There is so much talk about discovering your passion, following your bliss and living a life that you love. Hearing messages like these over and over, we can't help but to take a look at our own lives and to perhaps find them lacking. We wonder how we can live a life of purpose and meaning, how we can follow our bliss. Then we begin to wonder. What is my bliss? Do I have a passion? Did I ever?
As children, we effortlessly filled our free time with those things that we found fascinating, engaging and energizing. We followed our bliss without giving it a second thought. But by the time we reach adulthood, many of us have given in to so many of the shoulds and oughts of life that we have completely lost touch with our inner natures. We no longer know what brings us joy. We are left scratching our heads when we're asked what we would do if we could do anything, if money were no object.
And why should we bother to try? Is it even realistic to assume that we can live lives full of purpose and meaning? Or is it just some new age psychobabble?
I think that it is realistic to believe that we can live lives that are personally meaningful. It just takes some effort to rediscover what it is that each one of us finds meaningful and then to center our lives around it. It might not be the easiest process, but there are good reasons to put forth the effort. Research shows that people who see their work as a calling and a source of joy or meaning are healthier, happier and more satisfied in life than are people whose work is simply a job or career.
The problem is that many of us have no idea how to get back in touch with our dreams and our desires. We feel cut off from our true selves and confused as to how to reconnect. But, as with so many things in life, we will likely find that it isn't as hard as we thought it would be once we get started. It's just knowing how and where to begin...that's the hard part.
But never fear...my passion is sharing what I've learned with others to make their lives and the world a better place. So I'm going to point you I the right direction and get you started. But it is up to you to do the work!
4 Steps to Finding and Following Your Passion
Recognize Your Strengths
Most of us are very good at describing our weaknesses and we all feel that uncovering and improving upon these weaknesses is the path to success. But the field of positive psychology is finding that true success comes from recognizing and using your strengths and working around your weaknesses.
So how do you know what your strength are? There are three good ways to find out. First, go to and take the VIA-IS Signature Strengths survey. The survey takes a little bit of time, but it is a great tool for uncovering all of your strengths and highlighting your top five. It is these top five strengths that you want to make use of. The more often you use these strengths, the more successful and happy you will be.
Second, draw upon memories of times when you felt you were fully engaged and passionately involved in an activity or project. Re-live what you were doing and how you felt. Talk it over with a close friend and try to identify what strengths this activity might have engaged. Were you exhibiting perseverance, curiosity, analytical abilities, interpersonal skills?
Third, ask other people what they see as your strengths. Talk to three or more close friends or relatives and ask them what they see as your strengths or talents. What do they feel you are particularly good at? What types of things would they come to you for help with?
The best thing is to employ all three of these strategies to uncovering your strengths and then see where the results overlap. Strengths are seen in activities that you do easily and well so identifying them is key to success and fulfillment.
Remove the Obstacles
There are two types of obstacles that we all face that get between us and what we really want out of life. We face internal obstacles, such as self-defeating patterns of thoughts and behaviors, and external obstacles, such as negative or demanding people or engagement in activities that don't suit us or that we feel obligated to perform.
Re-tracing your history and identifying patterns of behavior that have not led to success in the past can help you to uncover the behaviors that are not working for you. Taking the time to find what thoughts and negative self-talk might be underlying these past poor choices can allow you to break free of old patterns. Do you believe that if you aren't the best that it's not worth pursuing? Do you feel that you just don't have any real talent? Do you start things and then lose steam and leave them unfinished? Do you think too much and fail to translate thoughts to action? Unless you are very introspective, this task might be best undertaken with the help of a coach, counselor or therapist.
External obstacles come in when we are surrounded by people who do not share our values or who poke holes in our dreams. They also show up when we take on unfulfilling or unpleasant tasks or duties because we aren't assertive enough to say no. While there will always be chores in life that we can't discard, we need to minimize the impact of distracting and unfulfilling activities on our lives. Learn to say no (see my prior post on How to Become More Assertive) to activities that aren't meaningful to you and distance yourself from people who are negative or defeating.
Rediscover Your Values
Engaging in activities and setting goals that are congruent with your values are essential if you want to be successful and fulfilled. But values are not always something that we are clear on. Clarifying your values is a necessary precursor to setting goals that are in line with them. One way you can bring your values to light is by contemplating your daily activities and asking which of them bring you joy, contentment, peace or a sense of purpose and which bring your down or make you feel pressured or irritable. Focus on the ones that make you feel positive...what values do they reflect? Another way that you can identify your values is by looking at historical or spiritual figures...or anyone that you might consider a role model. What characteristics or achievements of theirs do you admire or want to emulate? These characteristics or achievements are indicators that point toward specific values that you hold.
Redesign Your Life
Set new goals for yourself...goals that are consistent with your values and that make use of your strengths. Make sure that your goals are realistic, specific, and positive. You always want to frame your goals as what you do want, not as what you are trying to get away from and to make them measurable. How will you know when you have achieved that goal? By when do you want to achieve it?
You also want to think about what you need to achieve those goals. Will you need more training, help from other people, a loan? Build these things into your planning process. And remember, breaking any goal down into smaller tasks is always a good thing. One step at a time will help to keep you from becoming overwhelmed and discouraged.
Building a life that is centered around your strengths and values takes time and patience. It isn't something that you can accomplish overnight, but with patience and perseverance, you can have a life that is filled with purpose and meaning. Now you know where to start. The rest is up to you. Good luck!