What’s Your Passion? 12 Ways To Figure Out What’s Really Important To You

Image via Unsplash/Morgan Sessions

How do you figure out what you really want to do in life? It’s a deceptively easy question; many people have quick answers but qualify them by saying things like, “But I could never actually do that” or “I’d never make a living” or “I have a lot of other things I want to do… I don’t know.” It can be hard to define the things that we’re truly the most passionate about — often because there’s so much pressure to chase our dreams and find our true passion, but little concrete advice on how to actually get there. If you’re having trouble figuring out what you really want, try one of the following suggestions:

1. If you hate what you’re doing, stop doing it.

Quitting a job, leaving grad school or changing a major are scary prospects, but if you’re unhappy with your current track, there’s not much reason to stay in it. If you know that you want to do something different but are stuck in the same gear, remaining stuck won’t give you the push you need. (Warning: It’s probably a good idea to have another job lined up, or at least some kind of financial safety net, before you go quitting. You can still figure out your passions without putting yourself in debt!)

2. Think like a kid again.

“It’s amazing how disconnected we become to the things that brought us the most joy in favor of what’s practical,” creativity expert and business consultant Rob Levit tells Entrepreneur. He suggests ditching the practicality (at least for a little while) and making a list of all the things enjoyed as a child, then thinking about how those things relate to your life now. You might be able to add them to your adult life in some way and shape your career choices; as Levit says, “Research shows that there is much to be discovered in play, even as adults.”

3. Ask yourself what you would do if you had $10 million.

If money was no object and you never had to work another day in your life, what would you do? Aside from large amounts of beach vacations and Caribbean sailing, how would you spend each day? If there’s something you’d gladly spend every day doing even if you didn’t get paid for it, find a way to make it your reality… and also, hopefully, get paid for it.

4. Figure out which hobbies you enjoy most.

This one is a little obvious, but many people separate their work brain from their hobby brain and tell themselves it’s impossible to combine the two. However, if you really sit down and plan/research, you may be able to find a way to transition a hobby into a career. Author and “happiness guru” Gretchen Rubin tells Fast Company that sometimes, we might not be aware of what engages us until we look at our own activities and behaviors from a “detached, inquisitive perspective.”

“What you spend time doing can also tell you what you should do,” says Rubin. “Because sometimes the things we do without thinking really are things we naturally enjoy or are good at.”

5. Think about the things you fight for the most.

PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel often asks people to tell him “something that’s true that nobody agrees with.” Everyone will have a different answer for this question because everyone believes in different things. What do you argue about with other people the most? What makes you feel passionate? What do you believe to be true?

6. Make a list of people who are doing what you want to be doing.

If you do some research, you’ll likely find dozens of people who are doing the same things you’d like to be doing and have become successful at it. These don’t even have to be people in the same career fields; compile a list of different people doing different things and work through it systematically to see which ones appeal to you the most and which ones sound like they’ve done things on the way to success that you could see yourself doing, too. By emulating successful people, you’ll give yourself a good template for a career change.

7. Pique your curiosity.

Do something that’s not a part of your daily routine. Explore a museum or flip through a picture book; try rock climbing for a day or pick up a piece of paper and draw something. Any activity that draws you out of your normal headspace and gets your creative juices flowing will help spark new ideas and questions that might lead you in a direction you’d never thought of before.

8. Make money a secondary concern.

This is similar to the $10 million question, although a little more realistic. Think about what you would do if money wasn’t a major issue — even if money is a factor, don’t make it your number one concern. As Deena Varshavskaya wrote in Forbes,If the practicality of what you do and how much money you earn are your primary criteria you will instantly limit your options to what’s predictable and getting to do what you love will be tough. On the other hand, if you allow yourself to pursue your curiosity, you will find yourself in the position of power and, eventually, in the position to earn money on your terms.”

9. Figure out what you’re willing to do and then do it.

Are you willing to give something a try on a temporary basis? Do freelance work? Volunteer? Go back to school? Decide what, specifically, you’re willing to do to make a change, and then try all of it.

“To launch ourselves anew, we need to get out of our heads… We need to act,” Herminia Ibarra, a professor at INSEAD, tells Fast Company. Instead of waiting for an epiphany, conduct a series of trials and errors to actually see what you like doing and what you don’t. Ibarra recommends taking temporary assignments, doing advisory work, or taking time off through sabbaticals and extended vacations so you can have enough time to try new things.

10. Determine how you want to describe yourself.

When asked by the New York Times what career advice he gives to business school students, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner replied, “The advice I give them about their career path and realizing their dreams starts with a very simple question. I say: ‘I’m going to ask you a question, and you’re going to have 15 seconds to answer it: Looking back on your career 20, 30 years from now, what do you want to say you’ve accomplished? Go.’”

How would you want to look back on your career 20 or 30 years from now? Think about the things you want to accomplish and the things you want to be remembered for; figure out the shape you want your life to take. In the Times article, Weiner goes on to say that a person can’t realize their goals if they’re not defined, so work on defining your goals, and, by extension, yourself.

11. Take a break from thinking about it.

Relax! Driving yourself crazy trying to figure out your passion will not help you figure out your passion. Do something you actually enjoy and give your brain room to breathe so ideas can occur organically.

12. Define your greatest strength.

Maybe you don’t know what your passions are or how you can translate them to working life. If that’s the case, brainstorm and write down the things that you’re really good at. Having a structured idea of your strengths will help you figure out how to expand upon them — and maybe make you realize that you’re not as strong in other areas and should steer clear of them.