Years ago at a party, I was introduced to someone who kicked off the conversation with: “So, what’s your passion?” Although I admired this opener more than the traditional “What do you do?”, I found myself fumbling for an answer. I had never really asked myself that question before and after it was presented, I couldn’t find an answer to it.
That moment has plagued me ever since. What is my passion? Could it really be the case I’m not passionate about anything? Since then, I’ve almost become passionate about finding a passion. I wanted to fit in a category. I felt the need to be able to easily define myself for the world. I’ve dabbled in a number of things since then. Although I’ve enjoyed the results of several of my pet projects (and even got a new sewing machine out of it – because perhaps my passion was sewing), none of the activities I engaged in grabbed me the way I thought a passion should. I liked them…but that was about it.
I then joked with my friends that I am passionate about not having a passion. Case closed.
2017 is yet another year of self-discovery, and two books I’ve recently picked up have helped me to think about this question in much different terms.
Developed by Gallup and Tom Rath, this book encourages you to think about your life and career in terms of who you are already. Know thyself. Work to further develop the skills you already have. (In other words, don’t go out and buy a sewing machine on a whim.)
In order to help you figure out what you’re good at and what drives you, they’ve developed an assessment called the Clifton StrengthsFinder, named after one of its lead designers, Donald Clifton. (Clifton was named Father of Strengths-Based Psychology by the American Psychological Association.)
I took the assessment and was presented with my top 5 strengths. This was helpful because it summarized a lot of things I knew to be true but was could never really articulate. Why is it that I’m really enjoying my current project at work, for instance? Well, “focus” was named as one of my strengths. After reading the description (which also helped to explain why I was on a mission to identify my passion in the first place), I had a great “aha” moment. I have a project with clearly defined goals. We might try different ways of getting there, and there’s always new information to incorporate, but I know where we’re headed. Being able to connect those dots was critical.
In conjunction with the other strengths it presented, it has helped me to pinpoint why I thrive in some roles and do less well in others. Equipped with this information, I can approach my life and my work better informed about where I’m going to be able to add the most value and actively try to spend more time in those areas.
On the heels of being able to think about my strengths in more concrete terms, I picked up Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You. Perhaps it was the subtitle: “Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love.” I don’t need a passion? Sign me up.
Newport argues that loving what you do results from being good at something valuable, not from first having a passion. Ask yourself what you can offer the world before you ask for something in return. Then work hard to grow those skills. Channel the craftsman mindset. You’ll enjoy work you’ve invested in much more than work you’re less engaged with, and building those skills will give you more say in how your life and career develops.
Newport’s advice was much easier to think about having just taken the Clifton Strengths Finder assessment. The assessment helped me to think about the types of projects I thrive on. If I want to be able to keep doing those projects though, I need to go a step further. I need to identify and develop skills that will make me an indispensable resource for those projects.
Ask yourself: “What do I do best?” If you don’t have an answer to that, I challenge you to do some of your own self-discovery and determine where you can make a positive impact on the world around you. Pick one thing and own it. Challenge others to do the same. Next time you meet someone new, don’t ask them what they do for a living. Ask them what they do best.