Leaning in and speaking slowly, my new friend was about to make a confession.
We were in a coffee shop talking about what life might look like after he finished school. After a brief discussion about mutual friends, he mentioned that he had recently attended a conference where inspiring speakers challenged people to take risks, follow their passions, make a difference, and change the world.
He left the event simultaneously inspired and condemned.
He was motivated to go for it. He just didn’t know what it was. You see, he admitted that he had no idea what his passion was. He had never been the guy with a burning desire to do something specific.
He wasn’t unwilling to risk failure in pursuit of a grand cause.
He just didn’t know what to do or where to go.
Digging into his story, I learned that after reading motivational books, talking to career coaches, and hearing conference speakers; he assumed that everyone should know what they really wanted to do—that deep down everyone should have a strategic plan or revolutionary idea waiting to be revealed.
No matter how hard he searched, his evaded detection.
The unintended consequence of all this encouragement left him with a sense that not knowing his passion was just another area of failure in his life.
After a fantastic education, he was supposed to launch and he had no idea of what to do next.
My heart was heavy, listening to him process the next step into what he called, his “passionless unknown.” This pressure seemed so unnecessary. He said, “Honestly, I just wish someone would tell me what to do.”
Recent graduates are not the only ones who feel this way.
There are moms watching their youngest head off to school, parents getting use to the silence of an empty nest, and many dissatisfied with their careers but clueless about the alternatives. Others who are further along the path of life ask, “Now that I am retired, what I am supposed to do?”
For those with a clear passion or vision, I hope they have the tenacity to go for it. For the many people who wrestle with uncertainty, our conversation generated several ideas:
1. The next step doesn’t have to be the ultimate step.
Remove the pressure to do something grand or epic right away. Instead, move forward toward something that provides experience, earns a credential, or improves a skill. Even if the next step isn’t a straight line toward a passionate end, make a move.
An object in motion is easier to steer.
If a better path emerges later, make a course correction. Many great motivational stories start with a person finding herself or himself on the wrong path and then shifting into something that brings great joy. Sometimes God, thinking several steps ahead, moves us like chess pieces.
2. Cultivate interests.
Passions generally spring from our natural interests or facts we uncover along the way. We should consistently cultivate, refine, and develop our interests. We should learn new facts about the world and the challenges people face.
Consistently reading books, enjoying art, serving others, and trying new things can be a simple path to a future passion.
Traveling, classes, and hobbies are all first steps.
3. Don’t be in a hurry.
There are seasons of preparation, seasons of action, seasons of rest, and seasons of intensity. Wherever you are, be there. Be present in the “passionless unknown” and be ready for the next season, which might bring greater clarity.
The bottom line is that many epic stories of passionate transformation are told with greater clarity than they were actually lived.
My new friend didn’t discover his “passion” over the course of our coffee conversation.
We both learned that the courage necessary to pursue a passion may precede the knowledge of the passion itself. Not clearly knowing your life’s calling, passion, or trajectory should produce a sense of expectation, not anxiety.
A few months later my friend and I caught up with each other. He had a job. He said, “It isn’t my dream job, but it is a first step. I cannot wait to see what happens next.” His initial passionless confession had transformed into hopeful anticipation–and that is a good trade.