We each live in our little hermetic worlds punctuated by humdrum days. You work or volunteer or both, exercise, grocery shop, prepare meals and clean up, chat with a friend or family member either on the phone or on FB, read the news, maybe watch a favorite TV show and then fall asleep. And it’s more of the same the next day.
That isn’t to say there aren’t high points in all our lives. For us, it can be when we’re researching and crafting an article we particularly like, finishing a book manuscript that we’re pleased about, hearing an article or book proposal has been accepted by an agent or better yet, a publisher, or moving forward with our forthcoming podcast series. But these are single happenings that make us feel good in the moment. What each of us needs to make us feel joy on a regular basis is our passions. However, the tricky part for many of us is discovering what that passion may be. Not everybody has one.
A passion is something that makes you glow, feel alive and puts a higher bounce in your step. When engaged in your passion whether a game of poker, or gardening, or jewelry making, or baseball, or anything that is enjoyable and requires focus, it blocks out the rest of the world. Stress melts away. You’re at peace.
Sometimes, it takes a while to discover a passion. How do you figure out what it is? Perhaps you read a piece online or in a magazine or newspaper. It sparks interest. You hear something on TV, in a conversation or a class and you think, I’d like to try that. After watching a pie making episode on the food channel, Margaret developed a passion for baking pies. She was determined to learn how to make perfect crust. She took a class and then proceeded to crank out pie after pie: chocolate cream pie, lemon meringue pie, fruit pies and on and on. This was a short-lived passion as her attempts at making the crust crumbled and so did her interest.
So, you decide, for example, that your passion might be golf. A little fore! play might be good for your health. Everybody else your age is taking it up, some are even quite good, and a few even passionate. So much so that a few lucky ones have bought second homes near golf courses and play several days a week. Sounds great, right? Yup, but you haul out the clubs, put on those cute golf shorts and shoes with cleats and find it downright frustrating, especially when the foursome behind you is pushing you along. Nah. It’s not for you.
Knitting? You try it. After you buy your needles, gorgeous cashmere wool yarn in the perfect azure blue and design a pattern, you drop too many stitches. There are holes the size of continents in the sweater you are making, and you find yourself having to start over repeatedly. You realize knit one, pearl two could never be your mantra. You try to calm down “Om” and figure yoga might be a better fit.
Passions can also be do-good deeds for others, not just about you. Some are passionate about stopping hunger and volunteer for related causes or even start foundations to help. Others are passionate about helping kids with tough emotional challenges by volunteering their time regularly to help them with homework or to pursue activities their family members may not be able to do or afford. Margaret’s passions run along these lines.
Barbara decided to reconsider tennis, once a passion, after a close friend, who had become so enamored, lent her an extra racket so she could join in, take lessons and play with her and her husband. Barbara tried and hitting ground strokes came back to her quickly, almost like riding a bicycle. A video of her swing even made her think, Mmm, this might be it! But this proved to be no match point for her. A recently healed broken hand made serving hard so she put that passion on hold.
Margaret who aspired at one time to sing opera, joined an oratorio chorus, the Bach Society. She didn’t read music well and worked very hard to learn difficult pieces. After 10 years and many hours of practice, she changed her tune. Singing at that level became a chore. Her dreams of becoming another Maria Callas were dashed.
Other ways to discover a possible passion are to read newspaper and magazine articles or even blog posts. One article the other day in the New York Times told about about Dolester Miles of the Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham who recently won outstanding pastry chef of the year. Quite impressive but even more so because she taught herself to bake and worked at the prestigious restaurant for years. Photos of her fluffy lemon meringue pie and towering coconut cake with toasted pecan frosting probably whet the appetite of many and maybe even spurred some to consider picking up a whisk and spatula.
Both of us clipped the recipes and put these on our baking to-do lists. The profile certainly resonated with Barbara who was baking regularly for a class as well as for her mom. Does she elevate it to passion status? Absolutely. She often volunteers when a friend is hosting a dinner party and asking for meal contributions She always raises her hand to take on the dessert; a chocolate sheet-pan cake with rich deep icing and toasted pecans and sprinkles is up next on her repertoire. And when she’s deciding on a recipe or baking she’s noticed she smiles more and is excited to see results. She doesn’t mind if the results are less than stellar and that some won’t make it into the encore category.
More recently she went back to a passion for painting, which had been her college major at one point. For 30 years she didn’t paint and then a “hike and paint” class on a short vacation jump-started an interest to pursue it again. The teacher encouraged her, so did the owner of her frame store and one daughter who asked her to paint tiny landscape scenes for the menu cards at her wedding. Barbara did and almost nothing diverts her on Mondays when she takes a three-hour class that includes a demonstration and critique with fellow students showing the diversity of their work. She even leaves her cell and watch at home so there are no distractions.
What do you do if no passion jumps out as a possibility? We suggest listening and watching more to what those around and in the news are doing. Remember when former President George H.W. Bush did skydiving to celebrate his 90th birthday? For some that might become a passion. The point is to try something, almost anything that remotely makes you think…hmmm, maybe, that sounds fun and will take my mind off work, the kids or anything else you might have been doing.
Here are more ways to help you find your passion and boost your joy meter exponentially.
7 Lessons to Help:
- Give most new efforts at least two or three tries, whether it’s tennis, knitting, sailing, bicycling, cooking, scuba diving. When it becomes a drag, it’s time to move on. Sort of like a bad relationship.
- If it appeals, stay with it longer and set some goals. A 10-mile bicycle ride, joining a bike group, ordering some new biking outfits after your 20-mile ride with some hills.
- Change it up so it doesn’t become stale. If you’ve taken up cooking and find you like making supper, consider a dinner party and trying out some recipes on others. Invest in a new cookbook or two, a magazine, watch some cooking shows and read some cooking blogs. There are great ones in every category to rev up interest. Maybe try a new approach to an old recipe i.e. make your fabulous chocolate chip cookies by using brown butter or sprinkling sea salt on top afterward.
- Journal about your new passion, which helps you step back and assess what you like about it--and maybe don’t.
- If you start resisting, take a break, come back and reassess. Once it becomes a chore, it’s no longer a passion. Life again is too short not to do what you love. Or do it a bit differently this time. Pursue a passion with a like-minded friend by taking a class or lesson together to ramp up skills.
- Limit the number of passions you pursue simultaneously. One at a time should suffice.
- Remember, nothing must be forever. Passions can stop and be remembered as something you enjoyed. Try to end on a high note for sweeter memories.