What is Passion? Lessons I learned finding my passion in my 30's

Atlantic City Olympic Triathlon 2021

When I was young, I was told, like many of us were, that the key to happiness was finding and pursuing my passion. As I got older, that theme continued, find a job in something I am passionate about. “Love what you do.” Sure, this concept of marrying my professional self with my personal passion makes sense on paper, but there is a flaw in the system: how do I determine what I am passionate about? Life and school had failed to equip me with the tools to answer the first and most obvious question, what is passion and how do I find it? Two years ago I set out to figure this out on my own, and this is what I learned.

Lesson 1: Not all hobbies equal passion.

Being passionate about something, and doing something that makes you happy, are not one and the same. While yes, these two do coincide, it may not be your passion indicator. For example, I love to snowboard and I am pretty good at it. My annual ski trip with friends is the highlight of the winter season, and I am always looking for the next challenge on the mountain. But I know that if I were to snowboard day in and day out, year round, I would eventually tire of it. This led me to my first realization: just because it’s a hobby and I enjoy it, doesn’t mean it’s my passion.

Lesson 2: Skill and success does not equal passion.

Upon graduation from college, like most of us do, I used the skill and success I achieved in education to direct my career course. Over time, I rose through the ranks leaning on my strengths and earning accolades for my business success. However, I eventually learned that those “strengths” and “successes” are not always reflective of passion. Just because I was good at something, didn’t mean it was meant to be my passion. And no matter how hard you try or how much success you achieve, you are unlikely to “learn to love it”.

Lesson 3: Passion presents in many forms.

When someone does finally stumble upon a passion, it can be unfamiliar. For me, it was finding the sport of triathlon, and it created strong feelings and emotions that at the time, did not make sense. I knew I was onto something very meaningful. Looking back, I can distill these feelings down into three categories.

  1. Energy: From the moment I wake up in the morning, I feel lit up from within. I am able to generate boundless and unaided energy to pursue training (coffee optional). I am always excited and ready to dive deeper into things. Most importantly, this energy does not easily fade with time. Two years later, it still feels like my first day.
  2. Drive: I have a single minded focus and push to pursue this sport. I have a constant craving for more education, progress, and work and it doesn’t take much mental preparation to find this state. It’s not about checking a box, it’s about continuing the journey, constantly learning, and improving.
  3. Fortitude: My focus is unfazed by adversity. As I encounter new challenges, I am able to visualize the path forward and push through challenges. I view even the most extreme obstacles, such as a severe crash and injury, as just another bump in the road. I find myself overlooking and enduring the struggle because in the end, I know it’s just part of the journey.

Lesson 4: Step outside your comfort zone.

The pursuit of passion may seem like an endless endeavor. At first, I was looking and thinking too narrowly. It wasn’t until I widened the lens in multiple aspects of my life, that I found my passion.

  1. Venture off the beaten path: If you keep looking for passion in the same places, you are unlikely to find it. There is so much to experience beyond the microcosm we’ve all grown up in. Broaden your horizons, try new things, break the cycle, even if it seems intimidating.
  2. Challenge yourself: Doing what is safe and easy is ingrained in our subconscious. But more often than not, that which is most challenging is also the most rewarding. Don’t let fear and aversion hinder you from pushing yourself to new limits. The avid climber would have never found their love of mountaineering if they listened to their fear of heights.
  3. Change your mindset: The final guidance to finding your passion is arguably the most challenging. Part of self discovery is the ability to suspend some of your beliefs to see and understand new perspectives. Don’t let your belief system create false limitations as a means to protect your status quo. Ignore those, “I could never run that far,” or “there’s no way I could take time off for that,” or “they’ll think I’m crazy if…”

Everyone can be passionate about something, and many will integrate that passion into different aspects of their life. Some will find the love of another who shares the same passion. Others will find successful careers connecting their passion with their profession. But ultimately, at the end of the day, those who discover their passion will go on to lead a happy and fulfilling life. I hope this helps you find yours.