It's all well and good to tell people to follow their bliss, but how do you find the thing in the first place? If you haven't been following it, it probably wandered off years ago and is lost in someone's backyard howling all alone because you didn't follow it on the epic exploration of the neighborhood that would have led you to meet that cute neighbor you'd fall in love with.
So, anyway, clearly you need to find it so you can follow it on to other adventures.
I spent the last weekend at the World Domination Summit, organized by Chris Guillebeau of The Art of Non-Conformity, where I was inundated by awesomely inspiring speakers and ideas. As the name implies, the World Domination Summit is a gathering of people intent of making a big impact on the world by living fearlessly and pursuing their remarkable dreams in a conventional world.
No one of the talks was specifically about how to find your passion or purpose, but several of the speakers touched on the topic. Three ideas in particular seemed especially actionable.
Who Do You Envy?
Ever since I was young, whenever I would read a really good book, I would have two very strong emotions. One was wonder. I was always impressed by the language, the created worlds, the mastery of plot and dialogue, and the somersaults the story would lead my mind through.
The other emotion, much less pleasant but often much stronger, was envy of the author. I would read Tolkien and get angry thinking about him sitting there on his typewriter, creating these amazing worlds. I would read Colleen McCullough and feel jealous of the explorations she got to engage in. I would read Asimov and envy his opportunity to explore the fringes of human science and speculation. I was intensely jealous of published authors, not for their fame or success, but simply for having written a book.
This realization had always convinced me that I couldn't be satisfied with myself unless I too wrote a book, but I had never really though of that as a way to figure out your bliss. Maybe it's not something you do for a living, but knowing who makes your feel envious will help you know what it is that you want to be doing.
What Gives you Energy?
Throughout our lives, we go through periods of low energy and high energy. During the lows, we feel pointless, lost, drifting, and lethargic. We find it difficult to motivate ourselves.
However, during our periods of high energy, we are full of passion, motivation, and, most importantly, energy. We feel the desire and the capability to do as much as we can. We discover reserves of focus and concentration that seem superhuman to our regular selves.
For many of us workaday folks, these periods of high energy have been shaved down to just a few moments or minutes a day, if that. It is a shame but we are stuck in a place where we need to give ourselves reasons to do everything.
But that's not where we want to be. One way to find your bliss, based on Darren Rowse of Problogger, is to move towards the things that give you more energy. Perhaps you noticed yourself perk up after work when you got into the kitchen and started improvising a culinary innovation. Maybe the lethargy of the day sloughed off when you picked your kid up. Maybe your concentration rallied--just a little bit--when you picked up a magazine article about fashion design.
Whatever it was, pay attention to it and move towards it. Find ways to make more time for it or give it more of your attention. This is your intuition speaking to you. The signals may be very subtle after years of neglect, but they are still there. You just need to develop an awareness of them so that you can cultivate that.
Maybe it's not your legacy to humanity or the cornerstone of your career, but it'll probably do a lot to make you happier, and that will make a difference.
What did you do for fun when you were 6? 10? 16?
This was another question from Grethen Rubin. Kids are very sensitive to the things that make them happy, and they tend to pursue those things without thinking too much about what they ought to be doing. If you've been disconnected from your joyfulness for a long time, it may be hard to think of the things that make you happy, so look to what you did for fun as a kid. My answers were:
- Video games: I had an NES back in the day, and every MegaMan game ever made. I also had a SEGA Genesis and was playing computer games as soon as I could operate a keyboard, which was when I was 2.
- Writing: Despite all the video games, I actually did write a lot. My first big project was a two page typed report on the habits of clown fish (which was erased by a computer crash as soon as I finished it). I also used to write massive sci-fi epics by hand. I loved constructing stories featuring my friends as the adventurers in my favorite video games and movies.
- Reading: I would read everywhere: in bed, at the table, walking to class, in line for lunch, while eating lunch, in the car, in the bathroom, during conversations, during class. Looking back, I can see why I had so much trouble socially.
- Drawing: My old school papers and tests are choked by drawings. I used to sketch spaceships and fantasy monsters in any blank space of paper I could find. I once tried to hand in a test late so that I could photocopy a particularly good X-wing sketch.
- Dancing: Believe it or not (I don't), I loved to dance as a kid. I even put on a dance show for my parents, and would spend lots of time locked in the living room, blasting Michael Jackson, and flailing around in a blue ski suit. No idea why, but I loved that.
- Building things out of furniture: My sister and I had several very elaborate fort designs, depending on whether we were defending the upstairs from our nanny, staging an attack on the downstairs, corralling our dog, or pretending to be camping. We even had designs for giant mecha, cars, and airplanes.
- LEGOs: I could spend days with LEGOs. I constructed an entire space armada, complete with bases, runways, and capital ships. It was pretty epic. It all ended one day when my sister and I simulated a snowstorm using baby powder.
- Hiking, camping pioneering: It's amazing how much trouble a kid can get into at a beach club, going off trails and pretending to be an intrepid explorer. Basically, if I wasn't supposed to go there, that's exactly where I wanted to go.
Clearly I should be writing, building things, going places, and reading my face off. I also need to play more video games. You'll notice that I didn't list sports or exercise on that list. I really did not enjoy sports, except Karate, because that was cool.
Tying it All Together
As Gretchen Rubin pointed out, consistent with the entire point of Buddhism and the study of psychology, self-knowledge is the key to happiness. Knowing hw you respond to things is the best way to make positive changes in your life.
Develop an Awareness of your level of energy, your emotion of envy, or your childhood. Let this Awareness inform your Intention to make more time for those things. Integrity is where you live your life in accordance with your Intention and actually realize the changes that will bring your passion into focus.
Ask yourself these questions and see if you come up with any clarity about your passion. Please share in the comments.