July 19

I don’t feel passionate about anything… what do I do?

Introduction

Actually, life is like a book. It’s okay not to have passion.

Sometimes you’re in a chapter of your life where you are just going through the motion… and that’s okay.

As I sat there listening to my friend share about how not having a passion was okay, it struck me.

For so long, I had been chasing passion. But I found it leading me to feel even more lost, even when I thought I found it.

Maybe that’s you today. You’re in a place where you don’t feel passionate about anything. You want to wake up excited, raring to go. Like a racehorse that’s primed, ready to charge once the gates open.

But you look at yourself now. You’re struggling to even get out of bed to be excited for the prospect of working or studying. You don’t feel passionate about the work you’re doing. Or you don’t feel passionate about the things that you even do outside of work.

You just want to lie in bed and watch Netflix everyday. You find yourself in a quarter life crisis, where you’re not sure what you’re doing with your life, and how to move forward.

Today, if you don’t feel passionate about anything, this article hopes to help you to:

  1. Understand what passion is
  2. Address the myth of passion
  3. Get practical ways you can start feeling more passionate about life
feeling passionate about life
How do we feel passionate about what life has to offer?

What is passion, anyway?

Here’s the dictionary definition.

An intense desire or enthusiasm for something.

But if you look at the history of the word, passion actually came from the from Latin ‘pati’ or ‘suffer’.

Suffering!

That means that finding passion wasn’t seen as something positive, but it meant looking for something where there was pain.

It makes sense. If you look at the history of people you see as passionate, you might think of the likes of Steve Jobs.

In pursuit of design that changed the world, he suffered much. He suffered by getting sacked by the very company he founded. He suffered with pancreatic cancer in the last stage of his life.

But he never gave up his vision of a world made better by design.

You might want that. You want to be so caught up in your passion that you forget to eat, drink and sleep. You want to be doing something that’s so engaging that time seems to flow by. You forget that it’s even work.

You want to enjoy yourself in your passion.

Even though it might lead to temporal suffering, you want to give your whole life in service of your passion.

Myths about passion

But there are certain myths about passion that need to be addressed. You don’t want to end up chasing passion, only to realise that it didn’t give you what you wanted.

Your passion makes you happy

I’m in my dream job, but somehow I’m not happy.

I don’t know why.

I guess I realised there are other things that matter to me, like good colleagues, a good culture, and being able to gym.

As I heard my friend share, it occurred to me.

Passion, making you happy… is a myth. It’s career advice that might not work.

There’s more to happiness than having a job that you’re passionate about.

As Jonathan Haidt argued in The Happiness Hypothesis, happiness consists of 5 things.

All these contribute to your feeling of happiness. Today, if you’re wanting passion to make you happy, forget it.

It will, but it won’t be lasting. There are other elements that matter equally as well.

Your passion will persist.

This is by far the biggest myth that I’ve encountered. When I hear people talk about finding their passion, they talk about it as though it’s permanent. Never-changing.

They talk as if it’s an end-point.

If only I found my passion, my life would be much more fulfilling!

It’s like a journey with a clear end point.

But passion is not an end-point. Rather, its more like flowers and interesting landmarks along the journey.

What do I mean?

Your passion is something you’re interested in.

Along your journey of life, you will find something extremely appealing. You invest time and energy in finding out all you know about it.

But after a while, as you journey along in life, you will pass yet another interesting landmark. You may find yourself dropping the previous interest, and moving on.

Your passion will change, vary and fluctuate according to your life’s circumstances.

This means that if you hang your life satisfaction on your passion, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. You may find yourself getting bored after 6 months, when you realise that your passion… doesn’t seem so exciting anymore.

At that point, when you start getting bored, you need to make a conscious decision.

Do I want to continue with this, or not?

The Happiness Hypothesis equation
How to find happiness, with an equation!

How to feel more passionate

When you don’t feel passionate about anything, mind you, it’s a feeling. Feelings and emotions change according to your particular stage in life. You may wake up on the wrong side of bed that day.

But if it’s something that persists for months, here are some things that may help.

See a professional

You might have depression. I start with this as we may be tempted to ignore what our emotions are telling us. We grow up with a focus on cognitive and rational thought, with little focus on our feelings.

Depression is a physical illness, as much as it’s mental. We go to the doctor when we have a flu, or feel symptoms of a flu.

But you may not go if you’re just feeling emotionally ‘off’. You may tell yourself,

Snap out of it!

I will feel better in a few days.

But depression can add a painful tint onto your life’s experiences. You stop finding the joy in things you loved.

Start with talking to your GP, or a therapist. Tell them what’s happening, how long it’s been happening for. They can make an assessment whether you’re struggling with something more serious.

Invest in relationships

Look outwards.

There’s more to life than feeling great about yourself, your work, and what you do.

If you look at passion in a 3-dimensional way, rather than a single 1-dimensional thing within you, you build greater possibility.

Rather than focusing on how to increase the sense of passion within yourself, look at what you can do in the relationships between you. Are there ways you can bring greater fun, joy and laughter to those relationships?

For example, can you think of something nice you can do for your friend? Can you write a card to encourage him? Or go for a walk with him? Or cook them something nice?

Focusing outwards, rather than inwards, helps you to look beyond yourself. It helps you to see that there’s beauty in the wider world, rather than focusing constantly on,

I feel no passion.

What do I do?

Beyond the relationships between you, look further beyond.

There's more to life than just feeling good about yourself.
What’s important to you?

Contribute to something greater than yourself.

The z-axis consists of finding passion in something greater than yourself. For some, that may come through the form of religion.

But it does not have to be. It can be a worthy cause, such as environmental sustainability. It can be improving the lot of marginalised students.

Whatever it is, finding something greater than yourself and contributing to it helps you to build a sense of purpose. You’re no longer living for yourself. With your life, you’re improving the lives of others.

Play to your strengths

It was my first work appraisal. I took a bath. Slicked my hair back.

Breathed.

I was nervous, but quietly confident. After all, I felt I had contributed significantly to the organisation.

Then it started.

The entire appraisal became a session where my weaknesses were magnified.

It ended with,

You shall answer your phone.

You shall reply messages.

You shall appear for all meetings.

I felt deflated. Of course I wouldn’t do well at everything! I was only human!

You may feel the same. Part of why you’re feeling dispassionate may be because you’re being asked to play according to your weaknesses. No matter how hard you try, you still find yourself being mediocre at best. Playing to your weaknesses also builds the sense of conscious incompetence.

You know you’re lousy… and doing more of what you’re lousy at makes you feel lousier.

As Drucker writes in ‘Managing Oneself’,

And yet, a person can perform only from strength. One cannot build performance on weaknesses, let alone on something one cannot do at all.

Playing to your strengths means first knowing your strengths.

If you’re not sure what your strengths are, use books like What Color Is Your Parachute. This book helps you to understand what are the skills you enjoy and are good at.

There are three types of skills - data, things, and people. Understanding where your strengths lie is the first step towards finding greater passion at what you do. (Credit: What Color Is Your Parachute, by Richard Bolles, p154)
There are three types of skills – data, things, and people. Understanding where your strengths lie is the first step towards finding greater passion at what you do. (Credit: What Color Is Your Parachute, by Richard Bolles, p154)

Then, actively commit to improving your strengths.

You do this by actively doing things that stretch you, in your domain of strength.

Finding flow is about doing something that fits with our skills, but is a little too difficult for us to do.
Finding flow is about doing something that fits with our skills, but is a little too difficult for us to do.

As you use more of your strengths, you will eventually find yourself finding more and more passion in what you do. You see the ways you are improving. You find yourself enjoying the work you do. You get feedback that what you’re doing is really good.

Conclusion

I finish my speech. Hearing the applause, the whistle, and the praise that comes (‘I was crying towards the end of your speech’), I stop.

This is amazing.

3 years ago, I stood on the stool, wondering if I should flip myself over the fourteenth storey of my apartment block.

I feel no passion for anything.

I had lost my dreams of becoming a doctor, a lawyer… and I thought that meant that life would be this dispassionate state of simply existing.

But slowly, day by day, I connected back to what I had already been good at doing.

Speaking.

Writing.

Teaching.

And I found myself again.

Today, if you find yourself saying,

I don’t feel passionate about anything, there’s no point in life.

Know this.

You’re not alone in this journey. It’s okay not to know. Enjoy the journey, and be thankful for the journey you’re on.

This period of not knowing… is a gift. Not everyone goes through it. But for those who do, like you, you come through clearer.


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