“What do you want to be when you grow up?” A huge question which feels, ironically, small and inspiring like a tiny lit fuse when you’re young and somehow dwarfs you by the time you actually need to find a good answer. When you’re seven, you’ve got plans to the moon and back. But how about when you’re in high school and you’re facing college and career and big life decisions?
Find your calling, they say. Whatever’s your passion, they say. We know. We’ve said it too. What world problems do you want to solve? What will you let consume you? What are you crazy about? Talented at? Ready to spend your life on?
Whoa. Those are all grand, exhilarating questions but how about we bring this down to scale. Passion. That’s tricky (usually impossible) to figure out all at once. Some people realize their passion in a flash, but most of us need time. Smaller bites. If that’s you, here are three steps inspired by this game plan for choosing a college major. It works for finding your passion, too: Pick an interest. Find your flow. Become an expert.
Pick an Interest
Don’t ask, What’s my passion? but instead, What am I interested in? Music. Computers. Art. Film. How car engines work. You’ve got lots of interests. Think especially of the ones you could do for hours, no problem. Then put one of those interests through a critical test: Is this something that other people value highly? Is there demand for your talent? In other words, could you eventually get paid to do it?
If you’re good enough, you can turn anything into a commodity (think of YouTube sensations cashing in witty opinions/reactions for millions), but for now, stick with realistic plans. For example: You’re good at solving problems. Or fixing computers. Or writing. The world needs problem-solvers, engineers, and writers—these are good talents to pursue. But what if you love skateboarding? You might have serious talent but the odds are wobbly of you ever making a living as a pro skater. Best keep skateboarding as a hobby and pick a different interest to pursue as a career.
Be ruthless. Your interest is just a newbie. If it survives a little hazing, then you’re good to continue to the next step: discovering whether you achieve what they call flow.
Find Your Flow
Think of flow as your groove. Named by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, flow is a mental state of “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake…. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one…. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
If you experience flow, then you’re in the zone. You’re absorbed in your work with a sense of energized, almost euphoric focus and enjoyment. You’re at the top of your game—putting your best talents to use, totally immersed in what you’re doing.
How do you determine whether a certain interest brings you this flow? By doing it! Invest time and effort in your interest for a while. As web and TV host Veronica Belmont says: “If you’re really passionate about a topic and you want to work in that field, you should already be doing it.” So you want to be a doctor? Shadow physicians and nurses and surgeons at your local hospital. Follow them on social media. Research their lifestyle, work day, wages, and more. You’ll quickly know whether it’s just a curiosity or if you truly want to commit yourself.
Become an Expert
Now that you’ve latched onto an interest, become a Jedi in that field. First, obviously, because your skills and experience will make you invaluable to businesses everywhere. For example, say you’ve followed your love for persuasion, selling an idea, and managing people into the world of marketing. Just look at some of the companies in need of marketing managers in California, and check out the skills at the top of their list:
Second, become an expert because you might just create a business out of yourself. Thanks to the instantaneous connection the world shares through the internet and innumerable apps, plenty of people have created successful careers out of allowing others to tap into their expertise.
Think about Tim Ferriss who turned his smarts and experimentation into a self-help empire, or Ree Drummond (better known as the Pioneer Woman) who turned her love for cooking and country stories into a smash-hit blog…and then TV appearances and best-selling books. And yes, think of those YouTube stars.
Here’s how Cornell University professor Robert Frank puts it:
“Technology has steadily extended the geographic reach of those who are best at what they do. If even a tiny fraction of a sufficiently large group of buyers cares about your service, you may be worth a fortune.”
You might never become the absolute best at what you do, but you’ll discover what you truly love. And if you can earn a living off that, then you’ll have scored a rare victory.
Interest. Flow. Expertise. These will help you find your passion.