Passion Is An Epiphenomenon

This blog post started as a comment on Ben Casnocha’s post on passion and voice. Most of my blog posts recently have come as a result of something provocative coming into my environment, a conversation, an idea, a quote, and unplanned, I end up writing. I’m not allocating much time to write these days, but when the thoughts come I try to capture them. I have plenty of ideas captured. I’m going to try to start allocating time to finish them off and shipping as Seth Godin would say. Enough hoopla, let the post commence:

While passion is undeniably important for your career I think it is the wrong thing to focus on is because it is an epiphenomenon. And epiphenomenon are by definition elusive if pursued directly.

For finding passions here’s what I’m advocating now:

Try as many things as possible with as low a commitment as possible: School does a terrible job at this, you get to try a maximum of 6 things a semester, and you’re locked in (after the first two weeks). And outside of school most people don’t try many things on their own. So therein lies a big part of the problem of passion and why most people haven’t found it. They simply have tried enough things and pursued in enough depth to find it. I could go into more depth about why school destroys passion, but here, I won’t.. Many people think that their only options for passions are what school presents them with. So they don’t even try to look outside of school. And they think they don’t have passions, so they give up.

Ratchet up your commitment one level — Ways to do this:¬†Read more in depth about one of the things you tested out and enjoyed doing, or practice it for an hour, talk with other people who like this thing too, talk with professionals who have done it for years. Then assess whether you want to go further. Passion doesn’t come until you’ve put in enough hours to become hooked. Passion doesn’t really come until you become good at something, or at the very least, you feel good at and no one has told you that you aren’t yet.

Begin devoting more and more energy to this thing you enjoy, testing whether it can become one of your passions. This is where you try the passion on as a noun. Do I want to be a ___ (artist, dancer, marketer, entrepreneur). Before you were just trying it on as verbs and adjectives (gerunds are verbs for all intents and purposes here): I’m being artistic, I’m dancing, I’m writing copy, I’m being entrepreneurial. Now you can pick up the plethora of advice on literature about how to build your life around following your passion. You can read all the success literature and a lot of it will stick. The hard part was finding your passion in the first place.

And now a personal anecdote of passion seeking and passion finding:

My interest in computers and technology started when I began playing around with the first computer my family positioned in an accessible place. My dad occasionally bought macworld magazines. I read them and began learning more about computers and working through tutorials in the magazines. I began playing with the system and  experimenting on my own. I browsed the internet and bought books.  I was hungry to learn more. I worked through books on html and built a website for my mom. I listened to podcasts online and on my iPod. I found my way through an interview on a tech podcast to the ITConversations site. Where I then began listening to talks on accelerating change. I loved those and listened to more whenever I could. I bought books based on the talks and talked with people about the ideas. When the rest of my family was shopping for in Barcelona, I parked myself on a bench and listened to awe-inspiring lectures.


I went to the conference and began meeting the people involved. I kept showing up. I eventually got a job out of my connections. These big ideas I heard filled in the blank for how I was going to make a difference in the world. At first I thought it was big business, but then later I discovered the idea of entrepreneurship. I reached out to entrepreneurs. I read about entrepreneurship. I went to events when I was underaged and knew nobody. I began to get connected. I helped organize events. I figured out how to turn some of my previous projects into a startup. I started asking for introductions and setting up meetings with people who had done startups before. I met with anyone I could just trying to expand the breadth of people I knew and get new perspectives. I decided this was a path I loved and I decided to take a gap year and give myself the time to focus hard and fully commit. Now I’m fully committed to this passion of mine and I’m learning faster than ever before, meeting incredible people, and opening up new possibilities faster than I could have ever imagined when I began playing with my computer and reading macworld magazine.

Everyone I meet now knows I have “the itch,” as they say. But it grew in proportion to my effort. That’s how you know you’ve found one of your passions, when the more time you put into it, your desire to do more increases. Many times you’ll find things that feel like passions in the beginning but you realize you don’t like that much after putting more energy into it. That’s fine. It’s part of the process. Just pick up something new that interests you and run with it. If it feels wrong consider dropping it. But if it feels right keep going. And going.