GOOD ADVICE ... on figuring out what you love
The first step in fostering a passion: discovery
In last week’s post, I introduced you to Kerstin Krause, who quit her job at age 52 and rearranged her life around motorbiking. Kerstin found a pursuit that gave her new zest for life and the matching energy, as she describes it. But what if you don’t know what you are truly interested in - or could be?
In her book Grit, psychology professor Angela Duckworth (University of Pennsylvania) lays out steps to help you find your passion. But she also warns that it is often not a straightforward process: “Interest discovery can be messy, serendipitous, and inefficient. This is because you can’t really predict with certainty what will capture your attention and what won’t.”
At the very beginning of the process, Duckworth suggests asking yourself a few simple questions:
What do I like to think about?
Where does my mind wander?
What do I really care about?
What matters most to me?
How do I enjoy spending my time?
And, in contrast, what do I find unbearable?
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“If you find it hard to answer these questions, try recalling your teen years, the stage of life at which vocational interests commonly sprout,” Duckworth writes.
As soon as you have even a general direction in mind, you must trigger your nascent interests. This does not happen through introspection but through interactions with the outside world, Duckworth points out: "So don’t sit at home! Go out and do something. Experiment!”
In a way, this early stage of exploration is similar to solving a crossword puzzle, Duckworth suggests and relates rules of thumb taken from the essay “How to Solve the New York Times Crossword Puzzle” by puzzle editor Will Shortz:
Begin with the answers you’re surest of and build from there. However ill-defined your interests, there are some things you know you’d hate doing for a living and some things that seem more promising than others. That’s a start.
Don’t be afraid to guess. Like it or not, there’s a certain amount of trial and error inherent in the process of interest discovery. Unlike the answers to crossword puzzles, there isn’t just one thing you can do that might develop into a passion. There are many. You don’t have to find the “right” one, or even the “best” one—just a direction that feels good. It can also be difficult to know if something will be a good fit until you try it for a while.
Don’t be afraid to erase an answer that isn’t working out. At some point, you may choose to write your top-level goal in indelible ink, but until you know for sure, work in pencil.
Sooner or later, you will develop a good sense of what you enjoy doing - which is good. But of course, this is just the beginning, as Duckworth makes clear:
After discovery comes development. Interests must be triggered again and again and again. Find ways to make that happen. And have patience. The development of interests takes time. Keep asking questions, and let the answers to those questions lead you to more questions. Continue to dig. Seek out other people who share your interests. Sidle up to an encouraging mentor. Over time your role as a learner will become a more active and informed one. Your knowledge and expertise will grow, and along with it your confidence and curiosity to know more.
Do you have a passion you found later in life? Maybe some kind of sport, volunteering, a creative hobby, or a professional pursuit? How did you discover and then develop it? I’d love to hear your story!
See you next week!
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