You’ve probably heard the advice countless times: “follow your passion!” That’s great encouragement if someone has already found a cause that moves them so deeply that they could devote their life to it. But what if that doesn’t hit the mark for you? What if you think to yourself, “I’d love to follow my passion, if only I knew what it is!”
This can plague many of us, and possibly leave you feeling stuck in a holding pattern. You’re going to work every day. You want to do things with purpose, make an impact, and enjoy accomplishments that matter. But your interests are varied, just like your talents. Plus, your day job doesn’t exactly do itself. I wanted to make a difference, but this very conundrum left me hesitating for years.
Everywhere I looked, I saw people with amazing passion and focus making a huge impact in their chosen field. Increasingly, I noticed my own contemporaries, friends from high school and college, taking the next step and forming their own businesses and charities, centered around the issue or dream that spoke to them. Don’t get me wrong - I didn’t begrudge this. I admired this. I envied this.
I wished I had found or cultivated that kind of passion. Instead of growing more focused over time, I was only finding new fields I wanted to learn about. Work with children. Advance fair trade. Develop original recipes. Promote local sourcing. Advocate for workplace diversity. Some of these fit in with my day job, others, not so much. But instead of putting myself out there on any of them, I let self-doubt ricochet through my head, asking, if I cared about all these things, could I really be passionate about any of them? And if not, would any effort I made be enough to matter? I conflated energy and passion, and told myself that I came up short.
The good news, as I eventually realized, is that you don’t need to pledge your entire being to one issue in order to change the world for the better. If you want to make a positive impact but don’t have a singular passion just yet, here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Follow curiosity. In the book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert emphasizes the role of curiosity in a creative life. So you don’t feel passionate about anything today. But do you feel just a tiny bit curious? Pull that thread and see where it leads. Meaningful change proposals can start with “I wonder…” and a quick Google search.
- Start with a small role. If an issue piques your interest, look for a temporary role, rather than sitting on the sidelines while you think about it. Agree to fill a vacancy on the advisory committee this quarter, or offer to help with a one-time project. If it’s an issue that nothing is already being done about, start small by pulsing your colleagues. Is anyone else thinking about ethical sourcing the same way that you are? You don’t have to commit yourself to a years-long effort in order to learn something, contribute, and make valuable contacts.
- Tackle a problem right in your path. Mother Teresa reportedly once told a woman interested in joining her work instead to “find your own Calcutta.” She meant that there are needs everywhere, so rather than move heaven and earth, sometimes it’s better to open your eyes to the small ways you can improve the world right now. Is there a street musician you pass every day who could use a coffee? Could someone in your office benefit from advice on a career transition you’ve already made? Engage. Step in. Fill that gap.
Today’s problems demand insight from people who are involved in a cross-section of projects and have multiple perspectives. If this is you, then you’re well-suited to apply ideas from one campaign to another; carry best practices from the corporate world over to charities, or vice versa; and come up with unique solutions to social problems that blend the best of multiple fields. Being involved in multiple causes doesn’t mean you’re not passionate about any of them, nor does it mean you can’t bring your best to the table.
Follow these tips, put yourself out there, and you’ll be well on your way to making a positive impact before you ever “find your passion.” After all, why wait!? You have so much good you can do for the world right now.
What do you think? Have you ever felt hesitant to get involved or take action because you worried you weren’t as passionate or dedicated as other people? How have you overcome this?
Huge thanks to our guest blogger
When Monica is not at work or chasing her curious toddler, Henry, she can usually be found cooking, baking, reading, running, or working on her fledgling food blog, Nourish & Fete. Monica lives in Brussels, Belgium, where she and her husband both serve as diplomats and take every opportunity to travel and see the world.