1. Remember what you loved doing as a child.
When you’re very young, you have not yet been programmed by the adult world to doubt your abilities or ignore your joys and desires. You simply find the activities you love, and you get lost in them. Often, what we loved in those early years is a good indication of our foundational gifts and interests. Even as a kid, I was cutting pictures out of magazines and writing little poems and paragraphs to go with them—I was creating books! Little wonder I have stayed happily in the publishing industry for so long. But I began in music school because that’s what the adults envisioned for me (no one in my family knew anyone who made a living as a writer), and I was reasonably good at music. I became a music teacher, which worked all right, but in the end, the world of pages and words compelled me into a career change, and that career has sustained me for more than 20 years.
You may not be able to turn your passion into a livelihood, but please pay attention to it and find ways to make room for the interests that really feed your soul.
2. Notice what energizes you now.
You may have to work at a day job that does not inspire you—that’s true for quite a few people. But that doesn’t mean you can’t discover what does inspire you. Pay attention when your personal energy shifts into higher gear, when you feel especially good or happy, when you find yourself generating ideas and plans. When working with writers, I often say, “Follow the energy.” Your whole body will respond to what is in tune with your gifts and longings. Our emotions and physical responses are important clues to what is true about us. They also inform us about the company we keep; the people who energize you are worth spending a lot of time with, but feel free to limit your exposure to people who have the opposite effect.
3. Get the healing you need.
When you are exhausted, grieving, in pain of any kind, embroiled in conflict, feeling stuck, or overwhelmed with anxiety, don’t simply wait for things to get better. Find the help you need, whether it’s a medical solution, appointments with a counselor, some extra physical rest, or quality time with a person who loves you well. Passion struggles to thrive in an unhealthy environment, and we become unhealthy in various ways. Self-awareness, self-care, and attentiveness can make the way for your passion to flow more freely again. And although a few other people may read you very well and tell you what you need to hear, you are the ultimate authority on how you’re really doing and when it’s time to find help.
4. Find people who are good for you, and spend time with them.
Even those of us who are introverts need people. We need friendship. We need company when life is overwhelming. We need another perspective to balance our panic or despair. We need another set of eyes to recognize all that we’re doing well. In the same way some people drain you and get in the way of a passionate life, others encourage and cultivate passion just by being around, just by caring about you. Make sure to hang out with those people on a regular basis. Spend time not only with people who are mentors and helpers for you but also with people you mentor and help. Our passion is bolstered whether we give or receive—if the relationships are the right ones.
5. Open your life to a variety of experiences.
I believe that each person possesses multiple gifts. But sometimes a gift is in hiding for years until we decide to take an evening class in watercolors or financial management. Sometimes we have much to give but learn exactly how we can contribute only after we have traveled to some other place to help build a house or plant a crop or teach English or help someone start a small business. Not only do opportunities wait for us to arrive, but our gifts—and the passion locked up inside them—wait to find the right place and moment. So try new things, see new people and places, read new books, watch films with subtitles. Or go around the corner to help the neighborhood group paint a mural or plant a garden.
6. Choose to be fully engaged.
This means that you have to get rid of distractions. We take pride in multi-tasking, but we tap our passion most effectively when we are single-minded, when we are mindful of the one thing we’re doing. Whether it’s the not-so-exciting job you’re paid to do, the book-discussion group you’re hosting, the meeting you’re attending, or the idea you’re forming, give it your full attention. Don’t allow distractions to dilute the present experience. Engage as much as you can with all the power you possess. Of course, some days we don’t have much to give, but we can always engage; we can always care about doing well what is before us.
7. Never stop learning to love yourself better and embrace your life more willingly.
We disrupt the flow of passion by judging ourselves, remaining angry and disappointed with ourselves, and rejecting ourselves—that is, our history, our character traits, our bodies. Sometimes all it takes to stop passionate and lovely movement forward is an obsession with those 20 pounds we can’t seem to lose or that relational misstep we can’t get over. It helps to remember that how we feel about ourselves will ultimately drift into how we treat others. Embracing who you are, as you are, is a lifelong endeavor; please don’t give up on it. When you can see yourself, even for a few moments, as beautiful or accomplished, you will sense your passionate self respond. You will free yourself to carry on with hope and purpose.
I’ve described only seven ways to nourish your passion. Please add to the list!