The word “passion” stirs up a lot of emotions.
It has a sexy connotation to it. Sort of like the word “entrepreneur.”
If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you get excited every time you hear about other people doing things they’re passionate about, and you want that same “passion” in your life, too.
The only problem is, you have no idea what your passion is.
What you do know is that whatever you’re doing right now is not your passion.
In this post, I explain the full story behind how I eventually managed to find my passion (hint: I didn’t “find” it) and why “following your passion” is actually terrible advice.
I also share an unconventional thought experiment that has dramaticlly changed my outlook on life, answer the question “how long should you stick with something before you give up on it?” and show you how you can start taking action to create the life you want to live, even if you have no idea what your passion is.
Ready? Let’s begin.
January 4, 2016: The Day I Quit To Pursue My Passion
When I quit my consulting job at the beginning of this year, I told everyone I was leaving to “pursue my passion.”
I put that in quotes because I remember how difficult it was coming up with what to say, but it was actually the truth and it made leaving a whole lot easier.
Everyone was shocked since I had only started working at the firm 6 months earlier (and it was my first job out of college), but at the same time, everyone was overwhelmingly supportive of my decision. It probably would have been another story if I had been leaving to go join another firm, but you can’t really discourage someone from following their passion.
However, I remember telling one of my co-workers about my plans shortly after I handed in my two weeks notice, and after congratulating me, she said something that has stuck with me ever since.
She said, “I wish I knew what my passion was.”
As soon as she said this, I realized something. I realized that just 2 years earlier I had no idea what my passion was either.
So, How Did I Find My Passion?
I’ll get to that in a second, but first, let’s rewind a bit.
I graduated from USC in May 2015 with a degree in Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE). But by my Junior year, I knew that I didn’t want to follow a traditional ISE career path. So, naturally, I went into consulting. Because that’s what everyone does when they don’t know what else to do.
Being a consultant is a respectable job. It wasn’t the highest paying job in the world, but relatively speaking, for a first job out of college, it was pretty damn good. I mean, it was way more money than I needed. I’d never had this much money before, so I had fun with it, spending it frivolously at nice restaurants and bars, always buying one too many drinks, just because I could. But I got over it pretty fast. While it was fun having money to blow, deep down I was miserable.
You see, over the previous 2 years I had been pouring hundreds and hundreds of hours into a blog (this blog) that I created the summer after my sophomore year. I created the blog as a means to document my steps toward self-improvement and in the hopes that what I was learning and sharing would help other people too.
The funny part is that for a long time, I was too scared to even talk about my blog publicly because I was so self-conscious about what people would think of me. It isn’t cool to talk about self-improvement. It’s sort of a taboo topic. Most people hear “self-improvement,” and they instantly roll their eyes.
But after a certain point I stopped caring if people thought I was weird for writing about self-improvement. Actually, now my blog has sort of turned into a filter for me to weed out the people that I don’t want in my life in the first place, and to attract and connect me with the people that I do want in my life.
And what started out as a small personal side project eventually turned into the only thing I really cared about. Through my blog, I’ve been able to reach hundreds of thousands of people all across the world and meet so many amazing people I never would have met otherwise. I even had the opportunity to meet up with one of my subscribers in Germany last summer when I went backpacking trip across Europe! It blows my mind and excites me and energizes me all at the same time.
My blog is the one thing I can spend hours and hours working on without needing to rely on any consequences or external pressures to motivate me. I do it because I enjoy it. That doesn’t mean that it’s always easy to force myself to sit down and write. In fact, most of the time it’s not. Especially while I was still in school, and then even after I graduated and was working 50-60 hour work weeks.
The reason why I’m able to sit here now and tell you that my passion is writing, when 2 years ago I never in my right mind would have said that, is because at this point I’ve invested so much time into it that it became my passion.
So, to answer the question, how did I find my passion?
I didn’t find it. I created it.
At what point exactly did it become my passion? I don’t know.
Honestly, I didn’t even start calling it my passion until pretty recently. Come to think of it, the first time I ever called it my passion was when I decided to quit my job. It wasn’t until then that I finally realized that this wasn’t just a little side project anymore. It was at this point that I finally embraced it as my passion, recognizing that this was the only thing I wanted to do. And that I could do it.
But I’d say it was a growing passion for some time before that. I probably could have started calling it my passion by my senior year of college (a little over a year after I started it). That was when I started taking it more seriously and when a lot more doors started opening up for me.
Anyway, the exact details don’t matter. My point is that I didn’t wake up one day and out of the blue decide to quit my job to pursue my passion of writing.
I will admit that I have always enjoyed writing, but was it always my passion? Definitely not.
If you had asked me what my passion was two years ago, I would have shrugged my shoulders. I had lots of interests, how was I supposed to know what my one true passion was?
The Problem With “Follow Your Passion” Advice
Our society has romanticized this idea of following your passion.
As the saying goes, “Do what you love, and the money will follow.”
But what’s interesting is that if you look at how passionate people–people like Steve Jobs, for example–really got started in their careers, what you find might surprise you. Most of them did not start their careers by simply following their passion.
In the years leading up to his founding of Apple, for example, Steve Jobs was anything but passionate about starting a technology company. Looking at the months leading up to the start of his visionary company, he was nothing more than a conflicted young man. He had dropped out of college, gone to India on a spiritual journey, and then spent some time living at a commune.
There’s no doubt that Steve Jobs was a brilliant man, but one could (and many do) argue that his success was largely due to luck.
Whether his success was a result of luck or intelligence or hard work is beyond the point though. What’s clear from his story is that simply following his passion never would not have gotten him to where he ended up.
And yet, most of us get stuck trying to figure out what our one true passion is, thinking that once we figure out what it is, then we’ll be off to the races.
Not only is “follow your passion” vague and unhelpful, but it’s also extremely misleading– it presumes that we all have a pre-existing passion and it’s just a matter of us finding it.
Sure, there are the lucky few who may have been born with a burning passion to do one thing and one thing only for their entire lives (athletes are probably the most common examples of this), but they’re the anomalies.
How are the rest of us supposed to figure out what our one true passion is? What if we have multiple passions? And what if we put in all this hard work only to realize that we worked hard for the wrong thing?
If you’ve asked yourself these questions, rest assured that you’re not alone.
Most people have no idea what they’re doing with their lives, even the people who look like they know what they’re doing. Trust me, they don’t. No one does.
But, they do know something, that you might not…
It Doesn’t Matter What You Do Right Now, Just Start Doing Something
When I started my blog, I never would have imagined that it would end up changing the course of my life.
My only regret? That I didn’t start sooner.
I first started thinking about starting a blog during my freshman year of college, but I didn’t create Collegetopia until the summer after my sophomore year. It took me two years to finally start this blog.
To give you some context, my first two years of college were some of the best years of my life. It was a very transformational period for me, and I was feeling pretty good about the direction I was taking my life.
You see, I used to be super shy in high school, so going into college I saw an opportunity to start fresh. In the process of learning how to improve my social skills and how to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, I stumbled across a few self-improvement blogs and thus ensued my obsession with becoming the BEST version of myself.
For the first time in my life, I felt like I was in complete control of my life. It felt amazing, and I wanted to share that feeling with other people.
But I was scared.
Like I mentioned before, I was extremely self-conscious about what people would think of me if I started writing about self-improvement. Plus, who would want to listen to what I had to say, anyway? How full of myself did I have to be to think that I actually had something valuable to share with the world? I didn’t want to come across as a know-it-all.
So, for two years I kept putting it off. Until finally one day, I was talking to a friend about my idea. I told him that I wanted to create a blog called “ColledgeLife.” It’d be a blog that gives you an “edge” in college.
My friend told me it was a terrible name, but he told me to go for it anyway.
“What do you have to lose?”
And with that, Collegetopia was born (it’s at least slightly better than “ColledgeLife,” right?).
I was just waiting for someone to give me a little push. I think sometimes that’s all we need.
If that’s you right now, if there’s something you’ve been thinking about starting, or something you’d like to try, but you keep putting it off because you’re just waiting for someone to give you that little push, here it is.
Just fucking do it. You have nothing to lose.
Don’t make the same mistake I made. I could’ve been two years ahead of where I am now.
But there’s no point in dwelling on the past. At least I started, even if it was two years later. And I didn’t just start and then give up on it after a week. I stuck with it. Even when no one was reading it.
For six full months I had no traffic to my website. But I remember reading a statistic somewhere when I was starting out which said that most people who start a blog give up on it within the first 3 months. So, I figured that as long as I didn’t give up, I couldn’t fail.
Finally, six months in, one of my articles exploded on StumbleUpon and within a week I had over 100,000 page views and my first 100 email subscribers.
That was my first lucky break, but lucky breaks don’t happen if you don’t start in the first place. Or if you give up too early.
Which brings up another question I hear a lot.
How Long Should You Stick With Something Before You Give Up On It?
Before I answer this question, first we need to talk about the importance of having a vision.
If you want to start a blog, or a Youtube channel, or a music website, or whatever it is that you want to do, you need to have a vision. Not of what you want your project to become, but of who you want to become (which will naturally also drive what you want the project to become).
You might already have a vague idea of who you want to be in this world, but you need more than a vague idea.
If you don’t have time right now, bookmark this page and come back to it later.
If you do have time, this exercise is about to be the best 5 minute investment of your life. The exercise is called the “Eulogy Exercise” and it goes like this:
- Get out a pen and paper (a word doc or some other electronic note taking app works just as well).
- Imagine you’re at a funeral. You look around, and you see all your friends and family are gathered. Suddenly, you realize you’re at your funeral. One by one, your family, friends, and loved ones go up to the stage to make their eulogy to you. They talk about all the great memories they have of you, the adventurous life you lived, and the wonderful legacy you have left behind. Now, come back to the present, and think about what you really want people to say about you when you’re dead. How do you want to be remembered? How do you want to be described? What kind of a life do you want to have lived?
- Spend 5-10 minutes right now to write everything down. Don’t hold back. (Actually writing it down instead of just thinking about it will make this exercise 100x more powerful! You can see what I want people to say about me when I’m dead here.)
I first did this exercise during my freshman year of college after stumbling across it on Phil Drolet’s blog. It changed my life. Not overnight, but over the next four years I became obsessed with becoming the person that I wanted to be remembered as. It gave me a whole new way to look at my life. I realized that I had nothing to lose and everything to gain by aiming to be nothing but the BEST version of myself.
Whenever I have to make a difficult decision, I simply ask myself, what would the BEST version of myself do? I know it’s corny, but trust me, it works.
Once you know who you want to be in this world, then it’s a whole lot easier to make decisions about how you should be spending your time.
And so, back to the question, “How long should you stick with something before you give up on it?”
As long as it takes.
As long as you feel that it’s still moving you in the direction you want to be headed, then keep going. If it’s no longer moving you closer, or if your vision has changed (and therefore, your direction has changed), then stop.
The key is that you’re constantly learning and improving. If you’re not learning or improving anymore, then it’s time to move on to something else.
This blog, for example, is still continuing to move me closer to where I want to be. It gives me a space to hone my craft of writing, it serves as a form of accountability to practice what I preach, it connects me with other like-minded people, and it provides me with a platform where I can make the biggest impact on the world at this stage in my life. It is not only a means for me to help others to be the best versions of themselves, but also for me to be the best version of myself.
This has been the biggest driving force behind all the positive changes in my life over the last few years, and continues to be to this day. So, as of right now, I don’t plan on giving up on it anytime soon.
Focus On One Step At A Time
You don’t have to be able to see all the steps in between where you are now and where you want to be. But with a vision in mind you’ll at least have a general sense of knowing whether you’re headed in the right direction.
In the beginning, you might take a few missteps, but don’t worry about choosing the “wrong” path. Realize that even if you do take the “wrong” path, you haven’t wasted any time. Because no matter what, you will learn from it and move on. Plus, you’ll be able to leverage whatever skills and experiences you gain from one venture on to the next.
This is how I viewed my blog when I was first starting out. While I’ve secretly always had a grand vision of Collegetopia becoming a huge success, I’ve also always figured that even if it never turned into anything, at least it’d be a good learning experience. If I was able to help other people in the process, awesome! But if not, no biggie. I’d take what I could from it and move on.
One more thing to keep in mind: there isn’t only one path that will take you to where you want to get. There are many.
One route might take you a little bit longer than another, but eventually you will get to where you want to go. That is, if you start taking action. Not tomorrow, but today. Stop making big decisions and focus on closing the gap with where you want to be. With each step you take, your path will become clearer and clearer.
Simply ask yourself, what’s one small action you can take today to start becoming the best version of yourself?
Stop trying to find your passion, and instead, just start following your curiosities and see where that takes you.
The passion will come later.
Image credit: header image
Thanks to Phil Drolet, Ransom Patterson, and Stephen Weiss for their feedback on early drafts of this post.
How To Create Something You’re Passionate About — Even If You Have No Idea What Your Passion Is
Over the last few months, I’ve been working on an online course I plan on launching later this year.
The course is going to be a 30 day program called “Create Your Passion” and it will provide a complete step-by-step process to help you start creating something you’re passionate about (similar to what I have done with this blog), within 30 days.
Before officially launching the course later in the year, I will be opening up a limited number of spots to an early access pilot program for the course in mid-late April. Early access pilot members will get the course for 50% off plus unlimited email support to me during the duration of the program.
If you are interested in being 1 of the 15 pilot members for early access to the course, click here.