Part of the challenge of identifying your passions is that they can be anything. People struggle with this.
Here’s a hint: your passion isn’t a topic like “English” or “Geneaology” nor is it a hobby like “Cricket” or “Basket-weaving.” These are manifestations of your passions but not passions themselves. Passions are drivers — they are the consistent threads that tie together all of the activities that we get satisfaction from doing. The challenge is honing in on what your passionactually is.
Enter Timothy Butler and James Waldroop, two smart guys with glasses that have done the leg-work for the rest of us to narrow down passions into 8 general categories.
From an article entitled “Job Sculpting: The Art of Retaining Your Best People” that came out in ’99, they identified 8 “long-held, emotionally driven passions that derive from personality and influence the kinds of activities that make you happy.” They call them “embedded life interests” and believe they can be used to determine “fit” in a job. They’re heavy on nerdspeak, so bear with me. I attempted to translate them into human-speak:
The biggest rub you’ll feel in your career will come if your passions are misaligned with the expectations of your work. Which of the 8 speak to you? Are you passionate about one or two but your job has you doing others?
Those seven words have driven me for the past decade. I never knew the answer in high school. I thought for sure it I would figure it out in college but I didn’t. Maybe when I hit the real world it would become clear. But it never did.
I only figured it out when I did three things:
1. I stopped moving long enough to ask myself where I was going.
2. I started searching — really looking — for something that was different than the path I was on.
3. I got clear about who I was. Not who I was as in a tall, goofy sports fan who loves basketball, his family, and bacon (not in that order). I mean really who I am, as in what I really care about, what I do best, where I most thrive, and why I do what I do. That last one is key.
I recently read a quote in “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl that hit me to the core:
“This uniqueness and singleness which distinguishes each individual and gives a meaning to his existence has a bearing on creative work as much as it does on human love. When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude. A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the ‘why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any ‘how.'”
If I know the “why” for my existence, I can bear almost any other thing. So I stopped long enough to figure it out. Here is is:
I exist to show people the best in who they are and how to actualize their potential.
Values are at the core of every decision we make. They are the driving force behind why we choose to do what we do. Let me give you an example.
I love my job. But what I really love is the actual nature of the work. I love teaching, facilitating, coaching, training, speaking, developing curriculum, researching leadership content, and writing. I get to do these activities every day and they release a ton of energy. However, if I were to be aiming or deploying these activities in an environment that did not align with my values, I wouldn’t feel the same energy.
When I aim them at education, a field that emphasizes knowledge for the sake of empowerment and betterment, I feel energized. But if I were to use these talents to boost profits or for any other purpose, I wouldn’t feel the same. Why? Values. At its core, my place of employment aligns really, really well with by belief system.
Many years ago I took a values assessment. From that assessment, I determined that some of the things I value most are belief in others, empowerment, education, and personal development/growth. Based on this, if I align my career with what I value I vastly increase the likelihood that I will feel satisfied and congruent.
So how do you figure out what you value? There are several ways. One of the easiest is to work through a reflection activity that helps to identify values. Another way is to simply think about a time in your life when you felt congruent…a time when the world was right and you felt whole. Now look at this list of words — which was present in your life at that moment? List 2-3, put them in order, and define them.
One of the biggest traps we fall into when identifying values is to lump really complex ideas into a few words. “Accountability” can mean very different things to different people. What does it mean to you?
What’s your hook? What’s “that moment” in your life, the turning point?
Writing a book can be brutal. It’s the ultimate trial of discipline, commitment, and grit. The moments when you feel inspired to write are few and fleeting and typically it just takes guts to force yourself to sit and write. But one thing has become apparent to me in the process: you’ve got to love your topic. If you love it, even when it’s painful to write you will quickly begin to feel inspired. I’m experiencing that this very moment. Twenty minutes ago I felt totally depleted, exhausted and devoid of energy. Now I can literally feel my tank filling up.
So how do you figure out your topic? What’s your thing, that subject that gets you excited, the area around which you can build a career? To me, it’s as simple as simple as looking in the past. Let me give an example.
This past week I was meeting with an accountant, Jose, who I met at a conference I spoke at. He wants to get into the field of leadership development and become an expert. As we talked, I asked him what his niche was. He wasn’t sure. We talked further and he came around to the topic of values-based leadership as a motivator for him. This seemed like his niche until he began telling his personal story of how he got to where he is. He described the process of coming from an underprivileged background and learning to sell himself to three different employers in three different industries all in the same year. There were technical things he had to do to get the job and “soft skills” he had to use. But he emerged with this confidence that he could sell himself to anyone in any industry. The the light went off. His topic wasn’t just values-based leadership. It is how to navigate career change and use your values as a rudder of sorts! THAT’s something he could get excited about teaching. Plus he was already an expert on the topic. Now, the goal is for him to add some knowledge and skill to that topic through studying the research and honing his presentation and writing abilities and BAM, he has a niche.
So if you’re struggling to figure out your niche, start by reflecting on what you already know. What were the turning points for you?
Hi! I'm Dustin.
I post here once a week on Tuesdays, every week, at 4:59am. You can also sign up below to have these posts magically air-dropped straight to your inbox.