Ever feel like you spend your work days going through the motions, but not feeling emotionally invested in your tasks? You’re not alone—only about a third of American employees feel engaged or enthusiastic about their work according to a recent Gallup poll. Even if your job is comfortable, you probably fantasize about finding something more fulfilling to do from 9 to 5. But before you can pursue that dream, you need to figure out what you’re even passionate about—which is a big challenge on its own.
Portland-based personal branding and career coach Robin Cangie has some first-hand advice about how to find your passion. Before building her coaching business—a career she thrives in—she spent more than 10 years feeling less than satisfied in software marketing jobs.
“While there were things I liked—I had the chance to be creative and opportunities to write—it wasn’t authentic. It always felt like I was serving someone else, and I just wasn’t that interested in business-to-business software marketing,” she recalls.
However, the jobs did help her discover what she was actually passionate about: coaching others. She noticed that colleagues needed a bit of help building credibility with the public and the media, so she led coaching workshops to give them more confidence. Not only did she enjoy coaching others, she also discovered she was good at it—and eventually turned that passion into a business she devotes herself to full time.
“It sparked something in me I had never felt in a job before,” she says. “It was rewarding and valuable.”
Through her personal journey, as well as the journeys of her clients, she has developed some strategies that can help anyone discover their true calling. From learning the difference between a hobby and a passion to building a personal brand based on the things you love, here’s how to find your passion—and live it every day.
Learning the True Meaning
From an early age, you may have been encouraged to “do what you love.” But is “doing what you love” at work the only way to live your passion? Not necessarily, according to Cangie.
“Passion manifests itself in all kinds of ways,” she tells HealthyWay. “We tend to talk about it a lot in terms of career, but that’s a bit misguided. I like to think of passion as your life’s work. If you can find a career that leverages your passion, that’s great, but if you can’t or don’t want to do that, you’re not a failure.”
Passion can mean different things to different people, depending on where they are in life. For some, it might mean raising a family or giving back to the community. For others, it’s about pursuing a lucrative career or developing skills in the creative arts.
Cangie says when thinking about how to find your passion, you should consider pursuits that bring joy, connect you to a higher sense of purpose, and fill a need in society. But also be open to finding your passion in areas you wouldn’t expect.
“We tend to treat finding your passion like finding a perfect pair of jeans—try on enough of them, and eventually one will fit. But we’ve got it backward. We don’t find our passion so much as our passion finds us. It’s about doing good work and staying open to opportunities that arise from that, and it’s good news for those of us who don’t know what we want.”
Life’s Biggest Challenge
Many of us fall into one of two camps: We either have so many things we love that we don’t know how to narrow it down to one true calling, or we have no idea where to begin looking for our passion. Why is it so difficult to discover your passion?
“There are lots of reasons why people struggle with this, and a lot of it has to do with our society. We set expectations that everyone should find a passion before they graduate college, then go to a corporate setting and do it for someone else. It sets you up for disappointment, especially as you start your first jobs and don’t immediately find that one passion out there for you,” Cangie shares.
Figuring out what makes your heart sing can be overwhelming at first. To help you get started, Cangie suggests asking yourself a few questions:
- What do I really want?
- What am I good at?
- How can I best serve others?
- How can I meet my financial needs?
You could plot your potential passions on a Venn diagram (like this example from Cangie) to explore the ways in which they overlap. An idea that intersects two or more circles will serve as a starting point for pursuing and getting to know what you’re truly passionate about.
Could your hobby be more?
Hobbies give us the opportunity to pursue things we love or explore things that interest us. But are hobbies the same as passions?
“Hobbies can be a great outlet for pursuing passions, but they’re not necessarily the passions themselves,” says Cangie.
Wait, what? If I love photography, and spend my weekends shooting beautiful images of my neighborhood, wouldn’t that also be my passion?
“It’s a matter of [the] degree to which it’s fulfilling to you and serves others,” Cangie explains. “The difference between a hobby and a passion is that passion connects to a higher purpose and the outside world in some way. I love crafting, but I do it for me. But one of my passions—telling stories—brings me joy and provides a service to the world. That’s the difference.”
Don’t write off your hobbies as you work to find your passion. Instead, explore the bigger picture of what they bring to you and the world, and work to transform those realizations into a deeper understanding of your life’s purpose.
Hidden in Plain Sight
Sometimes your passion is right under your nose. It was for Cangie—she was already offering career and leadership coaching to colleagues at her company when she realized that’s what she absolutely loved to do. But how can you shine a light on something that’s hidden in plain sight?
“Start paying attention to things that bring you joy,” says Cangie. “Joy is a fertile ground for finding your passion. No matter what situation you’re in, there’s always an opportunity to feel joy and that allows passions to come in.”
You could also think about a time in your life when you felt you did your best work, she adds. A key moment of pride, like the time you threw an amazing event or produced an insightful report, might offer clues that point to what you’re passionate about.
“Think about what it was tapping into within you,” Cangie says.
However, finding your passion isn’t just about focusing on the positive. Your frustrations might also hint at a problem you’d be passionate about solving. For Cangie, her passion for coaching was tucked inside her frustration that the people she worked with struggled to see their own value.
“The people I was coaching at work couldn’t see how awesome they were. Through discussions with them, I helped them find a story that felt empowering, allowed them to reclaim their sense of agency, and see their own brilliance,” says Cangie.
In short: “Stop chasing your passion, and instead seek opportunities to do what brings you joy and follow your frustrations,” she says.
A Word on Advice
You look around and it seems like everyone has already found their passion. Your best friend is a successful wedding photographer who looks forward to every shoot; your mom is a nurse who feels fulfilled healing others; your sister, who recently gave birth to her second child, thrives as a mother and embodies it as her true calling. Should you ask them for advice on how to find your passion?
“Getting a really clear picture about what you are good at is difficult to do on your own. So, ask friends and family, ask a manager, ask a colleague, or even a good career coach—there are lots of people who can help you find what you’re really great at,” says Cangie.
An outside perspective gives you the chance to talk about things that are meaningful to you and dive into the deeper reasons that energize those feelings of purpose. For example, when one of Cangie’s clients told her she excelled at project management, the discussion led to a breakthrough realization about what she’s passionate about.
“We discovered that project management was a label that didn’t fully capture what she was really great at. Her real talent was getting groups of people together from different functions to achieve a common vision,” shares Cangie.
Keep in mind that everyone pursues a different path to their passion. While your loved ones who have it all figured out might be able to explain how they got there, only you can forge your own journey toward deep personal fulfillment.
Building Your Brand
Branding isn’t just for businesses—it’s a useful tool that can help you focus on your passion.
“Personal brands are a kind of story you tell about yourself. It changes over time as you do,” says Cangie.
A strong personal brand can unite all of your passions under one umbrella. While coaching and storytelling serve as the foundation for Cangie’s personal brand, she also ties in another passion: her cats. They even inspired a recent Medium post she wrote about what cats have taught her about building a business. Including this quirky passion in her personal brand has helped Cangie honor something that’s truly important to her heart and has allowed her to spark meaningful connections with others.
“Having multiple things you’re passionate about, whether or not it has to do with your job, helps build credibility as you try new things. It shows you’re a whole person, and can help integrate what you love into your life, even if you’re just starting to find your passions,” she shares.
Embrace the unusual side of yourself. If you have a passion for collecting sneakers, creating collages, birdwatching, or anything else that grounds and connects you, but feels random—harness your enthusiasm and tell others about it.
Face Your Fears
Once you figure out your passion, pursuing it takes guts. If you decide to change careers, you may have to leave the security of a high-paying job. If you decide to dedicate your nights and weekends to writing a book, learning a foreign language, or designing costumes for a community play, there’s always the risk of failure. How can you overcome this fear?
“No one bats a thousand, no one is perfect, and everyone has setbacks. And when you find yourself in the midst of a failure moment, it’s painful—but know that it is normal,” Cangie advises.
If things aren’t going to according to your plan, give yourself a little space to process the situation. Then, when you’re ready, journal about the lessons learned from the experience and develop a new plan that prioritizes moving forward with grace.
“Think about how this will fit into the larger story of your life. Six months from now, how will you look back and see the crucial thing you just learned that helped you move forward? The failure then turns from a crappy thing into a necessary thing that gets you where you’re going next.”
The most important thing is to pick yourself up and keep trying.
“You have to persist anyway. It’s not that the people who are successful haven’t failed—they’re successful because they persisted in spite of their failures and consistently showed up until it paid off,” says Cangie.
Take the plunge.
So, you’ve found your passion and have an idea of how it fits into your life. How do you move to the next stage, and actually take the plunge?
“Look at the situation right now and think about where you can start living your passion. You might not be able to make major changes right away, and that’s OK. Start every day by looking for opportunities in front of you to put these things into play,” says Cangie.
For example, let’s say you love writing and you’re passionate about making it part of your job, but your current position doesn’t require much writing. Don’t sit around waiting for a writing assignment. Instead, get creative and look for ways you can start doing it right now.
“Maybe you can do a side project with the marketing team to write emails, or write a guest blog about your role, or maybe ask a friend at another company if they need a volunteer writer,” Cangie says.
Taking immediate steps toward your passion, even if they’re just small projects at first, makes the pursuit more achievable, and will allow you to pick up key skills along the way.
“Looking at your life as it is right now takes you out of this overwhelming idea that you have to make all these major changes to pursue a passion. It’s OK … not being sure where everything leads to next … that’s liberating. Just start where you are, and create more joy and purpose there,” she says.
Let it light up your daily life.
Living a passionate life requires effort that goes beyond the Monday to Friday hustle. Living your passion means identifying with your mission without reservation and finding ways to do it and live it every day—a feat that demands more energy and stamina than you might expect. It means pushing through when you’re tired, or when you’ve recently failed, or even when you think you can’t achieve anything more.
“When I am having a bad day, I ask myself: ‘Do I still want this?’ As long as the answer is yes, I know I can keep going,” says Cangie.
Just as you should reflect on moments of failure, you should also celebrate your successes. Being realistic about the negative and especially the positive will motivate you to keep living your passion, says Cangie.
“If you’re in the thick of it, you can forget how far you’ve come. When this happens to me, I pause and ask myself, ‘What do I have more of in my life right now that I wanted back then?’. The reminders of my progress help keep me going.”
It’s not going to be easy, says Cangie, but it will be worth it. Nothing nourishes you in quite the same way as finding and living your passion—so don’t hesitate to let it define, inform, and inspire you.