People keep telling me to “follow my passion” but what if I don’t know what that is?

People keep telling me to “follow my passion” but what if I don’t know what that is?

An argument for choosing curiosity instead.

“When you do something you love, it doesn’t feel like work”.

How many times have you been told to chase your passion, chase your dreams, or work at the thing you love so that you can make it your job? For as long as I remember, I’ve felt somewhat inadequate for not knowing what this thing is. After studying, graduating and realising office life wasn’t for me, I kept trying out new things, but I was frustrated when none of them stuck. I felt at a loss — did I even have a passion?

In a podcast that changed my life, Elizabeth Gilbert, all-round wonder woman and author of Eat, Pray, Love, said that if you have a passion, you’ll know it already. If you don’t, then take the pressure off the word. Elizabeth explained on the podcast that passion is rare. Curiosity, on the other hand, is every day.

We are in a world that fetishises passion, and when we aren’t sure what our passion is, we feel insignificant or missing a piece. Elizabeth goes on to say that if we don’t know what our passion is, then we should follow our curiosity. Inquisitiveness is a virtue and the people who are interested are the people who become interesting. As Sophocles wrote in Antigone, ‘wisdom is the chief element of happiness’. And wisdom is the direct result of inquisitiveness; of curiosity.

Since I listened to that podcast, “follow your curiosity” has become my mantra. At the moment, I live it by travelling. Travelling enriches my life and builds my skillset in new ways each day. Whilst I’m navigating my twenties and seeking the thing that might tie me down, I’m trying as many new things as possible, in as many new places as possible. In the last three weeks, I’ve lived with a family just outside of Victoria, BC, and spent the days playing hundreds of different roles from childminder to painter and decorator to seamstress and through to sign maker. If I continue doing this, chasing my curiosity, then in Elizabeth Gilbert’s words, I’ll have a rich tapestry at the end of my life to show for my experiences. That, for me, is everything I could hope for. I’ve stopped being panicked by talk of my passion.

If you’re worried about not having a passion, remember that passions can be stifling. If you just have one goal you’re working towards, it can be terrifying when it’s met and there’s nothing next. It’s important to retain a sense of flexibility in the bigger picture. Elizabeth talks about how there are two types of people in the world; the jackhammers and the hummingbirds. It may be the jackhammers - driven by their passions - that are the loudest and create the biggest impression, but without the hummingbirds; quieter, subtler, but performing the essential cross-pollination of the flowers that enable the world to grow, then we’d be stuck. It’s brilliant to be a hummingbird.

Whatever you do, don’t compare yourself to those who have found their passion. A conventionally successful friend unintentionally criticised me before I embarked on my current travelling escapades because my dreams change often. Their passion was their everything and they’d stop at nothing to make it a reality. It really got me down – if they are this passionate and so dedicated to what they love, what does that make me? Am I kidding myself about what I enjoy? Does it mean that I’m not committed, I’m fickle, or I’m lazy? No. It just means I’m on a different path right now.

During the writing of this piece I ran into a new friend who showed me a video I found to affirm my views. This commencement speech, given by David McCullough Jr. is titled “you are not special” and I encourage you to spend 12 minutes watching it.

David reminds us that we are all special and we are all unique – but just like everyone else. If we’re one in a million, then there are around 7000 other people JUST like us out there. What makes your life different to the other 6999 is the life you create. Following your personal, meaningful and every-day-altering curiosity for your soul and not your ego. As a society, often led by social media approval, we’ve begun doing too many things to show off to other people; but remember that this is your journey. Stop living for other people’s approval and instead live for your own. Nurse your soul. Recognise how little you know now and go and find out some more. Consider today your beginning – where you go from here is what matters.

David says, beautifully,

“I urge you to do whatever you do, for no reason other than you love it and you believe in its importance…resist the easy comforts of complacency…get busy…don’t wait for inspiration or passion to find you, get up, get out, explore, find it yourself; grab hold with both hands…The fulfilled life is a consequence of thinking about more important things.”

Don’t be afraid to try out new things, don’t be afraid that you haven’t found your passion yet, or that you don’t have one. If you spend your life following your curiosity, you may find a passion or you may not, but either way, you’ll have a beautiful patchwork quilt at the end of your life to show for your experiences, and that could be much more beautiful in the end.