We talk about passion everywhere– on Facebook walls, in books, in classrooms, in movies, in social settings. Everywhere that I turn to, I always find a rich conversation about why you and I should follow our passions.
Studies show people who identify & follow their passions tend to be happier; far more engaged about life and experience far less stress when they are pursuing their passions, commitments & dreams. Passionate people do a far better job when presenting in public or pitching to investors & board members.
Within the last few years, I asked three of my colleagues (Charlie Atkinson – President of HP Canada, Richard Daukant, SAP executive and Ross Pelizzari, President of Avaya) to speak to a group of my students at various universities I work with and talk about passion. Why passion is so important, how to find it and what does it take to pursue it.
All of my speakers were fantastic. All had personal and inspiring stories to share. Both said that if they didn’t follow their dreams, they wouldn’t be where they are now and both offered valuable tips on why and how to follow your passions.
So if passion is so contagious and if we all want to pursue is our life’s purpose, then why is it that most people don’t?
If successful chief innovation officers like Steve Jobs can change their companies, their communities and the world, why isn’t every company investing in their people to inquire about and bring forth their passions?
I believe its because there is something else at play.
As I observed my students reactions and followed up with them in the following days here is what I learned:
1) Following your passions is not part of the education system.
When we grow up, we go to school and learn stuff like Math and English. We then go and get a job. At some point we get old and retire. As someone who teaches at a university and speaks at various conferences, I can say, there is nowhere in the curriculum that is designed for inquiring about your passion and to provide you with tools to learn how to use it.
2) We have collided making money with passion and these are two separate things.
In some households, parents are constantly pushing their kids to become successful. How often have you heard your own parents say something like study hard? Well in some places in the Middle East as an example, engineers or doctors are well-paid positions. If you become a doctor or an engineer you will be wealthy and thus you will be successful and happy. So the household conversation is not about follow your dreams; but, rather follow what we (the parents) think you should do in order for you to be successful and happy.
3) Knowing what you are passionate about is a journey. It’s not a one-time discovery activity.
Let’s face it. We live in a changing world. To know what is your passion requires you to consistently be in an inquiry. It’s a journey. It’s not a get away for the weekend activity and figures it out. When I look at what gets in people’s calendars, I see things like go to work, go to the gym, go hangout with friends; but, inquiring about what you are passionate about is not something that constantly gets into the calendar – often enough.
4) Knowing your passions & pursuing them requires support from community.
And, unfortunately, communities that are not passionate about the things that we are passionate about surround most of us. And, their lack of support often takes away any kind of a passion that we may posses or want to pursue.
5) There are too many distractions hitting you.
Everything from smart phones, social media, increased amount of targeted advertisement are just some of the many distractions that hit us on a daily basis and the human brain is simply not wired to capture, process and then act on so much information.
6) Just like anything, identifying your passions and following it, requires dedication and hard work.
If you are complacent, you are often not looking for what will drive your passions and then do the work required to have your passion expressed on a consistent basis.
When I interview people who are passionate about life, I often find a common trait. They either found their passions by a stroke of luck or some incident / turning point event happened in their life where they asked themselves “is this what life is all about”? My friend Richard Daukant for instance had to (unfortunately) see one of his friends pass away. This was his turning point.
The author of The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution – P. D. Ouspensky says, we get a free ride to a certain level. As human beings we develop to a certain level natuaraly. But, it is up to us to break the shell and to continue our self development. Sadly, this is not what most people take on.
7) You need to understand & have a strong command of emotional keywords.
There are 1,000,000 words in the English language. 3000 are words that describe emotions. Examples include ecstatic, thrilled, and frisky. Most of us don’t have a strong command of the language that describes these emotions. As a result, understanding what drives passion and then being able to describe or replicate it becomes very difficult to do.
In my experience, there are 3 programs/organizations that help individuals create and have a structure to follow their passions. I highly recommend my readers to participate in 1 or more of the organizations below:
- Vipassana meditation: This is a system that Gautama Buddha went through in order to become enlightened. This 10-day meditation retreat in various parts of the world is simply priceless. During the ten days, individuals go through a process called the “Noble Silence” where you are not allowed to talk to anyone. You are removed from any kind of a distraction (email, TV, etc.) and you participate in nature. Often times its where people get to meet themselves for the first time ever.
- Your Life, Your Design by Katie McCarthy & her partner: This is a coaching program where individuals go through an inquiry about their life’s passions and then create a structure to fulfill on it.
- What do I want to be when I grow up by One Million Acts of Innovations: This is a 16 weeks inquiry about an individuals core values, dreams and passions. Participants interact in various groups and slowly start to unfold and realize their passions.