What the pursuit of passion is and isn't about

by phil on Monday Jan 26, 2009 10:57 PM
mainfeed, passion and purpose

One of the most important ideas to be gleaned from that important tome of positive psychology, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, is the importance of doing things for their own sake. I believe that understanding that concept is key to fully pursuing your passions.

Understanding what "doing something for its own sake" means, is tricky though. One strategy involves a simple mental experiment. If you were given the same amount of money to be a teacher versus be a park ranger, what would you pick? But in that simulation, your decision may be influenced by whatever prejudices you have about each position. There's a lot of extrinsic factors to consider. The pursuit of fame or recognition, for example, may distract you on your path to pursuing your passions.

Here's a trick. This will help isolate the relevant intrinsic factors in any potential career.

Let's say you're considering a new job, like being a medical software programmer. First, break the job down into its core tasks:

medical software programmer:
- meetings to discuss specs
- coding
- emailing back and forth about feature details

And then, underneath each of those bullet points, you write down, in as much detail as possible, what the task will feel like. The trick is to get as specific as possible. Will your shoulders be tense during the task? Do you imagine yourself squirming the whole time? Or will it be a smooth, pleasant experience? Will any parts of it feel inspiring and stimulating? Will anything feel like pulling teeth? Or do you not know yet, and is it your goal to find out?

The point is to get away from opinions and focus on predicting experience. Our opinions can often be clouded by too many extrinsic factors. You may believe, for example, that being a doctor is more respectable, when in fact being a pharmacist would be more enjoyable to you. Everybody has their own biases. Personally, I find that I commonly over-emphasize how much a job will fulfill my ideal of becoming an artist.

When you're doing what you enjoy, you find that your talents are singing. The whole process energizes and uplifts you. That, to me, makes you one step closer to pursuing your passions full-time.

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