I'm Ben Gruber

2014 / 17 March

First You Have to Find Your Passion

“Definitely Not This”

After griping with the idea of a career change for nearly a year – these three words are the reason I finally quit my job.  But I’ll tell you, the agony of not being happy in what you do while at the same time being fairly successful (or “occupational purgatory “ as I like to call it) is not something I would wish on my worst enemy.

The endless stream of justifications of why I should resist a change  – “well, you’re making good money. You’re on a great path for the future. Nobody gets this kind of experience. Nobody really likes their job that much, do they?” – followed by another bout of miserable Mondays is enough to drive anyone crazy.

As I translated this inner feeling to friends, family and co-workers it became clear that what I was experiencing was a lack of PASSION for my work.  And once “passion” was identified as the problem, the solution to all my woes was quite obvious and easy to accomplish. As each and every person I talked to suggested – I simply needed to find something I was PASSIONATE about and then just do that.

Easy. Great. Awesome. It was so simple all along. Just follow my passion.

If you think this sounds a little sarcastic, it’s because it is.  As a human being on this planet, I know that the holy grail of a happy work/life is doing a job that you are passionate about. But my problem was not in doing something I was passionate about, but rather in finding passion at all. This little detail would need to be taken care of before I could take the wonderful advice of friends and family.

Finding careers that I knew I was definitely not passionate about was not my problem.  I quickly drew lines straight through doctor, lawyer, astronaut, and many others. The issue was that when I was done with the exercise there were still about 10-20 different possible careers left uncrossed – all of which make enough money that the dollar trump card could not be used as a narrowing tool.

So how do you find passion? Is it born in us? Do we just need to keep moving long enough to stumble upon it and unlock that passion? I have found this to be the predominant view of most people.  But after trying many many different activities, I no longer subscribe to the theory. There is also some evidence to back me up. Studies conducted with students graduating college found that only about 5% of people have “passion” in something that can be done as a job.

So if passion isn’t deep within us waiting to be found and is instead something we have to generate – how do we go about creating passion in something – anything?

Through deep thinking, a ton of reading and some personal experience, I developed a basic framework to find passion. My basic thought can be succinctly summarized in something that I call the “Skill Gap” theory.

The Skill Gap theory is actually pretty simple. The feeling of passion towards a career is generated as we become more and more skilled at a given task. As we develop talent over an extended period of time, the activity begins to feel easier, which makes it less frustrating and more fun. In addition we begin to feel a sense of pride in being able to skillfully complete tasks that not everyone can do. This two-punch combo allows us to really get into something and begin to develop some underlying enthusiasm for it. Then that small feeling of “pre-passion” reinforces the behaviors that made us originally gain the skill in the first place, which gives us incentive to get even better at the skill and thus develop even more passionate – in a beautiful cycle.

So go out there and get good at something! What you ask? My suggestion would be a technical skill. Maybe learn carpentry, a coding language, Google Sketch Up, or even get into SAS (statistics program) – anything that is a hard skill. I suggest these types of programs and skills for two reasons. They are the most straightforward to develop and also begin to see a skill gap. At the same time they are also directly related to professions. That is not to say that this process is linear. Beginning to develop a skill will push you in a direction of something that you may begin to feel passionate about. Once the ball is rolling it becomes easier to find more and more that you feel good about doing.

After leaving my job, I have taught myself Photoshop, a few coding languages, video shooting and editing, and a have really gotten deep into understanding electrical hardware. I am still a work in progress but as I have started to get better at code moving from a beginner to an intermediate and as I have become more knowledgeable in hardware, I have begun to develop a smidgen of a stimulus – a little mini vibration towards the subject, which I am hopeful, will eventually evolve into passion!

Obviously this not a comprehensive guide to finding passion, but I hope that sharing some of my experiences and thoughts on the matter can help somebody out there who might be stuck in a similar situation. Sometimes you just need a little tweak to get you on the way.

One last quick note: please check out this talk from Cal Newport.  He has some great material on the subject and a lot of what he speaks about has help crystalize much of what I was already feeling.

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