(Hint: You probably won’t find the answer by doing a Google search.)
A lot is made these days about “finding your passion.” We tell college graduates and those early in their career: know your purpose, focus your career around your passion, and you’re going to have the best life ever! Sounds simple, right? Yeah—not so much. Finding your passion is not something that you can just casually look up online and have the answer pop up in your search results. It takes a surprising amount of work—and the result is not always what you’d expect. Very often, your passion arrives by way of an unpredictable career path.
One of the most frequent comments that I receive when I meet new people is, “Wow, you’re so incredibly passionate about what you do,”—and yet, I started my career in the airline industry. Not because I was passionate about aircraft types, fuselage, or the smell of jet fuel, but because I wanted a job that would fly me beyond my tiny little island nation. I was fired up about the idea of exploring and seeing the world, and in order to do that, I had to work my ass off to get the opportunity to travel. So I spent months doing what would probably be considered menial tasks: writing response letters to complaining customers, answering the phones for pissed-off travelers struggling to redeem frequent flyer awards, filling out excruciatingly detailed log sheets to support the information systems team… I could go on and on. But even though none of it sounds like something a person could get passionate about, with time it all added together to build great understanding and context and, eventually, a really deep interest in the business. And in my experience, “interest” is the gateway drug to passion.
Conversely, I began to develop a passion for the pursuit of human potential in my long lonely hours training for my first marathon—it had absolutely nothing to do with my actual “career.” I am not a petite person—I was never built to run—and I hated running all through my teen years. That damn marathon, all five hours of it—including the puking on the side of the road afterwards—was really hard. But the feeling of achievement afterwards was like nothing I had experienced before. I had broken my own boundaries and taken my performance to a level I didn’t realize I was capable of. Here was a feeling, I realized suddenly, that could and should be experienced by everyone, and I became irresistibly drawn to opportunities and businesses that were helping people get more out of themselves.
In stark contrast, back in my 20s, when I spent two years working in the video game industry—an industry that made products in which I had zero interest – no amount of hard work would spark my fire the way it had been sparked in the airline business and sports businesses. There was no higher order purpose that I could personally fall in love with.
Just when I was trying to make sense of this for Extreme YOU, the book I have been writing this year, I had the great pleasure of meeting a young PhD student from Columbia University named Jon Jachimowicz. Through his studies of the history and meaning of the word passion, Jon revealed that in some cultures, “passion” literally translates to words that have more to do with suffering and enduring adversity than the joy and love that we typically associate it with in Western culture. Jon’s fascinating work has helped me understand the truth that I’ve lived. While I absolutely love the work that I get to do these days – and have done for pretty much all of my career—a huge amount of my career path has been grueling and enormously difficult. I can see now that those experiences are intertwined with passion, that they are, in fact, exactly what helped to form the passion I feel.
I’ve recently finished the brilliant new book out by psychologist Angela Duckworth called Grit It’s a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the power of passion and perseverance as the most awesome enablers of greatness. Angela’s extensive research proves, among other things, how someone like me, with relatively few natural “talents” early in my life, was able to go on and have a successful business career—because I had a huge amount of perseverance that contributed to my own personal interests and turned them into areas of deep passion.
In today’s world of instant gratification, it seems that we are moving away from being a culture that builds and inspires passion. Managers and leaders are constantly being told to accept that it’s normal for employees, especially young people, to “job hop” as a rite of passage in building their careers. But when I reflect on the practice, it seems that the very same people that are being told to “find” their passion by job hopping are inadvertently denying themselves the ability to make their passion develop. This passion comes from going deep and putting in boatloads of work to discover it. So if you’re thinking of quitting a job because the work is too grueling, maybe it’s time to think again. You might be on the path to your career-defining passion—only you just don’t know it yet!