Give up trying to find your passion and just do it

I was reading Daniel Pink the other day and reflecting on one of his counterintuitive pieces of advice: “Give up trying to find your passion.”

Pink, a top-selling author on career, motivation and work-related issues, is perhaps best known for his book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.” About a year ago, he published an e-book called “The Flip Manifesto: 16 Counterintuitive Ideas About Motivation, Innovation and Leadership.”

Flip Manifesto

The premise of “The Flip Manifesto” is pretty simple: Great people and organizations flip conventional wisdom on its head. They take age-old beliefs and turn them upside down. Some of the 16 “flips” Pink describes I’ve heard before such as “Keep a To-Don’t list.” Others would cause any HR manager to go into hysterics: “Pay people too much” or “Take as much vacation as you want whenever you want.”

But Pink demonstrates with studies and examples how each of these counterintuitive ideas makes sense.

Most of my life I’ve grappled with the “passion thing.” As Pink notes, friends, family, mentors and consultants always seem to ask us when we’re in the midst of career crisis, “What’s your passion?”

As if to say, “Listen to your heart, and the path will reveal itself.” Pink says this is nonsense and suggests that we ask instead, “What do you do?”

We’re all used to asking and responding to this simple “what-do-you-do” question. It’s shorthand for tell me where you work or what your job is. But that’s not what Pink is saying.

What Pink means is, “What do you do when you’re not at work? What do you like to do in your spare time? What are your interests?”

“This is how people find their way,” he says after giving several examples of successful people who decided to make careers out of what they did for fun on the side. “Instead of endless self-examination and the search for some inscrutable holy emotional grail, they act.”

Here are some other good “what-do-you-do” kinds questions from Pink:

What did you do last Saturday afternoon—for fun, for yourself?

What books do you read or blogs do you visit, not for work, but just because you’re interested in them?

What are you great at?

What comes easily to you?

What would you do—or are you already doing—for free?

As I near the end of my second year as a self-employed PR consultant, I’ve been thinking about the passion thing in a new light. I’ve begun to see that what I “do” is write.

Writing is a big part of public relations, of course, and it’s that aspect of the business that I always seem to gravitate towards. I guess the fact that I write this blog in my spare time rather than watch TV (or sleep) should be a clue that writing is my “passion.” But I have never thought of it that way. I just think of it as the thing I do.

As Pink says about his own career shift from politics to writing books and magazine articles, “Am I passionate about it? Sure, I guess. Maybe. Some days. But passion isn’t something I much ponder.”

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