I should explain. A couple of years ago a guy who was enduring a mid-twenties life crisis wrote to discuss the cause of his depression: he still hadn’t found his passion. So his life was a big spasm of envy, as in: “Look at all these happy people around me! Their lives have focus and meaning! Why doesn’t mine?”
He was in serious pain, and complicating things was that he’d convinced himself–or had more likely been indoctrinated to believe by Madison Avenue–that finding something to be passionate about required him to spend a lot of money. But he didn’t make much, so he gave up. He literally said, “At $38,000 a year I’ll never have enough money to find my passion, and even if I do, I’ll have to quit my job to follow it.”
This is what I wrote back.
That statement comes across as so hopeless, man, and I’m so sorry. The only hope I can think of to offer is this: if you don’t know what your passion is, why do you think it’ll take money to find it, and why do you think you’d have to quit your job to practice it? Are you really subject to those limitations?
First off, you say you’re looking for IT, for that single thing. But isn’t it true that plenty of people enjoy a plurality of interests rather than one overarching obsession? That they’re passionate about life itself? Think about Richard Feynman, for instance…his first love might’ve been physics, but he strongly enjoyed drumming and drawing and deciphering Mayan hieroglyphics, and perhaps most of all: strip bars.
But if finding that one thing is indeed crucial to your sense of well-being, maybe you’re not sad because you haven’t found your passion…maybe you’re sad because–despite all your searching–your passion hasn’t found you.
And I promise you, my friend, it doesn’t have to work that way.
Passion doesn’t come as a thunderbolt hurled from a clear blue sky; it comes as that faint flash when you touch a doorknob in the dark.
Everybody I know who’s ever found their passion–and this is not a small number of people–started with a basic area of interest or even a bare necessity of life, and worked hard hard hard hard at it until achieving a level of expertise that…well, ever heard the saying, “The better you are at it, the more fun it gets?”
The happiest guy I’ve ever met is my friend John, who once told me, “Dude, when I was young all I wanted to do was spread my DNA1 and be in the woods.” He went to community college for a couple of years, worked as whatever passes for a health insurance claims adjuster for three months, realized he was miserable, quit, and split for art school. Wanted to learn to throw pottery. Graduated and sold some pieces, but not enough to support a family on.
So as an artist/craftsman with no money who lived in a run-down house, he’d take on small renovation projects like painting his kitchen cabinets to look new. Simple stuff, but these projects saved him money and satisfied his need for a creative outlet and spruced the place up.
One weekend John wanted to knock out the wall between his kitchen and living room. A rock climbing buddy of his who ran a construction company offered to come over and help if a case of beer was procured. As they were finishing up, the guy told John that he needed a helper monkey on a job site for a few days. Could Jon use the work? John said sure.
Now skip forward twenty years and John’s a home-renovating juggernaut. Guy can build the Taj Mahal out of empty Pop-Tart wrappers. Doesn’t have to advertise, either. Stays booked up months in advance. He’s the guy who re-did our kitchen—on time, on budget, and much nicer than we expected—and believe me, now we shovel as much work in his direction as we can.
He’s doing what he loves to do, but he developed that love from near zero. He started with a minor pastime that brought him mild enjoyment, but he found that this pastime got more enjoyable the more he worked at it. So he busted his BALLS, and now he’s practically the Buddha.
Is he lucky? I don’t think luck had all that much to do with it. Lucky to be alive in a place and time where such things are possible, maybe. Sure, there were circumstances that came together, but there are ALWAYS circumstances coming together. Like:
One weekend at the Gas-N-Sip you observe an old lady cranking and cranking and cranking her car, but all she gets is the death rattle. You break out the jumper cables and help her on her way. She’s effusive; you feel good. Totally mundane situation.
But when you get home you warm up some pizza and surf the web and from sheer boredom you wonder, hmm, why would her battery have drained like that? You search and find several possible explanations, one being that her alternator is shot.
Turns out from YouTube that changing out an alternator on her model of car is a straightforward process. Well, you think, there’s this ungodly screeching in my engine compartment. You’ve been putting it off because you think it’ll be expensive to have it fixed in a shop.
Which it probably would. But Google tells you it’s your serpentine belt, which YouTube says is a half-hour job and maybe fifty bucks in parts. So you tear into it that weekend, but you drop bolts that roll away into the ether, you have to run out and buy tools you lack, you bust your knuckles open…and in a very short time you’re as frustrated as all hell. You fucking HATE this. What were you thinking?
But two hours later the new belt’s in and there engine’s no longer shrieking and neither are you. There you stand, bloody but satisfied. Damn, man. Look what I accomplished.
You see where this is going?
There wasn’t a thunderbolt; just a faint flash. All that happened was that you gratified a mild intellectual curiosity and applied the knowledge to your own life and enjoyed the results. Didn’t have to spend any money to speak of, either. But now you’re at a new juncture: ignore that pesky check engine light that’s been on forever, or spend a few bucks on a scan tool and try to figure out what’s causing it?
I guarantee you there are things you’re mildly curious about, and even better, there are things you already enjoy doing.2 And I further guarantee you that you can improve at one of them if you’ll just pick it out and get started. And I further further guarantee that if you’re willing to work hard enough at it and endure the pain and frustration, you’ll in time become passionate about it. You’ll end up a Mercedes-certified service technician earning twenty-seven bucks an hour and time-and-a-half on the weekends, and loving it.
In short, you don’t find your passion…you choose it. So take heart, my man, because it’s not as hopeless as you might think. All you have to do to find your passion is stop looking.
- Well, that was essentially what he said, anyway. He’s been known to drop c-bombs at the dinner table.
- Everybody always says, “I’m passionate about video games, but I’ll never make a living off of video games.” Bullshit. Have you ever even once looked up an Xbox 360 schematic?