“I don’t know what my passion is,” “I tried my passion, and turns out I don’t really like it,” “Maybe I don’t have a passion,” “I’m just a boring person.” If you connect with one or more of these phrases, don’t worry – you’re in good company. Many people who visit my office express one of these concerns during the course of counseling.
Passion. What does that word mean really? When I ask people to define it for me, most people stumble a bit and tend to use emotions to initially describe it: “It’s the thing that excites you,” “It’s the thing that makes you feel good about yourself when you do it.” Then, people tend to shift into using descriptors related to identity: “It’s the thing that makes it worth getting out of bed in the morning,” “It’s the thing you were designed to do your whole life,” and sometimes, “It’s what God made you to do.”
Though these descriptors aren’t necessarily way off base, I think there’s a dangerous slippery slope to the way we’ve defined passion in Western culture. In fact, it reminds me of a mistake we make about a lot of things in our culture. It’s this idea I like to call “The One” mentality.
What is “The One” mentality?
We most easily see this mentality when we talk about dating relationships. Most of us have heard a friend describe their dating experience using this language: “Yeah, he’s a great guy, but I don’t think he’s the one.” Why do we do this? The idea of finding “The One” is romanticized because it has an element of destiny to it.
I must admit, at first glance I really like the idea of destiny. I’ve been married to my lovely husband for several years now. If it were true that we were destined to be together since before we were born then I wouldn’t have to date or explore what men were out there. I could have passively waited for the day that my destiny arrived. Then we could get married ASAP and bask in the joy of knowing we both found “The One.”
Ok wait a minute, most people don’t buy into this way of seeing things. I can almost hear you replying to me, “Yes, the one is out there, but you have to actively go and look for the person.”
Okay, fair point. So you look around your work or church for dating options, you join the dating apps, and you may “get out there” going to bars. Now there are literally millions of dating potentials available to you and you are tasked with weeding out all the people who are not “The One” so you can find the needle in the haystack that has been your destiny all along.
Sound more familiar? This is the common story I hear in my office. It’s exhausting. And then, if by some stroke of luck you find your soulmate and marry them, knowing you found “The One” can foster a passive mindset where we believe we don’t have to work on our relationship because we found the person we were destined to be with. Often years pass before a couple realizes they’ve been neglecting their relationship and have a great amount of hurt they need to heal from in order to continue in their relationship.
Someday I’ll write a post about romantic relationships. My point is, I don’t buy into “The One” mentality because it tends to be destructive. It fosters passivity, which can then teeter-totter into anxiously seeking out the one until we are exhausted. I see it all the time.
So when we apply “The One” mentality to finding our passion, we do the same thing. Add on the fact that most of us don’t really know the proper definition of “passion” and we have a recipe that will send us on a lifelong merry-go-round ride looking for our passion and never finding it.
Technically, “passion” is defined as an emotional state after all. Merriam-Webster defines “passion” as “(1) emotion…(2) passions plural: the emotions as distinguished from reason.” However, we have modified how we use this word in our culture and we are no longer referring to irrational expressions of intense emotion when we ask someone, “So what are you passionate about?” I think what we really mean when we ask this is, “What is it about what you do that gives your life meaning?”
How to Find Your Passion
I’d like to offer some changes to how we look at finding our passion. First, I’d like to make it plural: we are on a lifelong journey of finding our passions. We are multifaceted people with nuanced preferences, joys, and gifts. Each individual has many passions, not just one. And what a lovely thing! We don’t have to be trapped in a box for the rest of our lives once we discover a single passion. Life is a hopscotch game of touching on a variety of passions and sometimes combining a few of them together at once. So there, we’ve already debunked “The One” mentality for passions.
Secondly, I’d like to propose that you are likely already engaging with some of your passions in your day-to-day life, though you may be feeling frustrated if you’re not satisfied with how you’re living them out (or not). Here’s where our emotions come back into play: what if it’s possible that our emotions are a symptom of our passionate nature?
Passion and Emotions
Imagine this: you meet up with a friend you haven’t caught up with in awhile. You are catching up on each others’ lives when your friend lets you know that he and his wife are in the midst of getting divorced. At this turn of events you notice that you feel something – maybe anger, sadness, compassion, curiosity. These emotions are a sign that you are a passionate person. At closer look, they may point to a passion you have to care for your friends, or a passion you have to keep marriages together.
Do you ever find yourself talking back to the TV or radio – maybe during a presidential debate or during the news? Check to see if you’re feeling any emotions in those moments. You’re probably expressing your passion about something.
Or maybe you find yourself feeling irked about a recent announcement at work. What are those emotions? Is there something you’re passionate about beneath that?
If you’re wanting to identify your passions, start with noticing those places in life when you feel something – anything really. You may wish to write them down and over time track any patterns or similarities. You could even have a friend take a look to see if there are any patterns or passions they see.
If however you find yourself not relating to the idea of experiencing emotions during your day-to-day life, this may be a sign of something deeper or more significant going on. I encourage you to talk to a trusted person in your life about that, and consider seeking a local therapist for counseling.
I suspect there will be more blog posts about passion in the future. As it turns out, one of my passions is helping people find out what they’re passionate about.