Until recently I’ve never really been asked, expected or felt like I needed to search for my true passion. I was always praised for my natural intellect and believed that would carry me through life. Well, I’m 24 and so far my life hasn’t panned out how I expected it to when I was in school. And I’ve come to the realisation that while I got good grades throughout my schooling, I never really learnt anything, least of all about myself.
I think my journey of discovery began when I started university. And now I’m at the point where I am aware of my strengths, weaknesses, values, passions, goals and failures, and I’ve spent a lot of time reading articles and watching videos, focused on finding your purpose in life and following your dreams. I believe that this introspection has made me aware of the components of living a purposeful life. So I’m writing this now as a way to condense the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the last few years. To help others continue or redirect themselves down the right path and as a reminder to myself if I think I’ve lost my way.
At this point in my life, academically, I’m a failure. Although I’ve always performed well in tests, I have yet to finish a course of study I’ve started. I dropped out of high school several months before graduation, gave up on a tourism course half way through, I failed a subject while on a Study Abroad which has delayed my graduation from university for a year, and I’ve just recently applied to change my major quite drastically. In her talk “Failure to Find Passion,” Cass Phillipps discusses failure as an inevitable part of finding your passion. She also speaks about her own aversion to failure, which I definitely recognised in my own life. My aversion to failure basically manifests itself in not trying or giving up before I can fail, or more specifically before I become a failure (which isn’t even a thing). Phillipps mentions George Leonard’s book “Mastery.” She and I both identify as a “Dabbler,” described by as someone who loves the ritual of learning a new thing, starting with great amounts of enthusiasm but eventually plateauing and moving onto something else to start the process again. More than just loving the ritual of starting a new project, I start to lose interest when I can’t see the drastic results I imagined or experienced in the beginning. My motivation wanes and I rationalise that this mustn’t be my true passion. But I believe the biggest contributing factor to my fear of failure, is that failure hurts. It sometimes hurts physically, but it always hurts my pride and that is really hard to overcome. Especially as you get older and your failures have a bigger consequences.
But I have recently realised that the passion that leads to success isn’t tied to an end goal. It was a point that James Clear made that resonated with me as I drifted off to sleep the other night, in an article on Thought Catalog he wrote, “All too often, we think our goals are all about the result.” Clear’s ultimate advice is similar to Leonard’s advice for dabblers, which is to start to enjoying the challenge. So finding success (in any amount) is about learning to love the boredom inherent in the process of acquiring a new skill or finishing a project. This advice has fundamentally changed the way I think about following my dreams.
I know learning to love something is incredibly difficult. So I thought it would be better to select the processes that I already have an inherent passion for. And because finding your passion is not at all a new concept it wasn’t hard to find advice. But looking at this advice was more revolutionary once combined with this new idea of finding a process that I’m passionate about. Emily Warren gave a talk at TEDx Claremont Colleges “The Myth of Self Discovery.” In it she says that we spend too much time trying to find the hidden or missing parts of ourselves that we can’t appreciate the present moment. We are so busy trying to find out who we are supposed to be rather than finding out simply who we are. At the end of her talk she says that the most helpful aspects of finding yourself is to be fully engaged in life, to collect evidence on yourself and to pay attention to who you are and what you’re doing.
Building on this, Scott Dinsmore advised the crowd at TEDx Golden Gate Park, that there were three points on the compass to becoming a self-expert. To be a self-expert you need to understand three principles about yourself.
1. Your experiences. You need to find what you love to do, what keeps your interest, what challenges do you love facing.
2. Your strengths. You need to identify the things that you are good at, the things that people are thankful you do.
3. Your values. You need to understand your decision making hierarchy, what influences your decisions, what would make you jump at an opportunity, what would make you turn it down.
So I’d say that true self discovery involves much introspection to find and critically think about our strengths, weaknesses, passions, values, opinions, actions and experiences, and how they can serve us. (Think about these questions and write down your answers, we’ll come back to them soon.)
But self discovery isn’t useful on it’s own on the path to a purposeful life. You need to make sure that your goals serve others as well. I think most people realise that their best work comes from feeling like they are helping others. As Eunice Hii said, “It doesn’t mean anything to follow our dreams, if it isn’t in the service of others.” I think this is something a lot of people neglect to think about actively. It’s not just that it will make your job fulfilling, but it is what will actually make your job. You can’t get paid for something if no one needs the service you’re providing or wants the product your making.
If we figure out the processes that we are passionate about and how that can serve others, we’ll be well on our way to a purposeful life. This isn’t a hard thing to discover, Adam Leipzig gave a talk entitled “How to know your life purpose in 5 minutes” where he went through five questions to find your purpose in life (and your elevator pitch). Although I think that it will take longer than 5 minutes, I also believe that it only requires three questions. So here is my revised list:
1. What process/es are you passionate about?
(Bonus points for processes that play to your strengths.)
2. What communities can that process serve?
(Bonus points for a cause that you value.)
3. How does what you do change the lives of the people you do it for?
(The answer to this last question is also your elevator pitch.)
So this is where we refer back to becoming a self-expert. If you’ve written down your strengths, experiences and values, it’s easier to answer these questions.
For example, I had research, writing, experiencing cultures and conversation in my experiences. And I had writing, design, organisation and discussion in my strengths. So I might put down researching and writing about cultures as my answer to “What process/es are you passionate about?” I might also put down discussing and writing about cultural anthropology.
The next question “What communities can that process serve?” is a little harder to answer. I had put equality, acceptance, support and sharing, in my values because if all of these things were present in a work environment I’d be ecstatic and even more so if I could create these results in other peoples lives. So some communities that I might like to help are minority cultures, LGBTIQ communities, students, a vast array of sub-culture communities.
Finally, “How does what you (want to) do change the lives of the people you do it for?” This kind of question helps to see where your skills might actually be of benefit to others. By referring to your values you can make sure that your work is rewarding by being congruent with your ideals. So for me I might write out researching and writing about minority cultures in South East Asia could increase funding to the preservation of those cultures and their languages. Or discussing and writing about current sub-cultures in the Western world might bring understanding of that culture to the wider society.
As Leipzig says in his talk when someone asks you what you do for a living consider what would be more interesting to hear and would create a dialogue. Would you rather “I am a researcher”, or “I help to preserve minority cultures in South East Asia.” And instead of saying “I’m a university lecturer”, maybe instigate a conversation about how you bring about understanding of sub-cultures in Australia.
Let me know in the comments what your elevator pitch would be.