How to find your passion, for real! (4 years later)

Carlotta Cerri

Disclaimer: this is a loooong post, as it is the journey to create something you’re passionate about. But it’s worth it and full of cool quotes by cool people. So grab a cup of coffee, sit back and enjoy it!

Some while ago I watched the season finale of HBO’s Girls Season 3. Hannah, whose greatest passion is to write, gets into Iowa Writer’s Workshop, at the same time as things go south with her boyfriend Adam. They split up and everybody thinks she’s going to be devastated. Instead, she goes home, looks at the admission letter from the Iowa University and smiles.

Yes, I might be hyper sensitive, but that smile teared my eyes up.

It made me think about passion—this overrated thing that everybody looks for and strives to. For a reason. Passion is stronger than anything. It moves people, shakes them, defines them.

People are passionate about many different things, their kids, their cars, their dogs, their houses, their spouses.

And then there’s the lucky kind. Those who are passionate about their jobs.

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. Confucius

The lucky kind

Before I met my husband, I used to think only a handful of people get to be passionate about their job. I myself had various interests and liked different career paths, but wasn’t passionate about any of them. I soon found out that having lots of interests is somewhat exhausting when you’re trying to figure out your future.

Also, it seems to me that people who find their one passion early in life are happier. They seem fulfilled, always find their way out of the tunnel, their safe haven, their shield against emotional misery or even just a kick out of bed in the morning.

That’s why I call them the lucky ones.

I married a lucky one (except he doesn’t like to be called that)

My husband is one of them. He’s passionate about his job and can’t think of a better one.

“You’re so lucky,” I used to tell him every time we talked about our future.

He would go mad!

“It doesn’t have anything to do with luck. It’s pure work and commitment. You don’t find your passion, you create it!” he’d say every time with an annoyed-sounding voice.

At the beginning, I’d try and prove him wrong by explaining how his theory couldn’t possibly be right,

“If that’s so, then why do so many people work in jobs they don’t like and never find their real passion in life?”

“Because they don’t do anything about it. They stay in their jobs and wait. They don’t understand that passion is not something you find. It’s something you create for yourself,” he’d say, looking at me with those hopeful blue eyes.

Every time I’d smile, agree to disagree and tell him how much I loved his optimism (or naivety?).

Today—years later—I finally know he was right all along.

You create your own passion

Passion doesn’t find you. You don’t find it. It has nothing to do with luck. Your career fulfilment doesn’t lie in the hands of some god of fortune. You create your own passion.

And for the record, passion is not something that’s always there, that you just have to awaken.

Passion is what you pick and stick with. It is what you put your effort into. It is trying something you’re good at, sticking with it and becoming better at it.

My husband never thought he was going to become a web designer and developer. He never even wanted to. He simply started doing it and when he noticed he was averagely good at it, he sticked to it.

He became better. The more he did it, the better he became. The better he became, the more he liked it. The more he liked it, the more passionate he felt about it.

Too often, people want to find their passion in life, instead of becoming passionate about something. I was one of them. Now,  I know that passion is totally up to you.

Don't do what you love, love what you do

Or as Mark Cuban put it in this blog post two years ago, Don’t follow your passion, follow your effort. It was love at first sight and follow your effort has become one of my favourite quotes since.

Everyone is passionate about something. Usually more than one thing. We are born with it. There are always going to be things we love to do. That we dream about doing. That we really really want to do with our lives.Those passions aren’t worth a nickel.If you really want to know where you destiny lies, look at where you apply your time.

It was written for me. While reading it, I felt relieved and angry at the same time.

Relieved because I felt finally free—I wasn’t yet, but that’s another story—from the endless and exhausting quest for passion. Once again, passion is not something you find, it’s where you apply your time and put your effort into. Back then, all my time and effort were already dedicated to teaching and writing, so at least I was on the right path.

Angry because I wish somebody had told me 10 years ago, when I was starting out in my adult life. It would have saved me lots of time and energy (and university money!) in trying to understand what direction to take. I could have simply picked one thing and made an effort to stick by it. I could’ve even skipped university!

A few days ago, there it was again, this time in Derek Sivers’s blog post about the book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by Cal Newport:

Looking for your passion, purpose, or calling is an example of the fixed mindset. You’re assuming that this is an inherent and unchanging thing inside of you, like trying to read your DNA or blood type. But you won’t find passion and purpose there, because that’s not where those feelings come from.Passion and purpose are emotions that come after expertise and experience. The way to get them is to commit to the path of mastery, get great at something, and do great work.

Pick your passion, but be smart about it

I’m tall and not super flexible. I could never be a contortionist. It’s just common sense, you’d say.

Sometimes, though, when we’re decent at something, our common sense tells us we can make it into a career.

I’m a decent dancer. I even belong to a dance group and make some money performing in private parties and events. Does that mean I should have pursued a career as a dancer, instead? Not at all! I’m too tall to be a dancer and didn’t start early enough; I wouldn’t have had any chance to really shine.

So pick your passion, but be smart about it.

Teaching was never a passion of mine. I started doing it while waiting for translation agencies to reply to my job enquires. I was as prepared as any newly grad can be—close to zero. But I was instantly good at it, people responded well to my way of teaching and I knew right away it was something I could convert into a small business. Today I teach English full time, prepare kids and adults for Cambridge exams and teach them how to write well.

In these past 5 years, there were plenty of moments when I didn’t want to do it anymore. When I felt like I was not fulfilling my true calling (whatever it was supposed to be anyway). I worried I was wasting my time. But I never stopped doing it, I kept putting my effort into it, learning, growing, improving and making it into something I love more and more every day.

So is this what you want to do for the rest of your life?

Who knows. The good thing about understanding that passion is something you create is that you can recreate it as many times as you want. Like if you bake a good cake following a really good recipe, it’ll always be good (sometimes more, sometimes less).

So if tomorrow for some reason I couldn’t teach anymore, I’d pick something else and start putting my effort and time into it.

I did it once, I can do it again—except this time it would be easier. After these many years observing myself and my qualities in a critical way, I know what I’m good at and I have a better knowledge about how to get where I want.

Will these past years as a teacher be wasted? Absolutely not! I’ve got so much experience, I’ve met so many beautiful people, I’ve learnt so much about individuals and languages and cultures and lifestyles—all experience I’ll bring with me in my next career(s), in my relationships and when raising my kids.

As Derek Sivers wrote, that’s my “career capital”:

Career capital” is a metaphor. Think of it like gold tokens you’re earning over years of building your expertise, experience, connections, and reputation.When you want to make a change to your career […] don’t just quit and throw away all the career capital you’ve built up! […] Think of ways you can use the value you’ve built up to make the transition to another field.

Time puts everything in perspective

It’s funny how perspective changes with time. I hadn’t read the Mark Cuban’s blog post in a long time, and today what struck me the most was a sentence I had probably ignored two years ago.

If you really want to know where you destiny lies, look at where you apply your time.You may or may not realize it yet, but how you use or don’t use your time is going to be the best indication of where your future is going to take you.

Funnily enough, today I had these two free hours at lunch break and instead of going to the mall and finding a very needed new pair of shoes, as I had planned this morning, here I am, once again, planning classes and writing.

Love what you do for long enough and eventually you’ll be doing what you love.

— —

I fell in love with cute Danbo (in the pictures) and I hope Christopher Bowley doesn’t mind me creating my own story with his amazing photos (thanks for sharing them). For more shots of Danbo, take a look here.

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