On finding your passion in life...
Updated: Jan 8
I often hear young people struggling to find their true passion in life. A passion that they can translate into a career - in which they will blossom and feel fulfilled.
Considering that most people never change careers in their lives, it is both a legitimate and important question for anyone entering adulthood.
I believe I have found a very simple recipe for discovering your special passion and talents. And while I cannot say for sure that everyone finds their passion this way - I can assure that everyone can find their passion this way.
I’ve had the pleasure of having had many passions in my life. And to a large extent I was successful in the things I became passionate about…
I’ve often looked back to see if I could find a common denominator in all of the passions I have been lucky to have developed. And I have found one…
I remember pushing myself through my math homework despite the real struggles I had…. Because I had remembered my mom telling me I was good at it. And so, I figured I was…. And I kept trying until I eventually became good at it…. Which now got both my parents to tell me how good I was at it… which prompted me to invest more energy into it and then eventually until my teachers and everyone else approved…. I then went on to skip years in school and consistently score high in all science fields.
This constant validation kept reinforcing the belief and the realization that I was good at math.
Similarly, I started computer programming because my math teacher told me that since I was good at math, I should be good at programming. I went to the lab and stared at the screen for hours on end trying to figure things out…. I was terrible at it. I couldn’t even figure out how to get things started and my classmates until eventually, and very slowly, the concepts came through and I started to understand….
And when I started to understand, I pushed through and finally got the validation that I was good at it… and pushed through further until finally I developed my first video game (at age 13) and sold my fist company at age 17 (digital image processing software)…
Later on, I started many businesses - which either failed or got marginal success…. But I pushed through, did my MBA, learnt a ton and then… eventually one worked…. And it worked so well that we quickly became the market leaders…. Pushing through many good and bad times and learning so much in the process…. Today, many come to seek my advice on many business topics.
The ironic part is that none of my passions… none of the things that are now considered to be my talents…. were things I was naturally good at.
And the single common denominator in all of what eventually became passions was this: I sucked at them but grit and determination made me better at them…. And through hard work and practice, I eventually became an expert. And when I became an expert, I became passionate.
(It is also ironic that I believe that I eventually lost interest in each passion I had - the moment I felt I had little to learn anymore…. That I had figured enough of it out..)
And if you were to look at your lives and the things you enjoy doing, you’ll realize that you often enjoy doing them because you’ve become good at it…. Whether it’d be cooking, gardening, accounting or flying model airplanes…. It is the reward of all of these hours that you’ve put inside your passion.
And if you look back deep enough, I am sure that most of you would also say that the same passions started from a little encouragement from a parent, a sibling, a teacher, a friend…. Someone who told us that - at an early age- we were naturally good at something…. And we came to believe and we invested in it until we got better at it.
Science seems to prove the same…
I remember Malcom Gladwell’s book (Outliers) in which he studies true outliers (people who have performed way out of norm in an exceptional way). He argued that when people put in 10,000 hours of work into any subject - they became a virtuoso at it (from violin to computer programming to professional hockey).
He further argues in another chapter that kids who did better at hockey were children who were older than their peers in their class (read the book it’s great and I am over-simplifying it). Why? Because a difference in age (of up to 11 months) in class can make a huge difference in their dexterity, strength and other factors.
Remember that at age 5, an 11 month difference translates into a 20% more life practice (at walking, running, skating, etc.). That gives them an edge when playing hockey, which boosts their confidence, which gets noticed from the coaches, which give them more ice time, which gets them better faster and so on…
But when you decode the process here, isn’t it the same process I went through (time and time again)?
A little encouragement got me to practice more, which made me better. That got me noticed more and that made want to get even better…. And through long hard work at it - I gradually became better at it… feeling more proud about my own progress and my own accomplishments this time…. Pushing me through, eventually, to do more hours until I became an expert at it and truly passionate about it.
So how can you find your passion, your special talent?
I know it isn’t the answer most expect but when you break it down to its core…. what does this really say?
We believe we become passionate at the things we are talented at but we are wrong. I have come to believe that we become passionate only when we have become talented at something.
So what is the lesson here?
If you want to find something you are passionate about… just start doing it. It doesn’t matter what it is…. It really doesn’t. It may not even feel natural at first but you will find that with every step of the way, for every hour that you invest in it, you will gradually progress. And that with each step of that progression, you will find yourself enjoying it a little bit more, feeling a bit prouder of what you have accomplished.
And in a matter of months and with a lot of practice, you will feel that you’ve distanced yourself from the pack too. You will feel that your skills are now noticed and appreciated and that will fuel further encouragement and so on…
And then…. After a few years, hopefully, you’ll have reached that 10,000 hour threshold and become a virtuoso yourself in the field that you have chosen.
So look for things in your life that you can latch on…
When I look back at any talent I developed in life (and the passionate feeling that ensued), it blossomed in the same way…
There are so many lesser examples that I can find in my life…. How I became good at selling through endless hours of people watching and being able to read them well. How I developed a passion for cooking after countless burnt and unsavoury mixes…. I became great a video games through (way too) many hours of practice too…
So…. You want to find your passion?
Look for anything you think you’ve already got a small edge on…. And lean on it…. Make that edge stronger than anything else in your life. Double down on it. Forget about being good at everything…. Understand all things that pertain to you but invest 80% of your energies into one specific field and make that your domain. Make that your expertise…. Reach it fast.
Because the more effort you put on that one single thing…. The higher the progress you’ll feel and the more encouraged you’ll become - spinning that virtuous wheel in the right direction.
Didn’t have a mom that gave you the encouraging words at 12? It doesn’t matter…. Wherever you are now is just your starting point. In the same way that my mom tricked me at believing I was good in math, trick your own mind into believing you will get good at math (or something a lot more fun...). Fake it until you make it.
If you latch on to any domain you want today… and put in the hours… I can promise you that you’ll look back 5 years from now and have completely changed your life.
Firstly, because you’ll have achieved a level of expertise that you will feel incredibly proud and grateful for.
Secondly, because you’ll have learnt that through hard work and sacrifice, you can accomplish pretty much anything in life…. And that…. Is the most important lesson of all.