Discovering what you love most is an adventure in itself.
By Susan Biali Haas M.D.
Almost three decades of my life had passed before I discovered the power of passions. If I hadn’t become severely depressed as an Emergency Medicine resident, desperate to find some other way of earning income, who knows how much longer it would have taken. Luckily I was forced to figure out this piece of life. I can’t imagine myself, my life (and even my income) without the delicious pursuits that my search uncovered.
Discovering and claiming something you love to do has an amazing effect on your entire life. It’s like a tiny perfect raindrop landing on a previously smooth, unremarkable expanse of water. The instant the drop arrives, beautiful waves of ever-enlarging rings flow across the entire surface, spreading out virtually to infinity.
Here’s how you can start your search:
1) Inventory your talents
What are you good at or have a natural aptitude for? Forget about what you’re good at but don’t really like doing much. I’m talking about the things you have a knack for that delight or happily occupy you.
Are there things you like to do that you don’t think you’re that good at, that other people have complimented you on? Perhaps you even dismissed or rejected their enthusiasm.
After much digging and questioning (I am a passion hound) I recently discovered that one of my coaching clients loves taking pictures. She rarely picks up her camera, as she didn’t think she was any good.
I asked her to email me some favorite shots and they were fantastic. She was skeptical at first, but when I convinced her that I knew what I was talking about (I have earned income from my own photography) she could hardly contain her excitement. She finally had “permission” to fully embrace this pastime that she loves so much. Yet when I had asked about her passions in our first session, she had come up empty.
Identifying things you love that you’re good at is a great way to unearth potential passions. Don’t be concerned if what you love isn’t practical or common (I get very excited about the uncommon).
Please note though that you don’t have to be good at something for it to quality as a passion. You don’t have to ever earn a penny of income from it either. Talent can simply be a clue. When it comes to your passions, the only thing that matters is that you enjoy them.
2) Pay attention to who makes you annoyed or jealous
Are there people doing things that are “frivolous” who annoy you? Take a closer look at that annoyance. Is the truth behind your annoyance that you really wish you could live so freely, that you didn’t have so many serious responsibilities and could be as “immature” as they are?
After a lifetime of being an overachieving do-what-everyone-expects-of-me student, when I embarked on my Mexican adventure at 33 I wanted to give myself a break and find time to pursue my freshly discovered passions for writing and dancing. Most people thought I was nuts, but my father got the angriest. He told me I was wasting my life and should let him help me set up my own clinic instead.
He pounded the kitchen table with his fist, shouting “Life isn’t supposed to be fun! When are you going to grow up like the rest of us?”
Thankfully I ignored him, as I did everyone else who tried to discourage me.
A few years later, when it was clear that living, writing and dancing in Mexico was one of the best decisions (and career moves) I ever made, my dad sold his business. And moved to Hawaii. To write his first novel.
I’m convinced he was largely so upset because he wanted to do what I was doing. At the time, I’m quite sure he didn’t know that. But eventually he figured it out!
3) Think of what you loved to do as a child
This is probably the simplest way to unearth what pursuits hold the potential to light up your days. Before the grown-ups get to us with their ideas, most of us know exactly who we are and what would make us happiest.
Were you obsessed with horses? Maybe you should head to a dude ranch for your next vacation.
Loved finger painting or drawing? Sign up for an art class.
Sang at the top of your lungs until people begged you to stop? Think about joining a local choir (or starting your own garage band!)
4) Notice when you lose track of time, or what you hate to stop doing
When I work at the clinic seeing a long line-up of sore throats and knees, I watch the clock all day until I’m finally done. Yet when I have a patient in front of me who is depressed or anxious or newly diagnosed with a condition that would benefit from lifestyle change, I often lose my usual urgency and spend a big chunk of time with them. Not surprisingly, my true passion is life and health coaching, where I have the luxury of time with clients and love spending great swaths of time teaching and encouraging.
I dance flamenco until my legs or body force me to stop. I also love working on my “Health and Happiness Expert” business so much that I have to force myself to stop writing and reading to sleep and eat and play. It’s reverse clock-watching – I get annoyed as time goes by! What a different world.
What would you love to spend hours doing, that you never get enough time to do? That’s a passion, and you probably need to do it more than you are.
5) See your passion hunt as a fun, joyful adventure
In my coaching and speaking work I see people putting pressure on themselves to find their passion. I do believe it’s critically important to discover and engage in things that light you up, but it’s just as important to cultivate an un-serious child-like attitude of play, wonder and adventure.
When you deliberately open yourself to noticing things you might enjoy doing, don’t be afraid of getting it wrong. It’s all an adventure, you’re learning and growing as you go. Happiness research shows that trying new things increases dopamine levels in the brain, contributing to sustained levels of contentment. So try away!
Notice what you love. Notice what makes you feel like a kid. Notice what you long to have more time for.
Make time for these things, whatever you can manage, and watch your life start to change. It’s really magical.