Scratch your own itch: Finding your passion begins with curiosity

This article is Part 2 of a 3-part series on finding your passion. If you missed it, go back and read part 1 here.

Photo by Val Vesa on Unsplash

Anybody else out there think that the idea of “finding your passion” feels like an epic quest the likes of which would make King Arthur proud?

I picture a bunch of knights, riding around on horses (like the ones from Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail), following an ancient map, blindly galloping into strange forests, asking anyone they come into contact with:

“Good day sir! Have you heard of the ancient myth known as a passion? You have!? Wonderful! Which direction might it have gone? Out in the cave of eternal wonders, you say? Guarded by a dragon, you say? Dragons are no match for our quest! Onward, brothers and sisters! Let us find our passion!”

… and off they gallop, as fast as they can, towards the next milestone clue to their ultimate destination.

Anyone else picture that? Just me? Huh.

I’ve actually come to much prefer what Elizabeth Gilbert (best-selling author of Eat, Pray, Love, and Big Magic) has to say about it:

“If you don’t have a clear passion and somebody blithely tells you to go follow your passion, I think you have the right to give that person the middle finger.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

Let me tell you a little something about passion:

Passion isn’t a destination; it is the fuel that drives us.

But you have to know where you’re going first. Or you at least need a clue.

So today, I want to share my secret weapon that, hands down, always leads to something that I end up passionately pursuing.

Ok so it’s not so secret. I literally share it with every client I have this conversation with. The trouble is, it’s so simple that most people miss it, or dismiss it entirely, thinking that the process of finding something you’re passionate about should be way more complicated.

I call it…

*drum roll*

following your curiosity.

“That’s it?”, I hear you ask. “How the heck will that make me money?”

Now now, don’t put the horse before the cart just yet (sorry, I still have the knights prancing around in my mind). We’ll address that in part 3 of this series.

Digging a little deeper

Alright, so you’ve had some time to dive into some self-discovery, think about who you are. Maybe you’ve been doing some journaling, some free-writing. Maybe you’ve spent some time pondering the questions that I suggested a few weeks back. Great! Now let’s keep digging.

Take out your notebook again, we’ve got more work to do.

Some of the questions will seem like they fit in the previous category, and that’s fine. We’re still venturing in self-discovery. But you’ll see that the questions we’re now asking will start to get a little more specific.

Here are 6 more questions to help you figure out what you’re passionate about

Now I say 6 more questions here, but I cheated. There are more but I batched some of them together because they all really pointed to one specific piece of the puzzle that you’ll need if you’re going to understand more about who you are and what direction you might want to start going in.

1. Think about the times when you were happiest, or the last time you were so immersed into something that you completely lost track of time. What were you doing?

  • Do you love to solve problems?
  • Do you dive deep into researching something?
  • Do you feel most alive when you are helping or caring for others?
  • Do you feel most at home when it’s just you and your word processor and you can just let your ideas flow?
  • Are you more artistic and feel most joyful when you’re creating something beautiful, or moving to a beautiful piece of music?
  • Do you crave the high of endorphins from running or working out?

Again, it’s ok if you have multiple answers here. Don’t try to analyze or make sense of it just yet. Just jot down whatever comes to mind.

For me, I’ve always got dual answers. On the one hand, I adore my time alone with my thoughts, either diving into learning a new thing, or spending time writing and putting puzzle pieces together. But on the other hand, I also thrive on having one-on-one conversations with people, diving into a fascinating topic, or listening to their stories, and intuitively asking clarifying questions to either help me understand, or help the other person gain new insight.

2. What is important to you? What causes do you feel strongly about?

  • Some people really feel strongly about some of the things that are happening around the world.
  • For you, maybe it’s women’s rights, or environmentally sustainable technologies, access to clean drinking water, the education revolution, animal rescue, political issues, LGBTQ2S rights, mental health, and the list goes on.
  • Is there something going on in the world, in YOUR world, that really speaks to you?

If you’re not sure, try this exercise:

  • Take a moment to close your eyes
  • Think about one topic, cause or issue that kinda sorta makes you pause
  • Then pay attention to whether you feel a reaction in your body
  • Do you feel a tingling sensation in your chest? Maybe a mild heat slowly building up? Maybe something that feels like a buzzing? That’s passion, my friend.

If something inside you wakes up at the thought of a certain topic, even if it stems from the emotion of anger or frustration, don’t be afraid of it. That’s passion.

One caveat though. If your passion manifests in the form of anger, be careful not to get stuck in the emotion of anger itself. Rallies AGAINST something won’t solve the problem. They only serve to amplify the negativity surrounding it. But if you see something wrong in the world that you feel passionate about, start looking for solutions.

Before we move on, I want to make a note here:

Passion is like fire. There isn’t just one degree of it and it won’t always be raging hot.

It’s ok if your passion starts at a low simmer and slowly builds up. I’ve also found that passion has many flavours. Sometimes it tastes like anger, and sometimes it tastes like love. That’s ok too. And that’s why we’re looking at these questions. They’re meant to guide you, but only YOU will know what resonates best with you.

Ok let’s keep going.

3. Who inspires you? Who are your mentors? Who do you admire and look up to? What is it about them that you appreciate so much?

  • It can be someone you know, like a family member, or an Elder in your community
  • It can also be a successful person that you follow like Tony Robbins, Marie Forleo, Jonathan Fields, or Oprah.
  • What is it about them that you admire so much?
  • Often times, the people that attract our attention have inherent qualities that we recognize in ourselves (usually unconsciously).
  • Sometimes they have qualities that we aspire to develop in ourselves.
  • Not everything about this person (or people if you have many) has to resonate with you. That’s part of your learning process. You may follow someone for a time, and then later feel your interest waning. That’s because as you learn and grow, you may find that the guidance of the people you used to follow doesn’t serve you anymore. It’s ok. It’s all part of your evolution.

Again, trust your curiosity. I’ve spent the last 2 years following different people by subscribing to their blogs, newsletters and podcasts. People like Tim Ferriss, Tony Robbins, James Altucher, Gretchen Rubin, Simon Sinek, Jonathan Fields, Leo Babauta, Marie Forleo, Mel Robbins, Seth Godin, Rich Litvin, Danielle Laporte, and so many more.

Some of them I still follow. Others, I listened to for a time, heard what they had to say, but after a while, I noticed that the e-mails or podcast episodes were just accumulating in my feed. At first, I felt bad, but I realized that I felt no desire to “catch up”. So I just deleted the folder. It just didn’t resonate with me anymore – and that’s ok. It’s all part of the process and our growth journey.

Big Secret: A TON of people out there are all spewing the same message. In looking for people to follow & model, look for the ones whose voice resonates with you most.

Often times, it’s not so much about WHAT people are saying, but HOW they are delivering the message that resonates, or not, with you. Many successful people have similar messages. But what makes them unique is the way in which they are transmitting that message. Some people resonate well to the strong, blunt language that people like Tony Robbins, Jen Sincero and Gary Vaynerchuk use. Others might find them too aggressive and prefer to lean more towards heart-centered people like Jonathan Fields, Liz Gilbert and Brené Brown. Still others may appreciate light-hearted, fun-loving voices like that of Fizzle co-founder Chase Reeves or Marie Forleo. It’s ALL good.

Like my mother used to tell us when she put new foods in front of us (which we turned up our noses at), try it first, then you’re allowed to say you don’t like it.

4. If you were told you only have 1 year left to live, what would you do? How would you want to be remembered?

Let’s assume that money wasn’t an issue here, and that your health would be at 100% until the moment you croak.

  • Would you spend that time on experiences like travelling the world?
  • Would you leave everything you have, move to a 3rd world country, and try to contribute as much as you possibly can with the time you had left?
  • Would you spend as much time as possible with the people you love?
  • Would you have conversations you wouldn’t normally have?
  • Would you write that book or make that thing you’ve always dreamed of but put off for years?

There’s this really short but powerful book by an author, who has since become a good friend, called “What’s Your Expiry Date?”. In it, Patrick Mathieu shares how he was born with a heart defect and was told he would be lucky to live into adulthood (I’m happy to report he’s now well into his 40s). Talk about a good reason to take advantage of the time you have left!

5. What do you do better than anyone you know? What are you really good at? What do others always come to you to ask for help?

  • What skills do you have but take for granted?

It might not be something you feel passionate about, but if it’s a useful skill, or even just a creative one – ex. making art out of used electronic parts – it’s definitely worth noting.

6. What types of things draw your curiosity? What topics do you find yourself tumbling down the internet rabbit hole on? What’s your favourite section at the bookstore?

  • We all have something that peeks our curiosity. We all have something we totally geek out on. What is it for you?
  • Think about the last time you spent hours Googling something or watching videos about on YouTube. What was it about? And what was it about this topic, or that person (if you’re watching a specific YouTuber) that fascinates you so much?
  • Here are some examples to get your ideas going: language, culture, travel, people, technology, the cosmos, the environment, systems, science, abstract concepts, design, art, music.
  • Make a note of all of it

Scratch your own itch

Now, because we’re still at the exploratory stage here, don’t worry so much about how all of this is going to make you any money just yet; just keep it light for now. I know you may be feeling a sense of urgency about this but don’t try to go too fast on this. Rushing into something may end up setting you back a few months or even years. Just slow it down and really take your time with this part.

For now, as you go about your day, notice when something makes you pause and go “huh”, and if you don’t have time to dig in, make a note of it in your notebook so you can go research it later.

Maybe it’s something you see, an ad on a bus, or a book at the bookstore. Maybe it’s something that strikes you from a conversation you have with someone else today. Even the slightest inkling of curiosity, it all counts. Just notice it, write it down, and when you have some free time, go explore it.

That’s the itch that you need to scratch. Don’t try to make too much out of it. You’ll probably find that a lot of it doesn’t really lead you anywhere. But what you might not understand is that it’ll be a weeding out process.

Just keep it light, stay curious, and keep exploring. Every day.

And when you find a topic that you realize you want to spend more time exploring, dive deep into it. Consume every piece of information you can get your hands on about it. Allow yourself to get obsessed with it. Read books and blogs about it, watch videos about it, listen to podcasts on the subject.

Don’t necessarily go spend a ton of money on online or in-person courses on that topic just yet. Allow yourself to consume all the free bits of information you can find first. Only when it’s a really strong interest and you’ve been at it for a few months, then consider whether it’s something you feel it’s worth starting to invest in yourself to learn more and start building some skills in that particular topic.

For now, just take your time, keep exploring, have fun with it, and stay curious.

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