"How did you find out doormats are your passion?" is a question I am asked frequently when I meet new people.
I will usually reply with a boilerplate about how BTI5 came to be, but the truth is, I always want to explain to people that doormats are not my passion. They are the vehicle that allows me to do what makes me work passionately.
These may seem like unnecessary semantics, but I feel very strongly that people would feel less daunted to find their calling if they realized the difference between the two. Just like the phrasing of the question, "how did you find out doormats are your passion?," I also used to instinctively emphasize the end product more than the process. Now I can see how this line of thinking caused me to be my own biggest roadblock in so many ways. In case any of you are looking for meaningful work, I thought I'd share the 5 main reasons I wasn't finding my passion, in hopes that it may help you find yours.
1. YOU THINK IT NEEDS TO BE ONE OVERARCHING TRADE, CAUSE OR TOPIC
A passion, in all it's cliché glory, suggests that you need to have one thing that you care so deeply about that it will never feel like work again. The problem with this logic is that you can often be disappointed, because all work (meaning something that provides income) will inevitably include a lot of mundanity. Some people are lucky; their topical passion is medicine, law, animals, etc. and they can pursue a relevant career. For the rest of us, selecting one of our fragmented interests across categories isn't enough to power us through 50+ hours a week of redundant tasks, dealing with difficult people, and not being on our own time. I think anyone who has been in the real world would agree that very often, even if the company is amazing and the big picture is meaningful, a passion for a broad category can easily get lost in the day-to-day. After 7 years in the workforce, I'm convinced finding a job you're passionate about is more about identifying small, daily aspects of life that make you want to work passionately and incorporating them into your career the best you can. How can you do this?
2. Forget your dream JOB, what is your dream WORKDAY?
When I was job hunting, a mentor told me to write down a detailed recollection of my best day at work (real or hypothetical) and to notice the common themes that were involved. I found that I do my best work when I have a sense of ownership, when I have open-ended, ambiguous project work, when I interact with 1 or 2 people instead of 20, and when I have an end user (could be a client, customer, or manager) that I really want to make happy. Even though I never found the delivery of market research data to be particularly riveting, I was able to find passion in the process instead of the product by prioritizing these things that made me work enthusiastically. While my current job is the polar opposite content-wise, I still set up my business to be grounded in these exact same characteristics. I would not have told you that being an entrepreneur was my dream job (I still find that title quite intimidating), but it turned out that being an entrepreneur was very much symbiotic with my dream workday. I take great comfort in knowing the things that make me tick are not industry or career specific; it makes me think I could find fulfilling work in a variety of areas. So if you don't know exactly what field excites you, focusing on the process is a great place to start.
3. You're overlooking (or minimizing) what skills you already have
When my two best friends from childhood came to my studio last Spring, they were so amazingly supportive and excited, and I said something along the lines of "Yeah, who knew my calling was painting rugs… so random, right?" They both looked at me confused and assured me it’s the farthest thing from random. In fact, they reminded me that I've been doing this very thing my whole life. They didn't mean painting rugs; they meant the creative use of words, drawing letters, obsessing over my handwriting, and trying to create things that make people laugh. I then thought about how I used to spend my lunch money on gel pens at the school store so I could make people binder covers, or how I'd bail on recess to write a poem for my parents (apparently I've always had a lot of feelings).
Honestly, I hadn't thought much about it in the past 10 years, but somewhere along the way, my genuine love for creative projects got lost between pep rally posters and PowerPoint, and Be There in Five helped me find it again. I see this so clearly in retrospect, but had I realized at the time that there was value in these things I've loved my whole life, I would have dragged my feet a lot less in getting my business off the ground. Rather than being scared of the volatility of something being legitimately 'random,' I should have trusted that deep down, I knew what I was doing.
4. You think passion requires expertise.
I ask myself all the time why I didn't see what my friends saw, and I think it is because I bought into the idea that to pursue a passion professionally, it required expertise. I had always downplayed the things I enjoyed as simply doodling and/or boredom. Since I wasn't a professional artist or designer, I genuinely considered myself void of having any talent worth taking seriously. But I started to see that the additive power of being pretty good at several things is often more impactful than being really great at one thing. Expert or not, you are interested in it - and when there's sincerity and consistency you'll do your best work. Don't think that spending time dabbling in things that feel objectively disjointed is wasteful - whether or not it makes sense at the time, you are building something. There is a great TED talk that touches on this called "Why some of us don't have one true calling" - where Emilie talks about the concept of a "multipotentialite." She discusses how we are complex beings who should have evolving interests and switching tasks can actually lead to more inspired work. And how there's no reason contributing broadly should be seen as any less valuable than mastering something in-depth. Definitely worth a listen.
5. You're spending so much time trying to find yourself that you're neglecting to create yourself.
The problem is inherent to the phrase, finding your passion. This assumes that, time and circumstance willing, you'll come across something so clearly made for you that is better than something you can make yourself. I heard someone say this once and I couldn't agree more; life is not about searching for ourselves, it's about creating ourselves. Unfortunately, the fine line between finding vs. creating isn't easy - you have to have the accountability to own the process, the courage to take risks, and most importantly, you have to put in the effort. You have to acknowledge when to abandon long-term goals that were made out of context and stop using your assumptions or other people's experiences as a proxy for your own. The only way to start the creation process is to stop planning and start doing; give yourself as many experiences as you can and see where it goes. Every job I've had and hobby I've stopped and started has taught me something new about myself that I wouldn't take back. Your career is being created when you're having bad days, when you think you're wasting time, and when you make lateral moves. It's being created even when you have an audience of zero and the work feels the most thankless. It's a balance of trusting the process while also acknowledging that honest effort is what keeps the process in motion.
So stop waiting and start incorporating more of the little things that make you work passionately into your daily life. Make yourself uncomfortable and you'll be amazed at what can happen. And if at some point you find yourself working on something that makes you lose track of time instead of making time stand still, you've already got your answer.