How to Develop a Passion
Last week, we discussed “How to Find a Hobby,” which seems kinda silly, but can actually be quite difficult with all of the responsibilities and schedule requirements that go along with adulting. Or maybe you already have a hobby, but you can’t seem to find room for it each day. This can actually be a serious issue, as rushing through your day with no sense of joy, purpose, or engagement in how you are spending your time can lead to things like anxiety and depression, or at the very least boredom and disengagement in your ONE life.
I know that sounds kind of heavy, but are you happy with how you are spending your time?
Your time is your life. Where is it going, and how are you directing it?
To me, this is why something as seemingly trivial as finding a hobby becomes super important. In order to develop your curiosities or latent hobbies into a full-blown passion -- something you can’t imagine NOT doing, that gives your life purpose and meaning and joy -- it is necessary to lay the groundwork. This Pyramid shows you how to do that.
As you can see, the Purpose to Passion Pyramid is kind of like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It helps you to develop a sense of purpose in how you are choosing to spend your time; it helps you take a step back and cultivate a beginners mindset in which failures and mistakes are inevitable and not something to avoid; it helps you develop a healthy relationship with progress rooted in the understanding that it's not always linear (and that’s OK!); and it shows you how all these things add up to the cultivation of a passion, giving meaning and fulfillment to your days.
Let’s dive in!
At the base of the pyramid, you’ll see Purpose. Find your “why,” and make it meaningful. If you are going to intentionally devote time to cultivating a passion, it only makes sense to determine why it’s important to you. Ideally, whatever you choose offers a sense of meaning, fulfillment, satisfaction, joy, flow, engagement, autonomy, competence, mastery, etc. And it’s up to you to dig deep and figure out why.
An often-cited way to accomplish this is to ask yourself why you want to do X, starting with a somewhat surface-level “why.” For example, “I run to stay in shape.” Keep asking yourself why each response matters until you land on a deeply-rooted source of meaning. Once you have a “why” you have an internal source of motivation when the going gets tough, whether that’s because of scheduling conflicts, progress plateaus, or fear of falling short.
Here is a personal example, so you can see how this works in real time:
1. I want to qualify for the Boston Marathon. (Notice how the outcome I'm after here is actually still a very surface-level why. Nothing in my life would actually change if I were to get a BQ.)
2. Ok, well WHY do I want to qualify for Boston? I want to qualify because it's been a goal I've been thinking about for a long time, and I want to see what I'm capable of as a runner.
3. WHY? Because I always tend to let my limiting beliefs about what I think is possible determine my goals vs optimistically pursuing my potential, and I want to break that cycle.
4. WHY? Because I want to stop living a life based on fear and the phantom "what if," and start living a life based on possibilities. I want to focus on what could go RIGHT instead of always zeroing in on what could go wrong or how I might fall short.
5. WHY. Because I want to set an example for my boys on the power of limitless thinking so that they can live their lives to the fullest. I want them to live joyful, interesting, purposeful lives - and I want to be a living example. (You can see how this sentiment offers a much greater sense of purpose to my day-to-day life vs what actually obtaining of the BQ would offer. It's the work it takes to get there and what that signifies to you that's meaningful.)
If your Purpose is your WHY, the plan is your HOW. A plan is important for two reasons:
1. It helps ground your why in the reality of day-to-day living, bringing the intangible qualities of your purpose into something tangible or doable.
2. It also gives you a roadmap for how to get from A to Z by setting incremental targets, creating clarity by showing how to go from A to B first.
A good plan involves setting personally meaningful targets (goals) that are both process and outcome based.
An outcome goal focuses on the outcome you wish to achieve. However, outcomes can often be out of our control - for example, setting a place goal in a competition - so it’s wise not to place the entirety of your focus and sense of fulfillment solely on an outcome.
A process goal focuses on creating effective systems and consistency day in and day out. These are entirely under our control and often offer a greater sense of accomplishment, competence and mastery over your given pursuit.
Whatever your chosen activity, nothing changes if nothing changes - you won’t magically find time to pursue it if you don’t change something up and intentionally make space for it. Often this is as simple as not biting off more than you can chew. Start where you’re at and build from there. I love the quote by James Clear, “a habit must be established before it can be improved.” For some people and some goals, this is where a coach might come into play as accountability can be a powerful motivator and a good coach will create a plan that fits your needs and helps you determine appropriate process goals.
To execute the plan, we move to the next layer of the pyramid, which is Practice. This is the action. It’s all well and good to have a plan, but if you don’t take action you’ll never move from A to B, let alone A to Z. When we’re talking about practice, we can look at it in two ways:
To practice, as in the doing, the training. I am going to practice right now. This version is looking at an individual performance. How well did I perform today? How did my skills stack up today? Did today’s practice go well?
A practice the repeated doing in order to gain proficiency. I am developing a practice. This version is looking at the whole of your acquired experience and offers a sense of grace for your daily shortcomings knowing that they are just one piece of the larger puzzle. For example, yogis often refer to their yoga practice as a whole. You can look at your developing passion project as a practice, as in your running practice, your painting practice, etc.
Looking at it in both ways helps you examine your relationship to failure. Taking stock of an individual practice might leave you feeling defeated if it was a bad day. Looking at the entirety of your overall practice helps you to view your development as constantly evolving. By looking at it this way, you can see that you are simply learning and every day is a new opportunity to get more practice under your belt without judging one singular day as a concrete example of your current abilities.
I also think this is where social media does a great disservice - it often appears as though people just wake up one day completely transformed, especially when we only see and share the highlight reels, the before/afters, or post only after we’ve already achieved a modicum of success instead of learning out loud and bringing others along for the journey. We don’t always see all of the work, the daily grind, that happens leading up to success. Then, we get lost in expectations of unearthing some innate talent without putting in the work.
And I am just as guilty about having this mindset as anyone - as a kid, I wanted to be good at playing the piano, but I’d get frustrated and give up during practice if I wasn’t already good at a piece. I felt as though my ability to sit down and perform right now was evidence of my potential. I wanted to magically go from A to Z. Even today, as a runner, I can get in my head about how far I feel from my goals and what it will take to get there. Developing a practice is about identifying more with your process goals than your outcome goals. I am here now, I am showing up, I am committed, and I am trying my best in this moment.
Progress is the result of having a purpose, developing a plan, and executing it to the best of your ability, while making adjustments when necessary. Progress is the payoff of the investment of your time and effort. The cool part about progress is that you get to establish your own personal metrics for what success means to you. Again, this comes back to the outcome vs process goals. Progress might mean getting a new PR, but it might also mean going from 2 practice sessions a week to 3.
However, success doesn’t always have to be an objective measure of performance - whether outcome or process oriented. It can also be experiential or subjective. Take, for example, ultramarathon runner, author and podcaster Rob Steger. Ultramarathon performance (outcomes) can be notoriously unpredictable, despite a “perfect” training block leading up to the race. In his book Training for Ultra, Rob says his idea of a successful race is making sure to be present and engage positively with the community, whether that’s a good conversation with a fellow runner or showing gratitude and kindness to the race volunteers he encounters. This is setting an expectation of the experience that you have control over. So progress or success can ultimately be whatever you deem it to be based on your values, inputs, and experience.
Passion is the peak of the pyramid. The glory is in the growth, in the becoming, in the realization of your purpose through tangible actions. You are climbing your Everest and having a blast doing it. You have found something in which you feel engaged and fulfilled - despite setbacks, plateaus and imperfections. You are using your time - spending your life - in a way that you find meaningful, and you feel excited for whatever the day will bring. That is living with a passion.