I've been following your blog for quite sometime now and your recent post struck a chord with me. I've found that I have no passion. Instead, I have a passion for the passionate, in the abstract. When I'm working near people who love what they do, can see their grand vision and have a pathway to the future it inspires me. From a chef to a programmer, if I meet a passionate person, I immediately want to be them.
I've made numerous blogs covering different topics. I've started a variety of different groups at university. I've even switched hobbies from martial arts to programming to yoyos. Nothing seems to stick. It seems I need a mentor of sorts to make sure I stay on track otherwise, some voice in my head is "ooh! try this! no no no! try this!"
My main question is, how to continue? How do you know when you should cut your losses or when you're just being a pansy? Help me focus Sebastian!
I know where you're at and I've got a number of thoughts.
First and foremost, did you see Miguel Hernandez's replied? I wrote "Passion Emerges From Action, Not Contemplation," I asked for Miguel's take because he's a sharp guy.
In response, he wrote, "Five Steps That Will Help You Discover Your True Passion" - a really, really good entry. So I'd recommend you read that after you finish this post.
First off, no one is coming to save you.
I heard that line from Nathaniel Branden when I was at a talk of his... it's true. The fact of the matter is, nobody cares about your success as much as you do. Maybe your Mom. Maybe.
But really now, nobody cares about your success as much as you. To work with talented and driven people, you gotta show you belong in that crowd, which means self-starting to some extent. You're unlikely to luck into a random mentor until you start doing interesting and engaging things. Once you do start doing lots of interesting and engaging things, then it becomes a lot easier to meet and connect with people.
I know, what a bitch of a thing, eh? A real chicken and egg problem there. You can't meet interesting people until you're doing interesting things, and it's hard to do interesting things without knowing anyone interesting...
Wait! Well, thankfully, we live in an era with more resources than ever possible for the doing of things without the explicit help of others. I wrote this blog for my little audience of 10 to 40 people for a few months before anyone tuned in and started reading. Those 10 to 40 people were just friends I told, and putting up my blog in my profile of every site I go to online.
I remember, a day when 11 people read the blog was a pretty good day when I first started.
And I reckon a lot of success is like that... you move forwards without an external blessing or reward for quite a long time, you work hard for nothing in return, and then you break through and become more successful. As soon as you're starting to succeed and take off, then people reach out to you and want to help you, work with you, collaborate with you, etc.
So the first thing I have to say is - no one's coming to save you. You'll have mentors, colleagues, collaborators, people who want to hire you after you produce some good stuff, not before. That's the bad news, there's no magical solution or someone coming to save you. You're going to have to pick up the torch and scratch and claw forwards with it for a while before someone else takes it from you and helps you run the relay.
Second, neurosis here doesn't help, so let go of the neurosis. You don't know what you're doing right now. That's okay. You don't say for sure, but you mention university and not work, so maybe you're in your early 20's? I think most people in their early 20's don't know what they're doing.
That said, if you panic about it, it becomes a problem. Panic and general neurosis and bad feelings make you tense up, cramp up, block you creatively.
Oftentimes there's advantages to bad feelings, but not here. Clear the decks a little. Spend time in nature, exercise, do some breathing, listen to good classical music or rock music, eat healthy, get enough sleep, take vitamins, maybe do some martial arts or yoga or something. This is not an area where being in a panic is going to help, so get out of a panic or any bad feelings. Do the stuff that we know helps with calmness and breaking neurosis - nature, breathing, exercise, eating right, etc, etc, etc. That'll help.
Third - A lot of effortless passion you see is a bullshit illusion. Or rather, it's sprezzatura. A lot of it's bullshit. Really. Maybe most of it's bullshit.
I wrote about it in "Sprezzatura vs. Scratching and Clawing Forwards" -
“Sprezzatura” is an Italian word that means “to hide conscious effort and appear to accomplish difficult actions with casual nonchalance.”
Most successful people become aware of sprezzatura sooner or later, because most important works on creativity and accomplishment mention it at some point or other. When you go to give a speech, the people listening don’t want to know that you practiced it for 10 hours, tested many different combinations of phrasing and words, and so on.
You want to be light, breezy, casual, as if wisdom just flows naturally from you, and now you’re having a casual dialog over coffee or tea with the audience, and it just happens to be amazing…
The problem with this, of course, is that it can mean people seeing your speech (or painting, or writing, or business proposal, or whatever) don’t realize that the same thing is doable by them. As Derek [Sivers] writes -
“But when you find out they’re amazing only because of unglamorous persistent sweaty hard work, you can be double-inspired, thinking, “Wow! I could do that!”
You wrote, "From a chef to a programmer, if I meet a passionate person, I immediately want to be them."
See, I think a lot of what you're seeing is sprezzatura... which is kind of an illusion in some ways.
Producing isn't always enjoyable, especially while it's happening.
Afterwards, it's a tremendous joy, but oftentimes it sucks, especially when you're having a hard time connecting the dots. For instance, I like reading history, but writing up and analyzing history can often be stressful... my recent Sengoku Japanese history article wasn't actually enjoyable to work on while I was doing it. Normally I can write fast, but that one took me 4-5 sessions over the course of a week to do.
There's lots of details, little nitty-gritty type stuff... what to leave in? What to cut? What level of abstraction to write on?
Reading history is pleasurable... after writing that article I was really proud of it (even though it's not one of my best pieces) and felt really good... but while I was in the middle of working at it, it wasn't fun.
You probably don't see that with the passionate programmer or chef. You don't see the time that sucks. You don't see the pizza crust that you mixed wrong and it turned into disgusting pizza soup. You don't see the frustrating debugging.
When you hear someone speak at a conference, or tell you about their favorite project, or serve a beautiful dish in front of you... you're seeing them at their peak. A lot of success sucks. You see the sprezzatura. You see the concert, not the setting up the stage. Not the practicing until your hands hurt. Not the cleanup of the filthy area afterwards. Not the time touring in little nightclubs where nobody is actually watching you play, and nobody cares, and you're kind of low and tired and strung out but gotta go play to a crowd of nine people anyways and make it good.
It's hard to feel passionate about it when it's like that, and it's often like that. To be successful, you kinda sorta have to claim that you loved it the whole time, but y'know what? It's bullshit, man. I know lots of creative people doing interesting stuff. They like their line of work as a whole, but there's times it sucks, everything sucks sometimes. I'm working on some (paid) writing stuff right now, and I just couldn't get anything to work for like 3 days in a row. Sitting in a cafe, staring at the word processor. Dude, that sucks. I'd start writing, and it wouldn't be good. I'd move to a different cafe. Starbucks. An Arabic restaurant. A cool dark lounge type place playing 80's music. Back to Starbucks. McDonalds at 1 in the morning when nothing else is open. Nothing's coming. Fucking writing.
And then... the heavens part, and inspiration returns, and I'm writing well. Whoa, that's cool. Okay, well, I want to be successful eh? I better pretend it was always easy and a pleasure, because that's how the game is played. Whee yaaay I'm so passssssionatteeeeeeee....
No, it's true, I am. But don't be fooled. The light easy breezy passion is kind of an illusion. When you tour a horse ranch, you don't see the years the rancher was working as a lowly ranch hand shoveling shit. You don't see the time a big storm hit he wasn't prepared for, and then he's riding around in the rain fixing stuff even though he's got a cold. You don't see that. But it's true. Practically nobody feels passionate during those times, you just suck it up and keep going anyways.
Fourth - bouncing around from different things is normal and fine. At the same time, I'd recommend you look to build things you're certain are going to be useful, kind of universally valuable skills.
I wrote about this in, "Don’t know what you’re doing with your life?"
When I was younger, I knew I didn’t want a normal life, but I didn’t know what I did want.
I thought about it, and I decided I’d start building skills, resources, experiences, and mobility. I figured that I’d eventually figure out what I wanted, and then older me would be happy that younger me got cash and skills and resources and contacts.
There’s not so much detail in your email for me to give precise advice, but I think all of the following are useful to more or less extent:
*Starting to study and develop your own ethical system
*Making good friends, advisors, and mentors who are strong and decent people
*Learning universally useful skills
*A few credentials
*Putting money in the bank
*Getting your credit up
*Studying history to learn what’s possible
*Establishing good habits that’ll carry you through life
*Becoming very fit and healthy
*Learning how to think
…and so on.
Okay, you don't know what you're passionate about. That's normal. Nobody's coming to save you. Neurosis doesn't help, so break the neurosis by doing neurosis-breaking stuff, like nature, exercise, breathing, sleep enough but not too much, etc.
Now realize, a lot of effortless passion is bullshit. You don't see the ranch-hand shoveling shit, but he does. He also saves all his money when his buddies are out eating a steak or drinking, because he's got his eyes on buying his own ranch later. He suffers, suffers, suffers... and then breaks through.
But what are you suffering for? You don't know yet. Well, I do recommend you read Miguel's post on the topic which is excellent, but in the meantime, I'd start building skills that are going to be useful when you do discover what juices you up.
It's totally normal and not a bad thing to not know what you're doing. Just, start building anyways, with the expectation you'll figure it out. You will figure it out. And once you figure it out, you'll be happy you build the skills and resources and connected with good people and did good things.
Finally, an exercise that might be worthwhile - I would go to a cafe a lot with a blank paper notebook, a pen, and I'd order a black coffee. I'd get my coffee and I'd write at the top of the page, "What do I want?" I'd underline that, and then sit and drink coffee, stare at the page, and write everything I want, no holds barred, not examining, not judging, just writing.
Most of the time it would be similar type stuff, but occasionally I'd have a breakthrough realizing what I'd want. Sometimes nothing would come of it. But it was a good exercise overall... I'd say for every 10 times I did this, I'd make one breakthrough. I mean, that's 10+ hours though! I'm not claiming it's easy, just that it was worthwhile for me. Paper notebook, pen, coffee. Nice atmosphere conducive to thinking. Nothing else for distraction - no computer, no phone, no internet. Maybe a book, but usually not. "What do I want?" Underline it. Start scribbling notes on the page.
That worked for me. Would it work for you? Dunno. But I got a lot of mileage out of it. Might be worth trying.
1. No one's coming to save you. You've got to scratch and claw forwards the first part of the journey.
2. Bad feelings and tension aren't going to help solve this, so do the stuff that you know clears those out. Nature, exercise, breathing, etc.
3. A lot of "effortless passion" you see is kinda an illusion. There's a component of working-through-suck in being successful at almost anything, but most successful people kind of mask that.
4. Bouncing around is normal. In the process of bouncing around, try to pick up skills, assets, resources, connections, habits, experiences that you think are likely to make you successful later.
5. I got quite a bit of mileage of going to a cafe, ordering a coffee, and writing at the top of the page, "What do I want?" Frequently nothing interesting would happen, but whenever I'd do it 10-20 times, I'd get 1-2 epiphanies out of it.
One frustrating thing about finding your passion is that it's never just around the corner. If you realize that you "have no passion" or wouldn't consider any of your major activities your passion, then you are unlikely to find one in the near future. It takes years to find something and get to the point where you would proudly call something your passion.
This is incredibly frustrating. When I was 20, I wanted to skip all the intermediate steps and jump straight into my passion. Wouldn't it be great if I could avoid all the false starts, the time spent going down paths that wouldn't eventually work out? Who wants to be lost anyway? To some extent, this attitude is a result of positive intentions, like being proactive and responsible. I felt that lots of 20-somethings dallied around or wasted time on frivolous activities. I wanted to get to the good stuff as soon as possible; I wasn't going to be childish and goof off. But you can't skip over that wilderness period where you try things that don't really work out. For one, finding a passion is about finding the right answer and it requires a lot of work gathering information and testing various paths. Also, you don't always get clear answers. Sometimes you find something that you absolutely hate and want nothing to do with (and negative results are as important as positive ones), but other times you have to choose among various paths that all seem mediocre or unclear. Other times you work at something for a year or two without knowing whether its your passion. There is some uncertainty involved and there is no way around this except time and effort.
Another important point is that developing a passion requires investment. I think the word “find” is the absolute wrong way to think about this process. It's not something you stumble upon one day. Perhaps you work at something for a few years and then wake up one morning and realize this is your passion. But you've already been working at it for a long time. It was just unclear whether this was your passion or merely a job. “Develop”is a better word to describe it. For one, it requires a lot of investment. Passion and skill feed off each other. If you are passionate, you are more willing to spend lots of hours practicing or doing the dirty work and so you build skill and experience. This helps you improve and helps you succeed more. As you begin to succeed, your achievements fuel an increase in your passion. You get a taste of victory and want more. And so your passion level increases. As an analogy, suppose you measure passion and skill on a linear scale. For each level that your passion increases, it becomes easier to raise your skill level, and for each level that your skill increases, it becomes easier to raise your passion. There is cut-off, say level 100, where you realize that this is your passion and will proudly tell this to people. If you say you don't have a passion, you are unlikely to be much higher than 10. There is a lot of work to do between level 10 and level 100 and there is no way to skip around this.
Also, passion is an emotional state. It describes your emotional attitude toward an activity. And just like it requires a time investment to get to level 100, it takes emotional investment as well. For one, it takes emotional effort and drive to push yourself up to level 100. There are also lots of failure and rejections along the way. Passion comes from how you deal with these failures; you take pride that you have overcome them and succeeded despite them. There are often leaps of faith you have to go through, moments where you have no idea what is going to happen, good or bad, and just have to trust that if you go through with it, you'll come out ok. All of these build that sense of passion.
I totally agree with the idea that much "effortless success" is an illusion. I have a "dream job" and I often give talks and do interviews and I'm sure it seems like I am having fun all the time because I love talking about my work. But if all I did was talk, I wouldn't be getting anywhere. Every talk comes from hours of boring writing and practice, and most of my time is spent *working*, even though in public I am usually enthusing.
So, I'm lucky to have found my passion and gotten it funded, but I still have to do lots of boring things, fight procrastination and low motivation for certain tasks, and struggle to do what is important rather than what is fun. It is wonderful, but there is nothing effortless about it.
Anyway, it sounds like the original emailer should worry less about passion and hoping to magically be inspired, and instead learn about discipline, focus, and dedication. Much better to learn discipline and give yourself the power to stick to anything than hope that the passion fairy randomly inspires you to do one thing. Like, learning to bond & get along with anyone vs. Waiting for your one true love.
Matt from 30Vanquish left this really good comment on "The Cognitive Costs to Doing Things" - I think he's mostly right on with how he's going with it, but I have a few additional thoughts. Okay, here's Matt -
“Neurosis/fear/etc – Almost all humans are naturally more risk averse than gain-inclined. This seems to have been selected for evolutionarily. We also tend to become afraid far in excess of what we should for certain kinds of activities – especially ones that risk social embarrassment.”
This really hit me. I never thought of it as neurosis but that’s what it really is. I think I’ve made it a life goal to want to minimize this feeling as much as possible. It’s such a huge challenge for me that it’s something that’s worthy to challenge and overcome everyday.
It’s a daily battle because neurosis (especially in the social realm) is like a rubber band. Every time you do something neurosis inducing, it stretches out a metaphorical rubber band out more. That symbolizes how “flexible” you are with this neurosis. It’s like momentum. When you continue to do it, you have more leeway with novel experiences. (It’s not as neurosis inducing after the 10th risky situation in the same day for example.)
One of the most famous pieces of advice in modern day society is follow your passion. It's been championed by individuals such as Steve Jobs in his infamous Stanford Commencement Speech in 2005 (or so it seems).
Modern advice goes something along the lines of this:
"Life is not about the money - it's about finding what you love."
"Do what you love and love what you do."