Finding (and flaming) your passion

Passion – such a common word. Everyone speaks of it with great reverence. All the time. However, it’s a virtue that is overspoken in public and under-utilized in life. It is believed to be a magical lamp that can light up your life. If you have ‘passion’ you can have everything you wish for- be it the professional success or heavenly relationships at home. If you have passion, you can conquer the world.

Then, why is it so difficult to find one? Why can’t we get up in the morning and have passion served with the morning cuppa of coffee?

Is it due to the lack of purpose? The missing ‘why’ from your thoughts?

There can’t be a better explanation for this than what Simon Sinek says here of why knowing your ‘why’ is essential. If you know ‘why’ you are doing what you are doing, you are blessed.

However, sometimes we think we know our ‘why’, but in reality, we do not. For instance, if you are a developer, you write code as per best practices because the acceptance criteria have to be met. That’s not knowing the why. The real ‘why’ is- why does acceptance criteria say that?

It’s about digging out facts after facts until you know why we need to develop code as per the acceptance criteria. Until then, whatever you code, will be shallow. It will make nobody happy in the future. After a few weeks or days or months or maybe years, this piece of code will manifest itself into living maggots.

Quoting Travis McAshan’s words-

“Purpose may point you in the right direction but it’s the passion that propels you.”

But I believe that passion alone is overrated. It needs so many other things to manifest itself.

Let’s look at them one by one-


Discipline at work is most essential

Knowing your ‘why’ solves the passion puzzle. Right? Not so much. Life isn’t so simple. Flames of passion can be ignited by the fire of why. But, to keep it burning, you need discipline. Discipline, to bring the why back when we falter in execution. Discipline to improve your skills. Discipline to do even the not-so-interesting things.

Let me explain that in detail- in every task, there are things that you will enjoy and then there will be things that you may not enjoy. For example- while writing code, you may not like writing unit tests or writing necessary documentation or following best practices. But in your pursuit of fulfilling your mission, discipline is required for you to cross all those mental blocks and overcome them.


Competence at work

Unless you have the right skill set to achieve your goals, flames of passion will die sooner or later. Therefore, it is essential to focus on improving your skills and invest time in continuous self-improvement to keep your passion alive. Even if you are an expert, you can’t know everything.

Cal Newport defines passion as a feeling that arises from having mastered a skill that earns you recognition and rewards.

And rightly so! As you improve your skills, you become more capable to solve complex problems. And when you begin to solve more complex problems, you become a better professional. The net result is a sense of accomplishment and happiness. This fuels your passion even more.

There are so many ways to keep this habit of learning alive and kicking. One of them is – Kaizen. Or, for software programmers, there is something called – Kata. It promotes the idea of practicing and repetition of the art you are learning. Like programming. You can choose whichever technique works best for you.


Autonomy at work

If you’ve ever lost your passion for some work that once energized you, then one reason could be lack of autonomy.

It’s natural that when you have the autonomy to make decisions, to calibrate your outcomes, then it’ll propel your passion to further improve. Decision-making gives a sense of ownership. Sometimes to understand the impact of something, it is best to imagine the lack of it. If you are in an environment where autonomy is missing, there is hardly any chance to remain passionate.


If your workplace provides an environment where you feel valued and you can mutually trust each other, then you will naturally be inclined to do great work. In such an environment, you will be able to engage yourself with what you like to do. Or, in other words, you will enjoy what you do. This is one of the components in self-determination theory of self-motivation.


Why excellence at work is most important

You know the ‘why’ and you have the ‘discipline’. But is that really enough? Well, not really!

Passion is fueled by recognition, which is turn comes when you do a commendable job. So, in order to flame your passion, become the best version of yourself. Don’t be a jack of all trades, focus on mastering one thing that you know the best. And if you are still learning, focus all your energy on improving. But never settle for mediocre outcomes. Mastering something is extremely difficult but with hard work and discipline, it can be achieved.

Another thing to keep in mind- if you are working in a team, it’s not easy to survive on the passion card alone. A passionate person can’t keep his/her flames of passion burning all the time. If other members of your team aren’t as passionate about the cause as you are, then all your efforts will hit a steep downhill.  

However, it’s not necessary that everyone in your team will be as passionate about their work as you are. So in order to bring everyone on the same page, get to know your team, their motivations, their aspirations. Figure out if they know the common goals of the team and the vision of the organization.

Passion alone has no existence. It is developed and nurtured by elements of discipline, autonomy, relatedness, excellence, and competence. If you feel passionate about your purpose, you will do more than you ever felt is possible. Some of these traits have been mentioned in Self Determination Theory (SDT).

If you love what you do, all this hubris of work-life balance won’t matter to you. Any number of hours that you put in the area of your passion would never bore you because that’s not ‘work’ for you. It gives you happiness. And that matters the most. If you are happier, you are healthier and if you are healthier you will be happier. A WSJ study reported on the basis of longevity project, those who had meaningful careers and worked the hardest, live the longest.

And on that note, I just hope you find your passion soon and nurture it with great discipline.

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