Finding Your Passion and Your Purpose (When You Think You’re a Lost Cause)

(Image Credit: Doug Buckley of

What’s your purpose in life? What’s your passion?

Are you looking for it? Maybe you’ve been looking for it a long time. Yeah, I know how you feel. This is probably at least the thousandth page you’ve Googled to try and find an answer. You’re tired of looking. You may be on the verge of concluding that you don’t have a purpose, and certainly don’t have a passion (at least not one that counts).

That’s what I thought about myself too, but I was wrong.

Turns out I just wasn’t looking at the problem in the way I needed to so that the answer would be revealed.

In fact, I’m not sure that the answer has been revealed… but I know I HAVE it! (How’s that for a paradox?!)

Although I’ve always been an optimistic and upbeat person, most of the time, I’ve struggled with this big question. Nothing I’ve ever seemed to do has been significant enough. Sure, there are things I like to do, but nothing that I’d ever call a passion – or anything close to an activity which reliably consumes me or might well connect me with my personal purpose in life. What I’m ultimately here to contribute.

I always thought that identifying my singular passion would direct me to my PURPOSE in life – some kind of PRODUCT that I’m here to produce, to give, to contribute. I tried everything. I found great articles like “Finding Your Passion When You Don’t Know What You Want” – but nothing helped. I read books. (Lots. Of. Books.) I got depressed and despondent, and just felt like the world and all its purpose and passion had just left me behind. I must be a lost cause, I concluded. Everyone else has one but me.

That’s when I gave up trying to find it. I had no energy left! So imagine my surprise when the voice in my head got all smart about things and started chatting me up heavily. It revealed quite a bit to me! (Why couldn’t that have happened earlier!?!!) Here’s what the voice in my head started chattering about:

  • It does not have to be an all singing, all dancing, all burning passion! In fact, if FLASHING LIGHTS are what you’re expressly looking for, this might be the limiting belief that’s helping you overlook your personal secret sauce.
  • Your passion might be quiet and subtle. I always thought when I found my passion it would be like having a crush on a person or an idea and I’d just be jittery with glee and purpose all the time. But it’s not. It was there all along (like breathing, or regularly bathing, or anything else that’s so normal you don’t notice it).
  • It might keep changing. I thought that once I found my passion… that would be IT! It would be MY passion for-EV-er! Unchanging and solid and stable and I could set my watch by it! Nope, sometimes your passion involves things that change – to the point where they change so much that you think it’s not solid or “real” enough to be a passion.
  • It might be a combination of things – a cross-cutting theme. I studied meteorology in school and that was fun, but I was too interested in too many other things to stick with it. I wanted to learn about earthquakes and the ionosphere and solar storms. Then, when I found out that data was so fun to play with, I wanted to learn about anything that had data in it or on it or mixed inside it. Once I get to know the data, I want to move on and become acquainted with other data. Can’t settle down with data from just one topic or discipline.
  • It might be simple. For example, I really like looking up information, especially weird information. I love “odd news”. I enjoy pseudoscience because it stretches my brain, and I don’t need scientific proof of anything to appreciate the fabric and texture of an idea. I like pretty much all religions, traditional and unorthodox, because of what they reveal about people’s emotions and inner lives and fears and aspirations. I like psychology, abnormal psychology, and positive psychology. I don’t want to commit a whole lifetime to any one piece of information, I want to date around, and play the field, and get intimate with whatever notion I want whenever I want. The weirder the idea, the better. I’ll try it on for size or style for a while. In short, I just really LIKE learning new stuff, and I’ll explore things that are true and things that are just speculated. I don’t discriminate. I like intellectual diversity.
  • It might be something that you think is insignificant, or not important, or that no one else could possibly ever care about. It may even be something you think is a liability. (I obsessively check data: severe storms, earthquakes, solar flares, tweet frequencies… I’m a data junkie. I always thought this was a huge weakness, a distraction, and nothing but a drag on my time… but then I started considering that maybe if I looked at my weaknesses, I’d find my strengths enmeshed with them…)

In short, I came to one profound conclusion.

Your purpose might be a PROCESS, not a PRODUCT.

Your passion is made up of the things, and thoughts, and places, and ideas, and interests that you keep coming back to. I’ve always liked talking, explaining, writing. I really like playing with data. I like making things better, and more effective, and more efficient. I don’t like everything LOUDLY PASSIONATELY all the time or with the same degree of HELL YEAH. My tastes and immediate interests and latest curiosities change and shift from week to week and that’s OK.

The years I spent as a software development manager (and then a more senior-level manager) were particularly confusing. I wasn’t producing anything. I was helping other people produce stuff, but I didn’t feel like I was generating anything of value. I was blind to the value I was helping other people produce just by being me, and being around them, and contributing my me-ness to their awesome productivity.

 I’m not here to produce a product. My purpose is to BE A PROCESS, not necessarily to produce a product. I may produce products (like books) along the way, but that’s just a side effect.

My purpose – my process – is to be a filter for words, thoughts, and ideas. I take ideas in, I mix them with other ideas, and I color them with my past experiences – and who I am – and my perspectives. Sometimes I shake the ideas up like a carbonated drink, just so I can see the impact of the thoughts bursting forth when I let them out. I share my ideas with other people, sometimes in person, and sometimes in writing. The ideas don’t have to be good, or totally correct, or even interesting. Their “purpose in the universe” might just be to get someone else to start thinking about something! I am a stimulant and a catalyst. I am here to infect people with my enthusiasm about the things I think are cool and awesome.

I’m here to show other people that it’s OK to try on crazy ideas for size and style, to just be “mature enough” without having to give up fun, and to be a good citizen and be caring and compassionate to those around you. I’m here to be an example of how you can be responsible without ever having to grow up or get serious about committing to ONE THING. I’m here to show people how to play with ideas.

Just by being ME I am LIVING MY PURPOSE. My problem, previously, is that I just didn’t think this was important enough. I wanted to see the product, the evidence, the outcome of having found a passion and a purpose. (But then again, so many famous and recognized authors and poets only achieved their recognition posthumously, so was it really worth trying to KNOW it for them? I wonder how many of them struggled to find their purpose. They never knew it, and yet their legacies are remarkable.)

Finding my passion just means noticing what stuff I routinely and consistently gravitate towards, stuff I don’t mind doing, stuff that feels easy and calm… not what stuff gets me super-flashing-lights-excited all the time.

Once I stopped looking for my passion and my purpose, I found both.

I can’t tell you what either of them are, but I feel them, and I think all I need to do to live my purpose is NOTHING. (Just keep being a filter. Which I can’t stop being, because it’s like a reflex. It just happens without me doing anything. I even filter ideas in my sleep.)

That’s a pretty big and liberating thought.

Is your purpose to be a process too?


  • You are Brilliant! Yes, most people look for a title or a cause, but you’ve found something even better, because it will never leave you. You’re not dependent on anything outside of you, and that is a True Blessing!
    Way to go, Nicole!

  • Thanks Nicole for your insightful article!

    This has also a strong overlap with Barbara Sher’s Scanners. I can relate pretty well to ‘scannerness’ and in that my head is full of fun and interesting ideas and I *totally* love playing with them / mixing them but realize only a few of them.

    I fret about not being able to ‘produce’ something. The shift of perspective from product(ivity) to process was pretty helpful to me. Also ‘just being’ or ‘being a catalyst’ to people ringed a pretty strong bell within me.

    So the answer to your last question would very likely be a ‘yes’ ;). And I agree, our emotions are the best guidance system for finding our passion (or process that is).

    • Thanks Erik! Yeah, I thought that for it to be my “passion” I had to be super excited about it all the time – and it had to be “significant”. Now what I get is that my passion is just part of me, and maybe it’s such a deeply engrained part of me, I can’t see it well (kind of like when you look in your refrigerator 20 times a day because “nothing is there”). I really like the feeling of BEING ME as my purpose, because now I don’t have to worry about it any more.

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