What’s Your Passion?

With the explosion of TED talks and the crowning of Steve Jobs as the ultimate life coach, finding your passion has become some kind of national sport. On campuses around the country, ambitious undergraduates are tearing their hair out to define their own passion, trying to compress their aspirations in life into rigid labels that fit into an elevator pitch. While their efforts are, sadly, almost always fruitless, the rhetorical gymnastics give results that merit their own tumblr.

Here are a few of my favorites:

“I’m passionate about social innovation”

“I’m passionate about leveraging social media to drive systemic change.”

“I’m passionate about building a personal brand.”

I have no idea what those mean, and even less of an idea of what you do when socially innovating is on the calendar. But I do know that if one’s definition of ‘passion’ contains any words regularly on the cover of Fast Company, something needs to be reevaluated.

It was the founder of that magazine, Alan Webber, that launched my own misguided efforts to define my passion.

There were ten of us at the roundtable discussion, all college students in suits who still needed fake IDs. I can’t remember most of what he said — I spent the meeting planning my flight path around the conference table, trying to be the first to shake Alan’s hand and seize his business card. I wanted him as a life mentor.

Right before I was ready to pounce, he offered up a tidbit of wisdom that left my sophomore soul in awe. “I keep an index card by my bed. On one side, I write what gets me up in the morning. On the other side, I write what keeps me up at night. I look at it every day, and if I decide I disagree with it, I tear the thing up and write a new index card.”


With my mind blow and the keys to success, I spent two hours crafting a follow up email thanking him for his insights. Then I got a big marker (so my passion would be visible even if read from the other side of the bed) and poised it over the index card. Nothing came. Disappointed, I left the index card and marker on the side of my bed, so I could seize it when inspiration struck.

It lay there for six months, aggravating me more by the day. How was I going to achieve greatness with no clear mission and an empty notecard?

I have to admit I’m laughing at myself and the immense stress I felt with regards to that card. It was pointless self torture.

I think passion is much too strong of a word for what I was looking for. It has an implication of permanence, of dedication; it means commitment. There’s a notion that when you find it, all of life will become clear, and you have a duty to drop everything else and chase the dream. Undergrads should stay away from it with the same diligence as the phrase “I love you.” Once you say it, you’re held accountable.

Besides, trying to find your calling in life in college is a quixotic quest. Most college students are still dealing with the basics, like getting over their childhood insecurities and worrying about their last fight with their girlfriend. Sheltered campuses also make it difficult to experience the struggle that forges deep conviction.

You cannot will yourself into finding a passion. It doesn’t matter how many times you go to pitch sessions at incubators, social innovation conferences, or just stay up all night smoking weed and debating philosophy with your friends. It doesn’t matter how many meetings you schedule with life mentors at Starbucks. Your passion will not come in a flash of inspiration. If it’s there, it will float to the top when you experience real challenges.

So if you’re rich and privileged enough to actually worry about finding your calling in life, you can chill out now.

Until you do, I have a confession: It’s kind of fun to watch you struggle. TC mark

image – Shutterstock

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  • Elijah Taylor

    There is something about a struggle bringing it out. I’m a writer and I just know it, I always have, this is what I was born to do. And I am so sure because I have faced and overcome such overwhelming obstacles. It feels good to be so centered and definite at jus 24. It even feels good to be behind. Everything feels so much more meaningful now, I’m so much more aware. I was asleep before, dragging my feet across concrete because I had to. Now I pound the pavement with my head held high and people glance at me from their periphery. My presence is starting to be felt.

  • http://www.itmakesmestronger.com/2012/06/what%e2%80%99s-your-passion/ Only L<3Ve @ ItMakesMeStronger.com

    […] Thought Catalog » Life Add a comment […]

  • http://15kmph.tumblr.com domesticflight

    Did an MA in Creative & Media Enterprise; actually repulsed by all this Fast Company Generation Sell zeitgeist..this article summaries it better than me. I can’t take people like this seriously.
    Perhaps I’m unambitious, or anti-ambition.

  • Elijah Taylor

    The real question is, how do I begin? I’m so terrified to start. I have great ideas. They are even fleshed out, and I know where I want to go with them. But I’m terrified. I realize my confidence level has been eroded by several factors from my past, so I try not to be too hard on myself. It just feels like a waste of spiritual and metaphysical fuel. To have some force nagging at you every day, something building up inside of you screaming to be let loose.

  • Drea

    Thank you, I love this. Sometimes, I still feel inadequate because I don’t believe that I have that “passion”, so often described by the big thinkers… but then, I find myself in conversations or reading something brilliant and getting fired up, and you’re right, while we might not be able to pinpoint it, it does find a way of surfacing on its own.

  • http://alanatkins.wordpress.com alanatkins

    Nice article Morgan.
    Some people do have a passion. I am not one of them. I haven’t done too much thinking on the matter, but I think what unifies theses people is that they are troubled and have an intense anger towards one thing, sometimes because of a negative past experience. These people are fighters. They didn’t have to seek out a passion with an index card, they instantly knew it. I’ve worked with these people, and they are often myopic and self righteous-maybe it takes some entitlement and single mindedness to really accomplish something big. For the rest of us, some metacognition about career choice, lifestyle choice, and your “passion” is surely not a complete waste of time, even if, as Morgan said, you probably won’t end up finding one single answer and never having to think again. What is useless is stressing and catastrophizing over not knowing your passion (I am no stranger to this).
    –For me, currently, the passion is life itself.

  • http://twitter.com/iacobtudor Tudor Iacob (@iacobtudor)

    Great insight in here and I think your advice to chill down in finding the passion is very good. You don’t need to search for a passion but you can make a commitment to do whatever it takes to discover that thing you enjoy doing it every single day. I think we need first to discover ourselves and the “passion” will be visible.

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