[Editor’s note: Every week, New York City’s own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose, or — no surprise here — a party. Need his help? Just ask: AskAWK@villagevoice.com]
Dear Andrew W.K.,
I’m 30 years old and feel like there’s nothing I’m passionate about. Every job I’ve ever had I’ve basically fallen into. There hasn’t been anything hobby-wise that I’ve been exposed to that has inspired me to put in a lot of work or energy.
My current job has been making me read a lot of books about being a leader and living your true passion, and it’s frustrating the heck out of me! How do you figure out what your passion is?
To a large degree, people claim to have “found their passion” in life by simply doing lots of what they feel like doing the most. But there are just as many who would describe the experience of finding their passion as “their passion finding them” when they least expected it. One’s true purpose in life is not always something that can be decided upon, discovered through personal introspection, or encountered while following one’s tastes and preferences. It sometimes seems to be brought out by some sort of universal need: A person suddenly finds him- or herself called upon to do something extremely important, and instantly, everything surges in that direction. They continue to be drawn along a path that may never have occurred to them or even interested them previously. Following this pull of true destiny can be even more fulfilling than simply feeling a passion for something and giving yourself over to it — but it can also be confusing and even painful.
People who think they have found their passion are often surprised when they later discover that their true purpose in life was something much different from what they had planned or imagined for themselves. This requires a great amount of courage and often involves an entire re-evaluation of one’s place in the world.
Much of the common definition for “passion” involves intense levels of emotional energy, physical exuberance, and mental drive. It’s easy to get swept up in these feelings of excitement and follow them to places not truly worthy of our time and energy. Feelings of jealousy, competition, fear, lust, anger, and prejudice can often compel us to take action just as easily as love, joy, unity, selflessness, happiness, and compassion. We can invest huge amounts of time and energy into pointless or even harmful endeavors, all along mistaking our uncontrolled appetites and lower emotional impulses for our “passion” in life. Sometimes, there is so much societal and cultural pressure just to have “a passion” that we look around in a rushed panic, feeling like something is wrong with us for not being completely obsessed by a particular line of work or field of interest. We can feel forced to declare something as our “one and only” reason for living, and to forever identify with it for fear of not appearing “passionate.” This is unfortunate on many levels.
The more noble effort seems to involve carefully identifying and unleashing one’s best attributes and abilities and making them available to the world. This is not as easy as just “doing what we feel like,” nor as dramatic or emotionally intense as being what we commonly think of as “passionate.” It can, however, allow us each to have the time and space to let the world bring out our best. It can coax out what it truly needs from us, not just what we think we need and want from the world.
A passionate devotion to inwardly developing the integrity associated with being a good person is a much more valuable passion to encourage than simply giving in to a passionate pursuit of success in a specific professional field just for the sake of it. We should each first strive to become a professional at “being alive.” This may be less satisfying or pleasurable than allowing our secondary passions to propel us, but our primary passion for life and our love of existence itself should ideally be the only inner force allowed to guide our other passions toward that highest potential we each are destined for.
So don’t worry so much about whether you have “found your passion” or not. Don’t feel the need to identify yourself with your “work” or see yourself so bound up in “what you do.” The greatest work is the tireless effort to understand and be worthy of one’s life. When it comes to everything else, just give yourself a break. Work to make yourself as strong, and as good, and as available to the world as you can, so that when destiny calls, you’ll be ready, willing, and able to answer it. Be passionate about having this chance to live, and everything else will reveal itself to you at the perfect time. Don’t try to find your passion. Let your passion find you.
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