What Gives You Life?

While by identifying your MAP you’re also considering what you’re passionate about as well what you’re naturally gifted to do, it’s worth addressing the importance of passion and drive with respect to finding a career you love more closely. You may be familiar with Joseph Campbell’s aphorism, “follow your bliss.” This might seem a bit naïve, impractical, and unhelpful. What if your “bliss” is playing fantasy football or eating freshly-baked goods (although, there are indeed people who make a living doing these very things…)?

That’s why when using the term “passion,” it’s important to clarify that finding work which you’re passionate about does not mean it will always be easy or perpetually pleasurable to do. No matter what the work is, there will always be days that are more challenging than others. However, when we find work that aligns with our natural abilities and passions, there is a sense of accomplishment and deep contentment that results, even on the harder days. It’s this type of contentment, or joy, that should guide us, not the mere absence of struggle or difficulty.

But how do you know when you aren’t passionate about your work?

Robinson highlights one way of identifying if you’re not in a career that’s a good fit: if your “spirit is constantly heavy.” We all know the feeling of dread that accompanies certain activities we have to do. We may find such activities boring, dull, draining, and unfulfilling. And when those activities are not merely at the periphery of our days, but make up their center — like when we’re stuck in a career that isn’t a good fit — it’s a problem.

But since we’re all different — and we each have a unique MAP — those life-draining activities will look different for each one of us. We can’t assume that because our colleague, friend, or parent loves a certain type of work that we will too. Robinson brings up the example of someone who — believe it or not — actually enjoys their job of wading through sewers. Although, this might be a minority opinion, it’s nevertheless important to be aware that what others tells us will or won’t be fulfilling is not necessarily going to align with our own experience. We often hear from our culture how admirable it is to be a lawyer, doctor, or entrepreneur — and for those with the right gifts and passions it is — but not everyone will find such roles fulfilling. That’s why, while it’s important to be aware of your circumstances and the needs of the world, which we’ll discuss later, it must also be rooted in self-knowledge. As Miller Jr. writes, when someone does the thing he or she was born to do, there is an instinctive experience of fulfillment. It’s not something she is supposed to experience — it’s what she actually does experience.”

When someone does the thing he or she was born to do, there is an instinctive experience of fulfillment. It’s not something she is supposed to experience — it’s what she actually does experience.

This might be why there are many people who work very hard to gain that coveted job in the eyes of others only to find out once they get it they aren’t happy. As the philosopher Alain de Botton, Ph.D., discusses in a TED Talk, it’s an awful thing to sacrifice years of work and effort to reach a goal that, as it turns out, doesn’t make you happy. You may have the aptitudes to be successful at a lot of things, but if what you’re doing is not aligned with a deep passion for the work, you’ll most likely be unfulfilled.

Another method for determining if you’re passionate about something is to notice if you reach a state of “flow” when doing a certain activity. Flow, a term coined by the psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, Ph.D., refers to when we are engaged in an activity that is interesting, challenging, and meaningful to us. Have you ever lost track of time because you were intensely focused on some activity? Being in that state provides a pleasurable state of contentment, and is indicative of the type of activities that we enjoy.

This is what Rios attempts to do with her graduate and adult degree completion students, individuals who are sometimes older and already working in a career. She works to help them identify what they’re deeply passionate about.

“It’s important that I take the time to really listen to what students’ interests are and help them realize for themselves what they would like to do as far as a career or what they need to transition into,” Rios said. “It’s my job as a counselor to help them realize certain strengths that they have and help them realize what they’re really passionate about. This might mean asking someone, ‘Did you realize that when you talked about this your face lit up and I just got so much passion from you? Let’s explore that and talk about what that would mean.’”

Rios understands the difference between doing something you’re passionate about — and that feels right — versus doing something that doesn’t, not only because of her work with students, but also because of her own experience.

“I actually was in education for a long time and then switched gears and became a business coach for attorneys, which is completely different,” Rios shared. “Different population, different mindset, but I was still coaching and counseling. I realized in that position that I had for almost four years that I didn’t have the right type of feeling. I was helping people, but I didn’t feel like I did when I worked with students. So with first hand experience, I’ve known what it felt like to not be using my strengths in the way that I wanted to, or necessarily waking up every day and feeling that passion to go to work. When I started working at PLNU, though, I felt that again.”

Questions to Consider:

  • If you’re currently working in a job, what were your motivations for pursuing it? Did you want to? Might you have taken the job to please others instead of yourself as well?
  • Does your current role, or the role you envision for yourself, align with your achievement stories and passions?
  • What type of activities, topics of conversation, or hobbies light you up and get you excited? Can some or all of these be applied to a career?
  • When was the last time you lost track of what you were doing in a state of flow? Did this happen at work? Is this an activity that exists in a certain type of career?

Download the “What Gives You Life?” worksheet.

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