If you read my last post, you’ll have seen how much I hate being told to “follow my passion.”

Today, I’d like to show you how to find your passion.

Well, kind of.

I’m not being a hypocrite, I promise. Let me explain.

Like I said in this rant articulate defence of people who don’t have a passion, when it comes to finding a passion many of us identify with Elizabeth Gilbert’s conception of hummingbirds. We flit around from metaphorical tree to metaphorical tree, sampling a little of this and that, and cross-pollinating the world with ideas that we bring along from one endeavour to the next.

The most famous example of this is Steve Jobs, who dropped out of college but decided to hang around and attend a calligraphy class for no good reason at all. (I mean – calligraphy? Really?) But, a few years later, he managed to draw on those not-exactly-sought-after calligraphy skills when he was designing the typography for the first Apple Macintosh.

He had no idea in advance that the time he spent exploring calligraphy would help him make such a difference later on. (Though I do blame him for inadvertently set us all on the path towards the visually offensive Comic Sans craze of the mid-1990s. Swings and roundabouts, I guess.)

Well flitting around is all well and good, I hear you say in a slightly judgemental tone, but how can we hummingbirds identify what trees to visit on our journey? Where do we devote our attention? Hmmm?

How do we know where to start?

The “find your passion” crowd would point you off in that direction, towards the magical beacon of passion. But what about those of us who don’t have a clue what our passion might be? Are we destined to wander aimlessly through life leaving chance alone to determine where we end up and how we live it?

Hells no!

For those of us who don’t have a Passion sitting front and centre in our brain, who want to feel that sense of purpose but don’t have a pre-determined idea of what will deliver that to us, all is not lost.

Passion doesn’t have to be predestined, it can be cultivated.

Cal Newport, author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You and Deep Work (both great books) doesn’t think that it’s even possible to “discover” passions. He says they can only be cultivated.

Newport described the process of cultivating a passion in an interview with Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus aka The Minimalists as “honing your ability, and then leveraging your value, once good, to shape your working life toward the type of lifestyle that resonates with you.”

Not exactly the most catchy description, I’ll admit.

To put it in other words, cultivating your passion means giving your all to whatever you’re doing at the time, becoming good at it, then applying the expertise you’ve gained in that area to a new adventure. You can design your life to give you the experiences most likely to lead you to a place of satisfaction and contentment.

Let me break it down for you.

Life design is like sailing

(Yes, I actually have been sailing).

You’re out on the open waters, there’s a vast archipelago of islands in front of you and beautiful open sea all around. The “find your passion” crew are sailing beside you.

They’ve already picked their destination. They know exactly which island they’re aiming for.

Yes they still have to deal with high winds and storms, but they can see exactly where they want to be and that keeps them motivated.

The rest of us, let’s call us the Hummingbirds, are looking at the same view and it ALL looks enticing.

Maybe we want to land on the big, foliage-covered island.

Or maybe that small one with the golden beaches.

There’s one with monkeys swinging from the trees, that looks delightful.

pick me monkey

Then again, why do we need to end up on land at all? Maybe we could be eternally fulfilled by sailing around the open sea, where each day brings us a new horizon.

Not being able to choose a destination can stress us out. Especially when the Find Your Passion crew are waving their megaphones about and yelling at us to just pick a damn island and go for it.

But we don’t have to live by their rules.

We can start off by going to the small island. Enjoy those golden beaches and learn to fish. Maybe after a while we move to the big island.

Perhaps we’ll meet some other people living inside the forest on the big island, who have never ventured out to the sea. Our time spent on the small island might mean that we can help solve their problem of seasonal food shortages by teaching them how to fish.

Change their lives for the better.

And maybe they teach us how to forage and survive inland. At this point, we’ll have worked out whether we prefer fishing or foraging.

That’s a valuable a new piece of information we can use in deciding what to do next, in charting our next destination.

Can you see how awesome this can be?

We’re constantly growing, learning more about ourselves, identifying the best of our skills and focusing in on them more for the next move.

Perhaps along the way we find something that ignites us, motivating us enough to stay and go deeper. To cultivate a passion. But in the meantime we’re giving our all to whatever we’re focused on right now.

And that is how we can build a lifestyle that we love.

A benefit of this approach is that, unlike our Find Your Passion friends and colleagues, we’re very unlikely to experience the crushing disappointment of finally achieving our “dream job” or “passion” only to realise that we don’t like it after all.

That is, to have spent a decade fighting stormy seas to get to that tropical island, only to realise once there that we are prone to really bad sunburn and should have picked somewhere with more shade.

We’re constantly testing ourselves, and using that feedback to help know ourselves better and hone our skills as we go.


Imaginary reader: You never actually answered the question – where do we start?

Me: Yes. Sorry. I’m easily distracted.


The bad news is it’s not possible to “think” yourself into unearthing a passion. The only way to cultivate passion is by taking action and testing things out experientially. But the good news is that if you’re in need of some help identifying the very first step, these “thinking” exercises can help you work out in which direction to start exploring.

How to find your passion when you don’t have a passion

Time required: 45 mins to an hour

Don’t rush this, take it step by step and really take the time to download everything from your brain. The more you can poke about in your memories and pick out the good bits, the more effective this exercise will be in pointing you towards the first step of your journey to a fulfilling and (dare I say it) passionate life.

1. Start by completing the Perfect Day exercise

If you haven’t done this already, you can read all about how to imagine your perfect day by clicking the link. If you’ve done it already, just read over what you wrote and take a few moments to imagine yourself living that life.

Did you talk about work? What were you doing? What were the key elements of your perfect day? Write down your insights on a new page.

2. Jump in your (metaphorical) time machine

Think back to your childhood. What kind of things did you love doing? What got you most excited? Write them down on your insights page.

3. Jot down out a few of your favourite things

What sparks your curiosity now? If you had all the money in the world and didn’t have the burden of needing to earn enough to live in comfort, how would you fill your days? Jot down your answers, or draw pictures, or use whatever method works best for you.

4. Find the best bits of your previous jobs

Now write out a list of all the jobs you’ve ever held. Underneath each heading, write down the parts you most enjoyed about each experience. Maybe it was an element of the job itself, maybe it was the type of people you got to work with every day, or the location of your office. Whatever the best parts were of each job, write them down.

5. Connect the dots

Have a look over everything you’ve just written. Are there any commonalities? If you’re a visual thinker, start drawing lines between elements in which you see a connection.

Maybe you can connect a childhood love of climbing trees with your adult interest in hiking and adventure holidays. Perhaps your favourite part of one job was the site visits, or the amount of time spent outside the office. These could all indicate that you should start exploring ways to bring more outdoor time into your life. Review the list of your favourite experiences, and draw out the common themes.

6. Get cracking!

Have you identified a consistent theme amongst the things you most enjoy doing? Even if there’s something that just popped up once or twice it’s worth exploring. This step asks you to TAKE SOME ACTION!

Take the time today to schedule a class, or an activity, or something that lets you experience one of those interests. Then do the same next week. And the week after. Make exploring your interests part of your everyday life, and track how it makes you feel.

Congratulations! You’ve now taken the first step on a path to cultivating your passion.

Did you discover any unexpected connections in the exercises above? Share them in comments below.

Recommended reading:

So Good They Can’t Ignore You – Cal Newport

Another disbeliever in the old “follow your passion” cliche, Cal Newport writes about why focusing on what you’re good at is the best way to find rewarding work.

Click to read more reviews on Amazon

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