How to Identify Your Passions

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During my freshman year in college as a business major, I received the same advice from dozens of successful executives and leaders from companies like Disney and Nike: “Follow your passion, and the money will follow.” 

Hearing various versions of these leaders’ personal success stories, I always felt so fired up and inspired to pursue my passions, determined to impact the world and leave it a better place. The problem was, I had no idea what my passions were. In an attempt to discover them, I involved myself in dozens of different organizations, leadership roles, and classes. However, not only did I spread my time and energy too thin, but I was also left feeling more confused than ever by the time I graduated. I was a jack of all trades, but king of no true passions.

So much has happened during the eight years in between my freshman year at college and where I am today. I have finally started to discover my true passions (fitness, self development & love, nutrition, and general encouragement of others around me) and in fully embracing them, I've felt a sort of empowerment and fulfillment I'd never experienced before.

I hope that if you are still on the path to discovering your passions, 2018 will be your year. Today, I'm sharing the thought processes I personally went through before I could identify my real passions. It took me many years, lots of trial and error, many setbacks, and going back to square one before I got to where I am today, so don't be discouraged if you don't magically find your passions right away. If ever you feel lost or confused, come back to this article, or reach out to me! I believe in you.

Understand what passion is (and is not)
Passion is not something you can force or fake. It is something that moves you, something in which you have strong conviction. The original definition of the word actually means "suffering" (as in "the passion of the Christ" if you are familiar with that phrase). Chasing your passion is never easy, and almost always involves some sort of suffering; we can look to people like Vincent Van Gogh and Kanye West to see this is true for anybody who follows their passion. Now that you have a better sense of what passion is/isn't, ask yourself what you are willing to suffer for.

Pay more attention to the journey, not the destination
One of the biggest stumbling blocks I tripped over time and time again was solely focusing on my end goals. When I was in high school, I thought about college and what I should do in order to get into a top university; when I was in college, I thought about my career and what I should do in order to secure my first full time job; etc. I was never fully present, and never satisfied with what I had at any given moment.

If you focus too much on your end goals, you lose sight of your present self because you're relentlessly chasing your future. You won't find your passions because you won't have the mindset or the time to realize what's important to you now. Think about the aspects of your journey that make the destination worthwhile, and allow yourself to not only enjoy these things, but also to spend more time doing them.

Realize it’s never too late to find a new passion
Passion can't be rushed. There are some life lessons and experiences you will simply have to go through before you are able to understand what you care about, and why, and what you want to do about it. Whether you are young or old or somewhere in between, there is always time for you to explore new things and discover new passions. In my case, I am 25 and only this past year started to realize my passions. In another case, Kimiko Nishimoto, an 89-year-old Japanese woman, started learning photography at the age of 71 and has since not only become an internet sensation for her creative self-portraits, but also been hired by Adobe to be an art director. Clearly, passion can be found and demonstrated no matter what life stage you are in.

Consider your core memories
Think about the life experiences that have strongly impacted you, that you vividly remember and hold onto. These experiences don't have to be exciting or groundbreaking; they just have to stick with you personally. These are the experiences that will more often than not be indicators of your passions.

Ryan and I have recently been finding inspiration in a Netflix series called Chef's Table, which documents the careers, difficulties, and triumphs of celebrated chefs around the world. Each episode focuses on a completely different chef in a different part of the world, and you'd think that there would be few commonalities between such people. However, there are a surprising number of overlaps, the most relevant here being that each chef always traces their passion for cooking back to a (seemingly mundane) personal core memory. For one, it is the experience of eating a pickle wrapped around a french fry; for another, it is the experience of biting into a ripe and juicy tomato. 

It's fascinating to me that such "normal" experiences can completely change the trajectory of an entire person's career and life. But it brings me to this point: passion is always personal. There is always something at the heart of any passion, and it usually comes down to key life experiences.

Think about how you spend your money and free time
Complementary to your core memories or major life experiences are the activities you do in your everyday life. When you are not at school or work, what do you choose to do with your energy, money, and free time? Odds are there are common threads behind these hobbies that are telling of your passions (whether you've realized them yet or not).

For instance, one of my good friends, who is in his third year at medical school, finds himself incredibly busy juggling clinical rotations, endless amounts of medical paperwork, and hundreds of mercurial relationships with patients, peers, and physicians. He has precious limited free time, and yet, with it, he consistently comes back to a few hobbies: fusion style cooking, running, and engaging in witty, pun-laden conversations. For the record, he plans to become a plastic surgeon. All these interests appear to be unrelated, but behind each interest I see a desire to create and make things better, perhaps in an unconventional but always very thoughtful manner. Fusion style cooking requires great understanding of the many different flavors and ingredients involved, and how they can play together; running involves cardio (or heart exercise) so improves both external and internal health; puns are wordplays that bring new meaning or perspective to existing ideas; plastic surgery of course improves aesthetics but quite often it's done to improve functionality (for patients who were involved in accidents, for example).

It may sound far-fetched, but I believe there is a reason for everything. The things you actively choose to do have meaning behind them - you only need to take the time to figure out what exactly that is.

Once you find your passions, stop caring about what other people think and just go for them
Identifying your passion is half the battle. Once you've discovered what drives and motivates you, you have to act on it. This can be an extremely ambiguous, uncertain, and scary task, and it is not without its many challenges. It's easy to question your passions: whether they are the right path for you to follow; whether they will ever come to fruition; what others might say in judgment of them (and you). 

During the most difficult times, remember that passion is suffering. And never forget that if you follow your passion, the money will follow. It's not a question of if, but a matter of when.