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What to Do When You Have No Earthly Idea
What Your Passion Might Be
By Barrie Davenport
I spoke with a coaching client yesterday who is working in a secure and prestigious job that pays well — but he wants out. He has known for a while the work is not soul-satisfying. He’s bored and restless and feels an emptiness inside. He questioned the meaning and purpose of working in a job that creates revenue for an organization with whom he has little emotional or personal connection.
Unfortunately, he feels stuck because as he put it, “I have no earthly idea what my passion might be. I don’t know what else I can do that will make me any happier.”
Reaching a point when you are able to admit to yourself, “I’m not happy, this life is no longer working for me,” is a daunting realization. It’s hard to look at your life — at all of your work and effort and time and energy and hopes and dreams — and to face your emptiness square in its cold, dark, shark-like eye.
It’s painful to say, “I want more. There must be more than this.” Because once you do that, once you acknowledge your deep longing for more, then you are faced with an inner urgency to do something about it. When you finally realize you’re on the wrong path, lost in the woods, you want to change course immediately and run with all your might, with arms spread open, in the right direction.
But what if you don’t know what the right direction is — and you have no inkling what new path to take or where it will lead? You’ve had the guts to face how lost you’ve been, how much you want change, but now to add insult to injury, you have no clue what to do next.
Because once you do that, once you acknowledge your deep longing for more, then you are faced with an inner urgency to do something about it. (It reminds me of the final moments of my wedding reception when we joyfully ran through the crowd of wedding guests throwing showers of rice, only to race into an empty street where no car and driver awaited us. The friend who was to take us to the hotel forgot his assignment, and we were left standing in the street looking ridiculous.)
You do feel ridiculous when this blank wall drops down in front of you. You wonder, “What was I thinking? What a fool I’ve been to hope for more.” So most of us just keep plodding forward on the same old path. What other choice do we have? There are bills to be paid. The children need new shoes.
Maybe we make the small effort here and there to figure it out.
- We read something that inspires us.
- We think about going back to school.
- We calculate the cost of starting over in a new career or launching a business.
- We dream about chucking it all and traveling the world.
But these mental meanderings are so indistinct, overwhelming, and unrealistic. There’s no guaranteed pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and no completely secure path to lead us there.
I have been in this position myself, and it feels awful. You’re longing and longing for something, but you don’t know what it is or how to get there. You have no inking where to begin in order to find out. So you just sink into a puddle of your own frustration and cry.
It would almost be better if that longing just went away. At least then you could go about your uninspired life without the distraction of aching for more. But it won’t go away. And the more you try to push it away or ignore it, the more determined it is to force it’s way out. Sometimes this happens in unpleasant ways, like a depression, a job loss, a midlife crisis, an illness, or a a marriage break-up.
This longing is your life force, the real you, your calling, your purpose, your deepest inner needs and desires pushing and pushing to be released. As Gregg Levoy reminds in my favorite new book, Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life, “By ignoring our passions, we dam up our energies and cut ourselves off from a vigorous source of calls, and rather than demonstrating our passions in the world, we put them in the position of having to demon-strate themselves to us. Passions become needs, and if those needs are not met, they become symptoms of one sort or another.”
He further reminds us of the urgency to heed the siren’s call of our passion by quoting Thomas Moore, a psychotherapist and author of Care of the Soul: How to Add Depth and Meaning to Your Everyday Life, who writes that “repression of the life-force” is the most common reason he sees people in therapy.
I likely don’t need to remind you of all of these things. If you are longing and aching for something more, you know the impact it has had on you and your psyche. You are living your own bleak moments of standing in the street with no car and driver and no destination in sight.
But I would like to offer you some hope. The destination is already inside of you, you are the driver, and the road map is in your possession. Perhaps you haven’t unfolded the map or taken the time to study it. Or maybe you’ve shoved it in a drawer. But it is at your disposal.
Let me speak more plainly. Many of the choices you have made in life thus far have been made unconsciously. You may have thought about them long and hard, measured the pros and cons, worked hard in school or on a career trajectory to get where you are. But have you been consciously following your inner calling? If you had been, you wouldn’t be reading this post right now. You wouldn’t need to. You’d be too busy living passionately.
We make choices unconsciously because we don’t know any better. There isn’t a course in school called, “Live Your Passion 101.” Your parents, doing what parents do, probably encouraged you to follow a practical and financially lucrative path. (I see myself doing this with my own nearly-grown children at times, and I have to check myself.)
Society, the media, your friends, and your co-workers send you messages every day that distract you from what you really want or from even considering it as a possibility.
We are encouraged at nearly every turn to follow the status quo, do what’s “expected”, play it safe, follow the money, and for God’s sake, don’t upset the apple cart. So it’s hardly your fault that you have no idea how to respond to the longing you feel inside.
But . . . you are smart enough to learn how now. And as I mentioned before, everything you need is at your disposal. As Dr. Seuss says so eloquently, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”
For today, right now, I will spin you around three times and set you on the course to figuring out what on Earth your passion might be. Here are some tools to use on your path:
Understand that what you are seeking is inside of you, waiting to be uncovered. It isn’t something outside of you that will land in your lap or fall from the sky. Your passion is part of who you are as an individual. It may be buried under all of your preconceived ideas, limiting beliefs, fears, expectations, and confusion — but it IS there.
It takes time to uncover your passion. And even more time once you find it to figure out a way to make it real in your life. You can’t “dabble” in trying to find it. You have to make a real commitment. It’s called self-work. That’s why people take courses, go to coaches and counselors, take assessments, and generally expend energy to figure themselves out. You can’t do that if you don’t make the time for it. I’m talking at least a couple of hours a week. Can you give yourself that gift of time?
You must be willing to be brutally honest with yourself about how you feel, what isn’t working in your life, the things you fear, the people holding you back, the beliefs that no longer serve you, the lies you’ve been telling yourself. What’s the point of seeking your passion if you are only going to sabotage it with pretense and lies?
Traveling the path to your passion IS taking a step into the unknown. It is taking a risk with no guarantees. If you think there’s a way to make positive change without taking risk, you are wrong. I’m sorry, but that’s the truth of it. Risk is inherent in this process, so you must own it, do your best to minimize it, and have the courage to take the leap of faith when the time comes. Doing thing that scares you is a prerequisite for finding and living your passion. But here’s the good news: rarely do your fears materialize.
Finding your passion is like an archaeology project. You must separate your life into various grids and carefully dig around to see what’s there. You’ll examine what you find, keeping some things and tossing others. You may need to chip through debris and get your hands dirty. You may need to reconstruct some things or reexamine others in a different light. Doing the job properly involves a commitment to it. Finding your passion should BE your passion for the time being. Your commitment and patience will be rewarded with something precious and valuable in the end.
If you feeling the calling and longing for something more but have no idea what on Earth your passion might be, don’t ignore the call or give up after a few attempts. Make finding your passion the most passionate project of your lifetime. Commit yourself to it, heart and soul, with the faith that it is already there, just waiting for you to arrive.