How to find your passion

I’m guessing you are pretty busy at the moment. Everybody is. There’s a mortgage to pay and demands to be met. You’ve got responsibilities. You have a career to think about. Success is happening, maybe a bit too slowly, but it is happening.

How are you feeling about all that now? How are your stress levels? Is your mind quiet and peaceful or do you spend every minute of every day rolling the same set of thoughts round and round in your head? What a life. It will get better some day, just as soon as I …………!

When I look around society, I am amazed by what I see and it almost makes no sense. But, when I contemplate, it all makes a great deal of sense. We all have plenty to eat and nice clothes to wear. Most of us have a comfortable place to live and easy access to transport. We live in densely populated communities providing plenty of company. Yet many are over-burdened with debt and dependent on medications, alcohol or both. Many are battling with poor health.

If a person from the 70s was able to visit your home, they would see it as an entertainment mecca. Step outside the front door and you are but a short ride from more forms of amusement. Our world is loaded with holiday resorts and exciting leisure activities. Harry Palmer, author and developer of the Avatar self-development system, talked of how this entertainment bonanza promises quick happiness. But statistics tell us depression and other mental illnesses are more common than ever. Palmer offers the viewpoint that it may simply be the result of boredom.

It does seem that the more bored we become, the more pleasure we seek and the more we are prepared to invest in this seductive path to happiness.

Don’t you sometimes wonder what it all means? Perhaps the first step to understanding your stress and worry is to take a look back at where you started.

Early signs

What did you want to do when you were growing up? What path did you end up following? How closely aligned are those two things — not that they should be? It’s just an interesting comparison.

I remember kids I went to school with. Many of them had passions and skills that did not appear to have a career connected to them. Some were incredible artists. Others were brilliant surfers. Back in the 70s, there were limited careers connected with these skills sets.

Due to the belief systems of the time, these skills were passed off as “nice”. But the overriding belief was, “Son, you need to get a good career.” There were other kids who were very creative but also had academic brilliance and chose to become doctors or lawyers simply because they achieved a high Year 12 score. Other kids who had a passion for medicine and healing were left to seek an alternative career because they did not get the marks required to study medicine.

One young man named Andy Maher, who was in the year behind me at school, was a real character. He was good at sport but he had a bigger passion. He loved statistics and discussing sport. On Friday afternoons, when we were out on the main oval playing football in the first 18, Andy was sitting up on the hill, early-model video camera rolling and microphone in hand, commentating the game. These days, Andy is a key sports anchor for Channel Ten in Melbourne and has his own breakfast show in Sports Radio.

What you really wanted to do when you were at school may be an indicator of an unexplored life passion.

The big question

So here’s a question for you. “If there was nothing in the way, no financial or family limitations, no skill or health restrictions — nothing in the way at all — what would you do in this lifetime?”

Some people tell me they would go travelling. Perhaps that is true but, if it is just simply travel, the novelty may well wear off. Then what?

So I believe this is a fair question. If I were to give you a gold pass to the career or life of your choice, what would it look like? Or perhaps we can look at it another way. One day, you will leave the planet and someone who loved you very much will stand before your family and friends to deliver a eulogy. What will they say? What is that thing that you did with your life that they will talk about?

Abraham Maslow talked about the things that motivate human beings (needs) to live life. One of the key needs, he reported, is purpose. This sense of purpose delivers a feeling of achievement and fulfilment. These are crucial to achieving one’s own unique potential.

When you find your purpose, your passion, some things change; some subtle, some obvious. Living with passion means you know what you want to create and cannot wait to get to it. When you wake in the morning your mind fills with things you want to achieve. When you go to bed at night, you feel good about yourself and sleep restfully.

This passion builds inspiration and a sense of excitement about living. This gives us the feeling that we are “really living”. It brings satisfaction and peace. Life becomes the reward we have sought.

Without this sense of passion, we are forced to do everything we can to stay motivated. We compete with others or we reward ourselves. But the truth is, we become bored easily and struggle to feel excited about life. At this point, we start looking outward for things to excite us. So we start investing in toys, holidays, outfits, personal services and activities that keep our attention off our relentless boredom and lack of fulfilment. By this time, we are looking for the world to make us happy and, of course, in most cases it will disappoint.

Heart vs head

When you are living your passion, feeling a sense of purpose, you are living from your heart. Anything else is living from your head. When you live from your heart, your heart is open and feels free. When you live from your head, the heart closes, heart disease risk increases and the negative associated with intense thinking and bad stress begin to appear. Studies show that people who live with a strong sense of purpose, a purpose that benefits the lives of others, have a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

I was once doing some work for a manufacturing company and they had a problem with a single employee who appeared to be creating a lot of conflict with fellow workers. The factory manager did not want to sack him and was seeking a solution. The man was an Iraqi immigrant who had been in Australia for a few years and appeared to be angry all the time.

I asked the factory manager what he knew about the man and what the man’s passion was. He revealed that he knew little about him so set about finding out. A single discussion later revealed that the man had a deep passion for football. Back in Iraq he had been a very good player and had loved coaching. His move to Australia had disconnected him from his life passion.

A few inquiries and a couple of phone calls later, a local under-12 team that did not have a coach was found. The man was introduced to his new team and away he went. His demeanour changed instantly. Before long, the rest of his workmates were keen followers of the team. And the kids got the gift of a passionate coach who simply wanted to teach, guide and inspire them to love their football.

This man who had been deeply unhappy was now bursting with joy and life. As we already know at a deep level, spending more money will not relieve boredom.

This story presents some very real relief. Your job does not have to be your passion. Your passion may have something to do with art or music, or sport. It may be public service, filmmaking or nature. It could be gardening, cooking or writing. It doesn’t really matter. When you find your passion, your life will change and your happiness will increase.

But! There is always a “but”. For a passion to be part of your life purpose, it must be something that has a positive impact on the life of other people, particularly strangers. Without this element your newfound passion is little more than an indulgence that will soon lose its shine.

When you find your passion, your negative stress and worries lessen. You may even find you’ll need less sleep. We often read about passionate leaders who are out there changing the world and don’t seem to sleep all that much. Some people who are following their passion in life refer to positive stress, an excitement that percolates just below the surface of their lives.

Hurdling fear

Perhaps one of the greatest hurdles we must negotiate is fear of failure. There are many in the community who have a secret passion but either keep it secret or hold back from pursuing it for fear of failure, discouragement or even ridicule.

Many of the great things we enjoy in life would not be a reality if fear of failure dampened the spirits of the inventor. Thomas Edison once famously said, “I have not failed 500 times. I have successfully discovered 500 methods that do not work.”

If you do have an idea that gets you excited when you permit yourself to contemplate it, how long are you going to keep it hidden from the world? Are you going to deprive this world of your best talents? Have you considered the possibility that succumbing to a fear of failure will leave you to die wondering what could have been?

If you want it enough, nothing can really hold you back. In 1998, I met Brendan McCartney, reserves coach at Richmond Football Club in the AFL. Macca had never played in the AFL or VFL before that. He was a country footballer but he had a passion for coaching. I sat in on many of his sessions and he proved to be an inspiring, loving and gifted teacher of young men. Previously, coaching had been the domain of former champion players.

In 2011, McCartney was appointed to the role of Senior Coach at the Western Bulldogs in the AFL. His is the story of a passion pursued with vigour, courage and a fierce desire to succeed.

Finding your passion

If you cannot find your passion, here are some questions that may help:

Are you constantly stressed and worried?

If you are, you are probably resisting your life as it is.

What did you really want to do with your life in your teens?

Contemplate this question for a while. You may recall more than one answer.

When you open a newspaper, what sort of things get you stirred up? What things would you love to change for the better?

There are things in life we care deeply about. Sometimes we get a little busy and take our attention off them. Scanning back over a newspaper for a couple of weeks can reveal those areas. When something affects us to bring forth a reaction, it may well be because we care deeply about something. Lynda Stoner, former celebrated actress, became a lifelong animal-cruelty campaigner after seeing what was happening to fur seal pups in Canada. When the pending cull was reported in the media, Lynda stepped out of her glamorous life to take a stand. Her passion and care still drive her today.

What is something in the world that really excites you or makes you really sad?

Things that are not ideal simply continue until someone puts up their hand to change the course of history. Perhaps you are destined to be next to bring about change for the better.

What is something you believe should be done to make the world a better place?

Sometimes we talk about things to get relief. The real prize comes when we roll up our sleeves and get involved.

These are all simple tools that can serve as “passion indicators”. If you feel a response, follow it. Happiness, peace, fulfilment and deep self-respect are the prizes that await you. Now is your opportunity to take the road from your head to your heart by embracing your passions and sharing them with the world. It will open up your heart.


John Toomey resides in Melbourne and is one of Australia’s most sought-after speakers on wellness, is the author of Australia’s first-ever Certificate Course in Wellness Leadership, and creator of the innovative Global Wellness Program for workplaces. E:, T: (03) 9005 7553

The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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