I often hear people complaining that they don’t know what their passion is.
That they haven’t discovered that special vocation that makes their eyes light up and gives them butterflies just thinking about it. In fact, they don’t even know where to look.
My response is always the same: “Okay, how do you like spending your days then? What do you enjoy doing?” All of a sudden, their faces light up as they begin sharing their most loved activities.
“Are you sure you still don’t know what your passion is?”
I’m going to be honest with you here. I was lucky. I’ve known since I was four years old that I wanted to be a writer. When I was 14 I decided I would become a journalist. It seemed so clear to me, I couldn’t understand why my schoolmates didn’t know what they wanted to do after high school.
I got my master’s in journalism and I wrote in some way, shape, or form every day for years—but never called myself a “writer.” Before I could justify labeling myself with that prestigious title, I thought I’d need to win a freaking Nobel Prize. And even then, I’d think that I’d just gotten lucky.
When I completed my first year of master’s studies, something profound happened. I lost my passion, my purpose, and I no longer knew what this “thing” was that could make my heart sing. I felt like a failure without a goal in mind.
For the next eight years, I tried to rediscover my purpose and passion.
I lived all over the world, travelling to more than 40 countries hoping I might stumble upon purpose or passion in one of them. (Mostly, I just ended up collecting flags for my backpack.)
I read hundreds of personal growth books, hoping to find a chapter that started with: “Hey Ly, here’s your purpose!” Oddly, none of them did.
I thought I’d try corporate life and got an office job. But that soon had me running out the door at 5 p.m. sharp every day, and lasted a grand total of nine months.
I even tried being a miniskirt-wearing promotions girl—serving alcoholic shots to drunk people. That venture ended 48 hours later with me crying in a bathroom stall in humiliation.
All in all, I worked more than 10 different jobs, but would always end up feeling kind of empty inside (and like a bit of a job slut.)
I went to countless workshops, seminars, and retreats that were supposed to tell me the exact steps to find my purpose in life and give me a plan for the next 50 years (or at least 45).
I spent countless hours looking at my empty wine glass in the hope of receiving some answers.
Do I regret any of these experiences? Honestly, no. Well maybe the mini-skirt job, but what I do wish is that I’d taken less time to figure out the obvious—that I always had my passion. I always had my purpose.
I never really lost it; I just didn’t know how to access it, because fear was busy telling me why I shouldn’t do the things I’d always loved doing.
From all of this experience, here’s my best advice:
Focus on the present moment.
Take a deep breath, slow down, and ask yourself how you can make the best out of this moment—out of this job you’re currently doing, this relationship, this next experience. Life is happening right here, right now.
Become good at living.
I love this quote from Thích Nhất Hạnh: “We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice 10 years for a diploma, and we are willing to work hard for a job, a car, a house and so on. But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive.”
Stop looking for your passion and purpose—you already have it.
It’s not somewhere outside of yourself—no person, book, or movie can give you the answer. They may trigger clarity but it’s you who knows on a deep level what your true calling is.
Practice getting out of your own mind. Move into your body and heart by meditating, deep breathing, or yoga. Turn all your attention inward and you will find answers.
Sometimes your passion and purpose change.
You are constantly evolving and growing. That’s part of being human. Your dreams can change, and that’s fine. It doesn’t mean you’re lost.
Take your dreams off the pedestal and quit making them your gurus.
Your dreams are just a series of tasks to tick off one by one. Notice when you think or say things like “I’ll get around to doing it in XYZ days,” or “one day when…”—it’s a trap. It means that you are trying to escape the present moment and are not willing to take action. Be courageous today and start with small steps.
That pedestal your dreams are on? They may be so high that they feel bigger than you and unattainable. Break things down into to smaller tangible goals and tasks.
They might not come knocking.
Purpose and passion may not come knocking on your door as you’re living happily ever after in a harmonious relationship, as is so often portrayed. You have to put the work in and make it happen. You will have doubts, but commitment is crucial. Find a friend or a coach who will help you to push through. It’s so much easier to achieve goals when we’re accountable to someone else—and much more fun too.
Remember, your dreams and accomplishments don’t define you.
Who you are as a person is much more complex than these goals. Stop procrastinating and start taking steps right now. Nobody had it figured out when they started, you’ll learn along the way.
I don’t know what I want to do in five years, but I know who I want to be today and that’s enough for me to live a happy, fulfilled life.
Author: Ly Aunapu
Editor: Jen Schwartz
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron