Sunday night, crammed into an airplane seat, tired, with a headache banging through my forehead, I feel miles away from the topic I planned to write about this week: passion.
But I’m going to give it a shot because I’m armed with reams of notes and if I can connect to my passion now, I can do it any time I want.
Finding your passion is an essential ingredient of winning armies, companies and individuals. It is not a soft nice-to-have, but a strategic requisite.
How can you rapidly connect to your passion and purpose?
Carl von Clausewitz talked about the strategic power of passion and Sun Tzu underscored its importance as well. Soldiers who care about their cause fight harder. Their passion invites support. They turn the world on their side.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the psychologist who coined the term “Flow,” describing it is as “the feeling of total engagement in the activity so that you don’t notice anything outside of what you’re doing,” shows that finding flow reduces stress, increases happiness, and improves mental health.
Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator, argues that entrepreneurs out of touch with their passion do things for “prestige.”
“Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy,” said Graham. “It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.”
If you pursue what others are passionate about, rather than what you love, you will always be second to market.
Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, puts it best: “If you’re into kite-surfing and you want to become an entrepreneur, do it with kite-surfing. Look, if you can indulge in your passion, life will be far more interesting than if you’re just working. You’ll work harder at it, and you’ll know more about it. But first you must go out and educate yourself on whatever it is that you’ve decided to do—know more about kite-surfing than anyone else. That’s where the work comes in. But if you’re doing things you’re passionate about, that will come naturally”
So, hopefully you want it now (I do!). How do you find it?
I found 14 short, practical exercises you can use to connect to your passion.
1. Build your portfolio
Randy Komisar, technology legend and now a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, thinks looking for your one-and-only passion will paralyze you. Instead think of a portfolio of passions and use those passions to guide you. You don’t have to choose just one!
2. Write three lists
Sit down and write out three lists: everything you are good at, everything you enjoy doing, everything that gives you a sense of purpose. Then look for the common themes in these lists.
3. Recall flow states
Sit me down in a library with a stack of old books and mission to produce a blog or paper, and time stops. I blink and three hours have passed. Flow states occur when you mind is so engaged in your activity that it lacks the mental capacity to notice other things. It means you are loving what you are doing. Sit down and think back from childhood to today and put together a catalogue of activities that put you into a state of flow.
4. Explore the “four aims of life”
A Buddhist framework suggest there are four aims to life: (1) physical health and pleasure, (2) wealth and things and family, (3) becoming a perfect person, and (4) finding your greater purpose. Think of and write down three potential passions for each of these aims.
5. Ask yourself
Deepak Chopra suggests you meditate for a few minutes to reach a state of deep relaxation, then, “Ask what your heart deeply desires and yearns to express and listen quietly for an honest response . . . don’t fixate on one response.”
6. Create space
President Obama dedicates 10:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. each night, while Michelle and his girls sleep, to work, read and write. I find my think time while cooking a midnight meal in a quiet kitchen, when everyone else is in bed, or on long flights. When is your think time?
7. Write until you cry
Steve Pavlina suggests you write down the answer to “What is my true purpose in life.” Then, write another answer. Keep writing until you cry. “This is your purpose.”
8. Envision your funeral
Michael Gerber, author of E-Myth: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work, recommends you imagine your funeral and asking what you want your eulogy to consist of, your lifetime achievements to be, the difference you made. How many of these are you doing right now?
9. Answer 15 questions
The people at www.thinksimplenow.com offer a list of 15 questions you can ask to help connect with your purpose, including “What makes you smile?” and “If you had to teach something, what would you teach?”
10. Write your “ideal Self”
One of my favorite gurus on passion and purpose, Steven Pressfield, wrote “We have an ideal Self in our imaginations . . . this Self is a New York Times Bestselling Author. This Self stopped a bar fight with a witty joke. This Self sang the national anthem . . . of the world. This Self saved babies from a burning building, then demurred when the TV news reporters sought them for an interview for their heroic valor. This Self is the most interesting person in the world”
You are writing a novel or play with your “ideal Self” as the lead character: who is he/she? Mine is the bestselling author, the inventor, the “guru” who fills a stadium.
11. Find and seek out your fears
Pressfield also writes, “If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends) ‘Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?’ chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.” So ask yourself, “What is it I’m scared to death of? Where am I today? Is my comfort zone getting very uncomfortable?”
12. Write the “moments”
Stan Slap, author of Bury My Heart at Conference Room B, suggests you find a personal story that had an impact on you and share it.
“The answer is that your story doesn’t have to be dramatic, only real,” Slap said. “True epiphanies often come from a series of small moments” that only after reflecting on them you realize formed your values and passions. What moments do you most remember for your past?
13. Watch TEDTalks
YouTube is now filled with them. Watch talks by anyone and you will see what it looks like to be deeply connected with a passion and purpose.
14. Remove the cause
The Indian guru Jiddu Krishnamurti distinguishes false passion from passion without a cause.
“Our passion is for something: for music, for painting, for literature, for a country, for a woman or a man; it is always the effect of a cause [but] when passion has a cause, there is attachment, and attachment is the beginning of sorrow.” So ask yourself, “If I had nothing to prove, nothing to achieve, if I had all that I needed, what would I love doing?”
A strategy is as much about what you decided NOT to do as it is about what you decide to do. So to achieve your purpose commit to it and say no to the alternatives: the complacency, the easy path, the distractions. This is the beginning of action. As Peter Drucker said, “Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes . . . but no plans.”
Kaihan Krippendorf (www.kaihan.net), a founding Fellow of the Center for Leadership and an adjunct professor in the College of Business, is the author of Hide a Dagger Behind a Smile and The Way of Innovation. This article was originally written as an entry for his FastCompany.com blog “The Outthinker: Mavericks that Out Innovate the Competition.” The opinions expressed in this column are the writer’s and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of either FIU or the College of Business Administration.
View all articles by Kaihan Krippendorff.