Has anyone, when you have asked desperately for career advice, told you to “find your passion?” All by itself, this isn’t very helpful advice. Especially when you’re quickly approaching your fifties and haven’t taken a class in school since you were 22. What is passion, anyway? How is finding it supposed to help you solve your problems?
Okay, so maybe passion alone won’t make your problems disappear. However, we all need something in our lives that brings us joy. Something we can do with our time that makes us feel fulfilled. Something that makes us feel like we matter, and that we’re making a difference in the world.
Your passion is your mission. It’s what makes you happy and what you want to spend your time doing. Here’s how to find your passion when you are over 40. It’s not too late to get more out of life.
Review, write or rewrite your personal mission statement
The biggest mistake you can make when trying to find your passion, no matter what your age, is to start looking without knowing what you’re looking for. In high school or college, you may or may not have written a personal mission statement for a class or to get into a program. It’s time to dig that out again, or write a new one.
Your personal mission statement is a declaration of the kind of person you want to be in the world and the kind of mark you want to leave on it. You might aspire to “use your education to help others succeed in business.”
What does that have to do with finding your passion? You’ve just answered your own question. You want to be a mentor. How you go about doing that is completely up to you. The key to an insightful personal mission statement is keeping it broad and incorporating what interests or inspires you, so that no matter what you end up doing in the years to come, you can fulfill that mission.
Even the world’s most successful CEOs have personal mission statements that continuously drive them to succeed in many different areas of their lives. Oprah’s personal mission statement is to “be a teacher … to be known for inspiring my students to be more than they thought they could be.” Oprah doesn’t stand in front of a whiteboard and teach out of a textbook. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t work to inspire people in everything she does.
Figure out what makes you happy
Picture, for just a moment, that you have been given a day off—from everything. This is your day to spend doing whatever you want. You have no obligations and absolutely no limitations. You can go anywhere and do literally anything (within reason). How would you spend that day?
Happiness is a state of being; a feeling. Whether or not we are happy depends on a variety of factors. Many times, happiness can be achieved through the work we do, whether that pertains to our jobs or our relationships or the things in our communities we volunteer for.
Pursuing your passion will make you happy, because what you are passionate about is what drives your motivation to do things that might otherwise seem unnecessary or impossible. You won’t be passionate about every single errand and chore, but when you have your passion to fall back on when you are stressed or bored, negative feelings transform into positive ones.
Do more of what brings you joy. You don’t necessarily have to be passionate about a specific cause. You might be passionate about building birdhouses for some reason. That may seem like a small, meaningless thing when you look at how big the world is, but it isn’t meaningless to you. If knowing that you can spend all evening working on your latest birdhouse once you finish all your other work for the day, that reward is going to get you through it, and that’s what gives it worth.
Understand that a passion doesn’t necessarily have to be a career
Passion is what drives us to get things done. It doesn’t, however, have to oversee every part of our lives all at once. If you’re passionate about building birdhouses, but you’re an accountant, you’re probably not going to find a birdhouse building job that’s going to support you the same way your spot in the accounting firm will. At least, not right away.
Following your passion is bad advice only if you take it to mean you have to go to extremes to make it happen. In some cases, it’s possible to find a career you are passionate about. Not always, though. Sometimes you are “stuck” in a job you aren’t passionate about. That shouldn’t stop you from following your passion.
Finding your passion doesn’t mean you have to drop everything and start over. It doesn’t mean you have to start looking for a new job or move somewhere new or completely turn your life upside down. Sometimes it might mean spending more time working on projects you enjoy instead of watching TV in the evenings, or getting up early on weekends instead of sleeping in.
Don’t let a lack of funds, a contract, or “being too busy” get in the way of finding and carrying out your passion. You can have a full-time job and work over forty hours per week and still engage in your own side project that falls under the umbrella of your personal mission statement and makes you happy. There may not be one specific career that fits your passion exactly. Do what you can to find balance and make it work.
Get out there and start building those birdhouses … or whatever it is you decide you are most passionate about. Your passion doesn’t have to have anything to do with anyone else. This is about what you want and what’s going to make you feel as though you have a purpose in this world. You can do what you love, either as a career or on your own time. All that matters is that you find it and go after it. Don’t let anything hold you back.