You’ve seen the interviews and read the articles. They tell you that a life of purpose and passion is the way to true fulfilment and happiness. You hear of people who quit their jobs, trade in lucrative careers to follow their hearts, whether it’s to travel the world, write their first novel or set up their home business baking cupcakes.
The common theme in all these messages is that we spend so much of our lives working that we should have a deep connection with what we do, that the only way to be truly fulfilled is to love what we do.
But how do you figure out what that thing is? You’re a midlifer, finally ready to make a change but you don’t know where to start.
It’s not just about passion
In his book ‘So good they can’t ignore you’ , author Cal Newport argues that a life of meaning doesn’t come when you pursue your passion. Instead, passion emerges when you pursue mastery in an area. By sharpening your skills and gaining expertise you stand a much better chance of creating and cultivating the passion you long for. But what area should you pursue ? Start with your interests instead.
These are subjects that capture your attention, excite, fascinate and stimulate you. You may find that in your spare time you gravitate towards them. You may find that some of these activities boost your energy and you feel more alive when you’re engaged in them. Invest enough time and build expertise in these areas and passion could develop.
These are the things you’re naturally good at and enjoy doing. It can be something that you find very easy to do and may not think it’s actually a big deal. In some cases you didn’t even have to learn how to do it. Talents are your tools and separate you from the crowd.
This is how you translate what you do into a way to fulfil someone else’s need, essentially how do you make money from the thing you’re doing.
From that perspective it’s easier to understand that:
- You could be passionate about something but have no talent and no need to fill; the result, you could get great personal satisfaction but may never excel at or make money from it.
- You could have a fantastic talent that you’re passionate about but with no need to fill won’t make a living from it.
- Finally, you could have great talent, fill a need but with no passion struggle to motivate yourself each day to keep taking action. That fulfilment you seek may remain elusive.
The bottom line? If you want to make a living at something you love and are good at, find the sweet spot of these three categories.
A simple exercise to gain clarity
It’s time to journal. Ask yourself the following questions and be sure to write your answers down. Let the questions simmer in your mind, you may find yourself coming up with ideas over several days.
1. Identify your talents
- What have you always felt you were good at?
- What are things you’re complimented on or praised for?
- What do you most enjoy doing?
- What kind of things were you told you’re better at that come easily to you?
- What do friends, colleagues, family think you’re good at?
2. Identify your interests
- What are you very curious about?
- What can you spend hours doing or talking to friends about?
- What subjects do you gravitate to in your free time, at the bookstore, online?
3. Identify a need that brings together your talents and interests
- How can you add or create value?
- What kind of gaps can you fill?
- What kind of needs do you see related to your interests that you can use your talents to help with?
- How can people who share your interests benefit from your talents?
- How can you use your talents to serve the needs of others?
4. Take action
“Clarity comes from action not thought.” — Marie Forleo
Once you have a clearer view of what you may like to do, test it out. Take one of the ideas that has emerged from the introspective exercise above. Ideally it will be something you’re both talented and interested in.
What is the smallest task you can do to test your idea in the real world. Here’s an example from my own introspection exercise:
- My talent– I am able to assimilate information and simplify it so others can understand. I do that well through writing.
- What will I write about? I’m not sure.
- Well pick an interest. I love travelling and personal development.
- Ok, my first mini-project will be to write a blog post or article about a great book I’ve read that could help others improve their lives.
Now it’s your turn. Choose one of your own talents and interests and get to work on your own mini-project. Once you have, use the following measures to assess its success:
- Resonance – Do you love doing it?
- Competence – Are you good at it?
- Sustainability – Can you make a living from it?
Taking deliberate action will allow you to assess early on whether your idea is one you’d like to pursue further. If it is, you keep going with the next task, if it’s not, you pivot to another idea. The ultimate goal is to find something in the sweet spot at the intersection of all three.
It’s time to get on the path to purpose and fulfilment
“It’s a really fulfilling life if you can make your job what you love doing.” — Sam Palladio
It sucks to feel stuck in a job that you hate or worse, have complete apathy towards. A more positive way forward is possible but will take some work. The key is to treat it as a journey of discovery, one where you bring a playful energy and follow your curiosity.
You must be willing to try something new and understand that at times you will be uncomfortable. But what’s the alternative, to keep the status quo? To spend the next twenty years of your life feeling miserable and lost? Is that really an option?
The time for change is now and it’s up to you. Take a first step by trying this simple exercise. Identify your talents and interests and start cultivating passion for something in your life. Use it to help others and you’re well on your way to creating a fulfilling life.