Finding Your Passion

This is a guest post by Colin Ryan, an old friend and college roommate.  Colin is a comedian, a writer, and a motivational speaker. You can follow his online project, A Stand Up Life, which deals with fear and becoming the best version of yourself.  In his guest post, Colin tackles a question that many people struggle answering, “what is my passion?”

“I started doing stand-up comedy because I wanted to figure out how to be funny. I never guessed I would discover how to be fearless” – Colin Ryan

In the movie Serendipity, a lovestruck John Cusack is told by his friend, “The Greeks didn’t write obituaries. They only asked one question after a man died: “Did he have passion?””

It’s a wonderful, powerful question. Especially if you know what your passion is already. But for many people, it probably feels more like yet another example of people elevating this idea of “finding your passion” without actually helping us figure out what that might be.

There’s a lot of talk about passion these days. From teachers, speakers, parents, friends. “Find your passion… Pursue your passion… Do what you love…”

Passion, it turns out, lives in all sorts of places.

When it comes to what we do for work, it seems like passion is most often associated with the arts. With music. With theatre. With painting. With performance. Passion is not often applied to writing great resumes, or connecting professionals together, or website design, or great research skills.

I’m wondering if this doesn’t do a disservice to both sides, by making passion feel just a bit too impractical and unrealistic. Passion becomes a dangerous impulse that only leads us into a foolish, penniless existence. It also makes it seem that things like buying and selling stocks, starting a business, and supply-chain management are not things people feel passionate about. They are things people do instead, after giving up on their dreams.

The reality is that passion can live in all sorts of places. And while finding your passion is an elusive pursuit, there is only one real formula: try things. Try things and see how they fit. Try jobs and find out what you like, and just as importantly, what you don’t like.

The best way to do this in high-school is seek out an unpaid internship at a local company. You should talk to your guidance counselor about this. Or your parents. Or a friend’s parents who you think are awesome.

If you’re no longer a student, ask a person who’s career and profession you are interested in out for coffee. Ask them to give you an informational interview. Bring a bunch of questions, and just chat. People love to tell their story. Go to listen, and you will learn more in a conversation than you could in 10 years of doing it yourself.

The most important thing is: don’t feel overwhelmed if you don’t have a passion. Don’t feel like there’s something wrong with you. And then ask yourself: What is something I enjoy doing? What is something I’ve done already that had aspects to it I liked?

Passion can come later. Right now, just find something you enjoy. That’s a starting point. Maybe it’ll become that thing you can do for hours and it feels like only a few minutes have gone by. But don’t put that pressure on yourself. Start small.

“Our work is to discover our work and then with all our heart to give ourselves to it.” -Buddha

And once you find your passion, you may feel afraid it’s unlikely to come true. So first off: it’s completely possible. Don’t lose heart.

Secondly, be careful about putting that excitement into pre-ordained boxes. Such as, “I like drawing so I must become an architect.” or “I like people so I should work in retail.”

There are two dangers that come from these pre-ordained boxes. One, they can push us into something we don’t really want to do. Personally, I love writing, but I discovered firsthand during two years of pretending otherwise, that being a journalist wasn’t the kind of writing I wanted to be doing.

Secondly, those boxes are often created by a culture who glamorizes fame and wealth.

I learned this when I fell in love with doing stand-up comedy. Culture tells me if I want to be a successful comedian I have to have my own HBO special and tour around the country.

But I didn’t, and don’t, especially want to do that. I don’t want to tour 200 cities a year. I do stand-up comedy several times a month, and that’s actually plenty. After each show I need time to recharge my batteries, to go to open mics and try out new stuff, and to prepare for my next gig. I like to savor each experience, rather than just go on an all-out comedy blitz, night after night.

If that makes sense to you, you could try what I tried, which was to get together with other people and start a comedy scene in your town and then get yourself booked on lots of shows (or produce your own) where you get to be as creative as you want on stage, while having a day job that balances out your life and pays your bills.

Here’s a more common example: what if you love to sing?

Society does a pretty good job telling us that if you love to sing then you must be a singer, have a recording contract and perform all over the world. Of course that sounds great. But statistically not many people get to do that. But everyone has the opportunity to sing.

So don’t think “I love to sing so I need to audition for The Voice.”

Instead, try thinking: “I love to sing, but I also like physical therapy. I’m going to go to school to be a trainer, and on nights and weekends I’ll sing in a band or sing in my church choir.” This may actually prove to be just as satisfying, as well as not quite as likely to fail. With your needs met you’ll have a lot more time to explore your passion for singing.

Some other examples:

“I like to make movies so I need to move to Hollywood.”

What about: “I can make movies using equipment from my local-access media station, hiring local actors who will work for free or low-pay, and then stage my own movie premieres at my local movie theatre.”

“I like to write so I need to become a novelist.”

What about: “I could get a job as a technical writer for a company, or writing blog content for a website, or freelance writing for magazines, or calling up interesting people and doing interviews that showcase your writing skills and tell stories about people readers want to know about.”

Let’s look at that quote from Serendipity one more time.

“The Greeks didn’t write obituaries. They only asked one question after a man died: “Did he have passion?””

How you answer that question depends a lot on what you do next. So try things. See what you like, see what you don’t. Ask questions. Do an internship. Interview a passionate person you know. Open your lens as wide as you can to find your passion. Because once you find it, (and you will find it), your life will never be the same.


2 thoughts on “Finding Your Passion

  1. Ellyn Sanna

    We are creating a career series for young adults, published by Mason Crest for school libraries/guidance offices. I would love to include some of this in a short sidebar in a couple of the books. Would you/Colin be willing to have us do that? We’ll include whatever byline/citation/link you’d like.


    Ellyn Sanna
    Vestal Creative Services


    1. kylebowman

      Hey Ellyn, I passed this message to Colin, and he said he was going to reach out to you today. Let me know if you don’t hear from him, and I can follow up again. Thanks for the comment, how did you hear about the site?


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