology found that they also exercise more, eat more vegetables, sleep better and even floss their teeth more diligently.
But I was convinced I was one of those unlucky people born sans the passion gene. An abyss of pin-striped, unfulfilled monotony stretched out ahead of me.
And that was my mistake.
Like many people, I had assumed that passion and purpose was something that you were either born with or struck like lightning. The reality is that, as with most things worth having, it takes focus and effort.
Psychologist and author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth, argues that, for most people, passion and purpose is something they have to cultivate.
“First comes interest … Next comes the capacity to practice,” Duckworth writes. “So, after you’ve discovered and developed interest in a particular area, you must devote yourself to the sort of focused, full-hearted, challenge-exceeding-skill practice that leads to mastery.”
Duckworth advises looking for our potential passions by identifying an interest and trying it out. If you still like it, keep going, if you don’t, discard it and move on to your next interest.
This is essentially the advice I was given by my corporate mentor, Caroline Cameron, 10 years ago that helped me climb out of my “thrisis” — my thirty-something crisis. Cameron told me to stop wallowing and start exploring.
“Passion and purpose are often buried under layers of boredom, apathy, others’ expectations, dissatisfaction and stress, anxiety and self-doubt”, says Cameron who is a Master Certified Executive, Career, Leadership Development and Business Coach. “When we get out from under the ‘crud’, we create the freedom to discover what matters most and why we were put on this earth”.
I spent a year exploring different interests and hobbies from meditation to tap dancing and then discovered that my passion was indeed right under my nose.
I’d always loved words. As a kid I used to highlight my favourite phrases in books and over the years I played around with writing countless stories, but I never took it seriously.
I set out to commit to my interest of writing, practiced it regularly and actually finish writing a book. That book was Thirty-something and Over It: What Happens When You Wake Up And Don’t Want To Go To Work. Ever Again which went on to be an international best-seller and kicked off a totally new career as a writer.
While I turned my passion into a career, it is not necessary to marry your passion with your day job. That’s just another myth about passion: that it must be all-consuming.
“Passion can be experienced in moments, regardless of where we are,” says Cameron. “I often ask my clients to think of the times when they’ve been truly fired up about something – the times when you are on your soapbox, going on and on about something. This can reveal your core values. The context, whether work or a social setting, is often irrelevant”.
Depending on what your passion is, it might be too much to expect to do it full time. In some cases the pressure to make a living from your passion can turn it from a source of joy to drudgery.
Cameron believes that finding passion is easier than most people think. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t find it easy at all. In fact, it was a long and frustrating slog, peppered with failure, embarrassment, blisters and long periods of stillness, silence and boredom. But the alternative would have been intolerable.
Kasey Edwards is the author of The Chess Raven Chronicles under the pen name Violet Grace.