How does one discover their passion in life?

Chase your passion, not your pension (Denis Waitley)

A 22-year-old college graduate, bewildered by the unlimited possibilities that face him, asks for help in deciding what life path to follow. Although his problem is common and understandable among young men and women, it is also experienced by some in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, and beyond. I will share his questions and my answers in an easy to follow Question and Answer format.

Q: “I find myself in a sea of life choices to make and am hesitant to make a decision. How does one discover their passion in life? When someone does discover it, what does it feel like? I have a hard time identifying what I am passionate about.”

A: One of the most powerful tools at our disposal is QUESTIONS. When we ask questions, we are looking for solutions. Since we usually find what we look for (in this case answers or solutions), it’s a great idea to always be asking questions. But there is a snag. You see, if we ask the wrong questions, rather than moving forward, we get stuck. This happens because there is no correct answer for questions based on false assumptions. The idea that we discover or find our passion is an example of a false assumption.

One’s passion, purpose, aim, meaning, role, reason for being, or life contribution is not DISCOVERED, but CREATED by decisions we make. True, we may arrive at those decisions by discovering our natural talents and interests, as well as by studying the prevailing opportunities. For example, after graduating the university, I combined my ability to write (talent) with my love of photography (interest) to become the Far East Correspondent of Modern Photography Magazine (opportunity).

Was I passionate about it? Sure, because more than anything else, passion is a choice. It is a decision we make. We can be passionate about anything. And once we decide to live with gusto, savoring each moment, we will be filled with energy, enthusiasm, and joy. Living in this manner does far more than benefit us, it also blesses everyone we meet, for enthusiasm is a fire that ignites the hearts of all in its vicinity.

Passion, like motivation, is often misunderstood. We may say, “If I were as passionate (motivated) as he, I would also be able to do that.” Those who think that way have got it backwards. You see, it’s not passion or motivation that causes us to act, but our actions that cause passion and motivation. It all starts with some action we take, and once we discover the rewards that action brings us, we become passionate. Jean-Paul Sartre (1905 ~ 1980) agreed: “We must act out passion before we can feel it.”

The rewards that action brings are the seeds that germinate into passion because they make us FEEL good. You asked, “What does passion feel like?” Well, it feels like being in love. Like love, passion is heartfelt, not logical. That’s why Marcus T. Cicero (c. 106 ~43 BCE) taught, “He only employs his passion who can make no use of his reason.” We could also say you don’t pick passion, it picks you. This may seem to contradict what I said earlier about deciding to live passionately, but both statements are true. For we can decide to live with passion, but the object of our passion will pick us.

Q: “Throughout my life my motivation behind everything that I have done is to achieve excellence. But I do not know if I acted out of passion or out of my drive for excellence.”

A: Congratulations on embracing the wish to achieve excellence in everything you do, for that is the formula for success and happiness. As long as you are not doing it for the approval of others, but because of a heartfelt desire, you are well on the way to a rewarding and exciting life. Remember, you don’t have to separate your drive for excellence from your passion. That is, you can make your drive for excellence your passion or life purpose!

Q: “The problem I have is identifying whether the passions I have in life are genuinely mine. I find that I am easily influenced by the enthusiasm people have about their passions in life, and it ignites a passion in me.”

A: As I suggested earlier, enthusiasm is contagious, so the enthusiasm of others will rub off on you. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, take the time to ask yourself and answer these questions, “What is MY Dream? When I am daydreaming, where does MY imagination soar to? If I could do, be, or have anything, what would that be? If I were told I have just three years to live, what would I want to do?” Here’s another hint. As you answer these questions, think BIG. It’s difficult to become passionate about minor accomplishments. Passion is fueled by big dreams.

Q: “I am worried about putting forth the time, effort, and resources on a career path that ends up not making me happy when I thought it would. Yet how can I know if I don’t try? I am worried that if I do decide to pursue a career path, I could be missing out on better opportunities that would bring greater happiness.”

A: Whoops! You raised two more false assumptions. You see, happiness and opportunities do not come from our job. Happiness is a choice. We decide to be happy regardless of the circumstances. It is easy to be happy when we are grateful for what we have. And the more we are grateful for what we have, the more we will have to be grateful for. As far as opportunities go, they come to us, not because of our job, but because of our attitude. We live in a sea of opportunity. It doesn’t matter where we are or where we work; opportunity is everywhere. But we need to look for it.

Look at these two sentences; what do they say? 1. OPPORTUNITYISNOWHERE. 2. HAPPINESSISNOWHERE. When people are asked to read these sentences, some will say, “Opportunity (or Happiness) is nowhere.” Others will say, “Opportunity (Happiness) is now here! These sentences are perfect metaphors for life, for both interpretations (nowhere or now here) are always simultaneously true. Which one is true for us depends on what we look for. We always find what we look for, whether it’s bright opportunities or doom and gloom.

Any job we accept entails some risks, but don’t run from risks and uncertainty. Can you experience an adventure or encounter a discovery if the outcome is certain from the beginning? No, so welcome uncertainty for it is what makes life an adventure and what leads to many exciting discoveries. It is similar with taking risks. Refusing to take one is like refusing to go on a roller coaster ride. Sure, we can go through life without taking risks or going on roller coasters, but it would be a life without thrills, exhilaration, and excitement. Is that the kind of life you want?

Also, by embracing uncertainty, we remain flexible, a quality that is needed for success in a rapidly changing world. Besides, by accepting uncertainty, we leave ourselves open to opportunities that we would never have thought of. By allowing life to unfold as it chooses to, we discover many new opportunities. Finally, here are two small, but powerful, books to help guide you on your life path (consider them required reading): (1) The Angel Inside, Chris Widener,, 2004; (2) Twelve Pillars, Jim Rohn and Chris Widener, Jim Rohn International and Chris Widener International, 2005. Both books are available from