Music producer Quincy Jones spent his childhood running errands for mobsters, and seemed destined for a life of crime. One day Jones broke into a neighborhood recreation center and came upon a piano; he played one note and was completely transported. In that moment Jones knew that music was his life - he had discovered his passion. Quincy Jones went on to produce such hit albums as Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
Your passions are activities and interests that fill you with energy, enthusiasm and a deep sense of connection. When following your passion you may work for hours without a break and lose all track of time. Passions are both intensely pleasurable and deeply meaningful, much like being in love. However they are not just about “feeling good”. Your passions are seeds that, if tended, lead to a life filled with satisfaction.
Passions function as a window into our core values, the essential qualities that define and motivate us as individuals. For example, in a workshop I led for teens, two participants with a passion for acting were driven by very different core values. One loved acting because it gave him an experience of freedom and spontaneity. The other loved the experience of connection with the audience and the immediate feedback he received in a live performance. Whether or not these two teens go on to careers in acting, the job – and life - they love best will likely engage their core values. Your core values serve as your personal GPS system, guiding you to that “zone” where happiness, peak performance, and maximum contribution meet – your unique sense of purpose.
Not sure what your passions are? You can discover them by asking yourself a simple question: “What do I love to do?” Sit with this question for a moment and then complete the following exercise.
1) Make a list of five or more activities or interests that you love to do, activities that fill you with enthusiasm and engage you fully. Whether these passions seem significant or insignificant to you, if you love them then list them.
2) Next, prioritize your passions. Start with the first passion your wrote down and compare it to the second, asking yourself, “If I could only pursue one of these passions, which would I choose?” Compare the “winner” to the next on the list in the same manner, and so on. The passion that rises to the top of your list is your primary passion.*
3) Look at your #1 passion and ask yourself, “What is it that I love about this activity?” For example, if your passion is sewing you might write, “When I’m sewing I feel focused and at peace, and I love making something that’s useful and beautiful.” Draw on the feelings you experience when pursuing your passion to describe what makes your passion significant for you.
4) Note the key descriptive words and phrases you chose in your description. In the example above key words are focus, peace, beauty, usefulness. These descriptive words indicate core values that drive you as a person.
5) Take the process further. Use the comparison process to determine your second and third passions, then complete the rest of the exercise with these passions as well.
Once you have completed this exercise, review the core values you discovered by examining several passions. Do you notice continuity between the core values within each passion? Core values shared by multiple passions have special significance for you – they connect you to your source of power as an individual. By aligning yourself with commitments and experiences that invoke your core values, you can begin to create - or build on - a life that embodies your deepest nature.
* Prioritizing process adapted from "The Passion Test" by Janet Bray Attwood and Chris Attwood.