Not Sure What You're Passionate About? Start Here.
There are so many clichés about following your passion. "If you're passionate about what you do, you'll never work another day." "Follow your passion and the money will come." Etc, etc, etc.
But what happens when you don't even know what the fuck you're passionate about?
I think this happens to a lot of us. We're guided in certain directions throughout school. Oh, you like math? Go be an engineer. For me it was: you're a good writer. Go do Journalism.
And so I did. I went off to University, got a job with the paper, and lived off of Monster energy drinks and No Name ramen noodles. I took a $20 digital recorder to sporting events around Saskatoon and tried to pull stories out of boring interviews. I fucking hated it.
This led me to quitting writing, dropping out of school, getting a job in sales and moving to Toronto. After a decade of feeling lost and misguided, I'm now in a place where I feel like I'm doing the work I'm supposed to be doing. Nothing really feels like work.
And honestly? If I were to break it down, it comes down to one thing:
Do what excites you.
That's it. Excitement is a really consistent feeling. It's easy to identify and recognize. It's easy to follow. It's not about doing what you love. Love isn't enough. Love isn't a feeling, it's a state of mind. I love my fiancé, but some moments I want to be as far away from her as a possible with my phone off and a bottle of scotch. Sometimes she doesn't (gulp)... excite me.
But I know what does. Performing improv excites me. There's never a moment where I'm on stage or doing a scene where I'm not excited. I get giddy and giggly and just fucking enjoy it. The money, or lack thereof, doesn't matter at all. This is where I enjoy spending my time.
In contrast, I also know what doesn't excite me. I don't like theatre. I thought I would, because of how much I enjoyed performing improv, but the idea of memorizing a script and performing monologues is tedious to me. It doesn't make me excited. I feel judged, scripted and robotic.
So I don't do it. As I learn to become a better performer and actor, I've realized that improv is my best vehicle to teach me these skills. If I was forced to do it in traditional theatre, I would quit altogether. I follow the excitement, period.
This same excitement goes towards everything I do: projects I choose to work on (sorry clients), things I write (stuff like this instead of Saskatchewan's water polo team), exercises I do (fuck treadmills - I'll play basketball instead tyvm), and all other activities I choose to fill up my day.
Need help identifying and choosing excitement? Here's what helped me.
1. Ignore should
A lot of our life is directed by what we should be doing. It's not anyone's fault. It's how we've survived as a society. Our parents and teachers tell us what we should be doing, because they want you to be self sustainable and not eating out of a KFC dumpster. The truth is, they're wrong. Should isn't real. You should go to school and get a stable job so you can buy a decent house? Nah. That's not life anymore. Degrees aren't worth what they used to be, and jobs are being eliminated left and right. Your parents don't know shit. Chances are, they're directing you right into a path where you're developing the same skills that robots are being programmed to do. And there you are, perfectly qualified to do a job that doesn't exist, while up to your eyeballs in debt and no idea what it is you're actually passionate about. Fuck should. Find excitement and do that shit, over and over. You'll eventually end up good enough to make a living from it, or broke and fulfilled. But who cares? You'll be dead soon, anyways. Would you rather die living a life of fulfillment or practicality?
Further reading: The Crossroads of Should and Must by Elle Luna
2. LEt yourself feel
This is difficult as hell for me. As an Asian boy from rural Canada, I was never taught how to process emotion. When something sucked, it was more honourable to suck it up and push forward than to cry about it. Along the way, I had forgotten how to cry and was conditioned to just bottle up any feeling that sucked. The problem with this, is when you don't process the bad emotions (like shame, embarrassment, grief and sorrow), you don't fully feel the good emotions either. For me, I've needed ongoing therapy and skill development to learn how to feel emotions again. But it's important. When you're numb to the world, how can you ever find what you're passionate about? Passion is emotion. It's overwhelming excitement, joy, anxiety and fear. You can't have just the good parts. You need to learn how to expose yourself and be vulnerable to access true excitement. I purposely expose myself to uncomfortable emotions, and keep a daily journal and keep track of my feelings throughout the day to give me a chance to process them and not leave them buried.
Further viewing: Brené Brown: The Power of Vulnerability
3. Be a kid again
The biggest tragedy that happens in humanity is that we forget how to play. Playing is a natural thing for children, babies come out of the womb ready to kick their legs and giggle and play. Animals play. Schools have playtime for children, up until a certain age, and then it all goes away. We replace play with responsibility. With practicality. At a certain point, it becomes something silly and trivial, and we look down upon people who are too old to be playing around. But what feeling does playing access? Excitement. Sit at a schoolyard during recess (pro tip: bring an actual kid with you so you don't get arrested) and listen to kids laughing and yelling and joking around. This is what excitement sounds like. Access it again. Open up these feelings. You don't have to play tag on the playground (I advise you not to because, you know, jail), but go and play dodgeball. Do a puzzle. Sing karaoke. Go and be silly and laugh like a kid again, and sooner or later you'll remember what that feels like. Then let that feeling guide you.
Forgotten how to play? If you need help getting comfortable playing again, take a drop in improv class! If you're in Toronto, The Second City does drop-ins three times a week, but even if you're not, look up your local theatres and check out what they offer. Most major cities should have drop-ins. It's a great way to fuck around and be silly in a safe, nonjudgmental environment.
Further reading: Play it Away by Charlie Hoehn
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