“Do what you love.”

“Find your Passion.”

“Find something that makes you leap out of bed in the morning, eager to get to work.”

How many times have we heard these and similar exhortations to find and do what we love, what makes us happy?

Good advice?  Yes, but its not that simple.

If like some lucky souls you’ve known from an early age what you want to do in life, well and good.  Bill Gates was enchanted by computers in his early teens.  Rand knew she wanted to be a writer from age eight.  Tiger Woods had a golf club in his hands from age three.  But what if that one defining passion did not, or has not, revealed itself?

Don’t worry.  Most of us are in this boat.

The trouble with the types of exhortations I quoted at the outset is that they create the false impression that “out there” somewhere is the one thing you were destined to do, if only you could just find it.  That, in short, is nonsense.

To have passion for something means to value it highly.

Does that mean that there’s one thing, one pursuit, one career, that you are destined for?  No.

Does that mean you’re excited by that which you’re passionate about?  Yes, but not always.

Does that mean that pursuing your passion is always enjoyable?  No.  Good things take time and effort, and sometimes entail challenge, frustration, and struggle.

To be passionate in life simply means to be strongly committed to and highly value whatever you undertake.  It means that you’ll do whatever it takes to pursue your goals.  It means you’ll persevere when the going is tough.

Yes, you should love what you do, but don’t expect that love to suddenly jump up and say “here I am”.  It might, but it might not.

To be passionate in life simply means to be strongly committed to and highly value whatever you undertake.

Have you ever fallen in love at first sight?  Did it last?  Maybe, maybe not.  Sometimes the enchantment we feel at the outset dims as we get to know more about something, when we deepen our knowledge and experience.

But the reverse is also true.  More often our love for something grows as we gain in experience, knowledge, skill.  This is especially true of professional pursuits; of work.

Work, or any activity really, is most enjoyable when it puts you in “Flow”, that state where your full consciousness is dedicated to what you’re doing.  All distractions fall away in the face of a single and all-consuming purpose.  Time passes unnoticed.

The ability to be in a state of Flow comes most often with mastery.  When you’re are so good at something that it is almost second-nature; you don’t think, so much as do and react from intuition.

But getting to mastery takes time.  Some suggest 10,000 hours of practice as a rule of thumb.

And this is the key to passion.

Being in the enviable position of absolutely loving what you do takes effort, over time and in the face of obstacles.  Some people are fortunate in that they start so young with some pursuit that they’re “masters” at a very young age, routinely getting into “flow”, enjoying immensely what they do, and, of course, passionate about it.  Don’t assume for a minute though that there weren’t thousands of hours of struggle, frustration, and persistent effort to reach that point.

For many of us, most probably, we don’t start on the road to mastery at a young age.  Worse, often we fall into a pursuit (a career) that perhaps does not suit our natural inclinations; for the wrong reasons, like parental pressure or a focus on remuneration above creativity.

Then, trying something new, making a change, taking a new fork in the road is difficult, seemingly dangerous, especially because you can’t be sure at the outset whether your new pursuit is the right one.  Sometimes you have to “suck it and see”.

Now, in making decisions about career, “suck it and see” might seem like flippant advice.  That’s where tools such as “Pathfinder” and “I Could Do Anything If I Knew What It Was” come in.  The value of these types of tools is in narrowing your field of choices.  They help you to identify where your natural abilities and existing talents lie.  They cannot, and should not, get you to your “One True Passion”.  And that would be too limiting anyway.

At this time in history we are blessed with a wealth of choices.  I think it’s realistic to suggest that in a fifty year “working life” you could have several “careers”.  The tools available to us to learn, to develop, to improvise, to build, to communicate, to partner, to market, to lead, are varied and vast, and all a mouse-click away.  There is time in one life, and resources a plenty, to pursue multiple goals, causes, passions.

But remember, passion does not always signify enjoyment.

Did Lincoln “enjoy” fighting for the cause of liberty, in the name of which he faced unthinkable decisions and seemingly insurmountable obstacles?  Probably not.  But he did value that cause as greater than any other single thing in his life at that time, and he dedicated every ounce of his strength and ability to seeing slavery abolished and justice for all enshrined in law.  He was passionate about it.

Did Washington “enjoy” leading the Continental Army through that terrible winter at Valley Forge, where thousands died and all faced miserable conditions and a seemingly hopeless future?  Unlikely.  But he knew that the cause was just and that death was the only option other than victory.  You can’t get much more passionate than that.

Being in the enviable position of absolutely loving what you do takes effort, over time and in the face of obstacles. 

If you love what you do you will be passionate about it, no doubt.  But to be passionate also means having the determination and strength to face down and break through any obstacle in pursuit of a worthy goal; to struggle and remain focused on achieving mastery over time; to value your values strongly, giving your all to achieve and protect that which you love, that which you can be passionate about.