By Poornima Vijayashanker
One Femgineer reader, Mahmoud, sent in a response that struck a chord with me, that I want to share with all of you:
You brought up something that rang a bell with me in my life right now. You wrote about being “Passionate about a subject” and after finishing my PhD a few months ago, I’m in this rut where I find myself not really having any serious drive or passion towards anything. It’s almost as though I want to do nothing, and it really saddens me because this is not who I am inside.
Any advice about this feeling or period of life would be greatly appreciated.
After reading this email, I realized what Mahmoud was going through. It’s easy to be told to “follow your passion”, but it’s a bit of a Catch-22 because you need to find a passion before you can follow it.
So how do you even find something you’re passionate about?
Mahmoud mentioned that he had just finished a PhD, and doesn’t want to do anything. He’s probably a little burnt out, and if that is indeed the case, then it’s not the time to start a regimen of self-discovery.
It is the time to give yourself credit! You just finished a multi-year program, take time to recuperate. Passions aren’t found by beating your head against a wall endlessly. Often times it can take some time and exploration. The other key ingredient is to let your mind rest!
If you’re mind is anxious, then it won’t be able to explore. It will just be nagging you.
Start by taking time off.
When I finished college I was wiped out! I had double majored the last two years and had 2 TA positions. I didn’t have the mental capacity to make any long term plans or learn anything new. I decided to not do anything besides work 9-5 for a full year. In my spare time I read fiction and went to yoga.
Giving myself a year break was great. I felt fit and had fed my mind with ideas outside of engineering. After a year, I was pumped and ready to start exploring the startup scene in Silicon Valley.
Revisit old interests.
You can be on the journey of discovering what you’re passionate about for awhile, especially if your primary focus it to make ends meet.
At the beginning of my career, I spent most of my time doing work that paid the bills. While I knew that I enjoyed writing and speaking, I wasn’t sure if I was passionate about either.
As a test, I created small opportunities for myself on the side. I started blogging on Femgineer periodically, and I spoke once a year at Code Camp.
When I had more financial freedom, I decided to explore these interests deeper. I invested more time into honing both skills through practice and coaching. I also took the time to realize that if I was going to dig deeper then I’d need to cut out other things that I just wasn’t as interested in: adios Spanish, au revoir French!
Keeping the fire alive.
Once you do discover what you’re passionate about you might immediately think that you need to turn it into a career or a business. If you have the entrepreneurial spirit then it makes sense too. But if you don’t then don’t.
Too often people think they need to make a profit off of their passion, but it can be a real passion killer!
For example, I love cooking (and eating)! I discover new cuisines, ingredients and spices, and cook regularly for friends and family. But I have no desire to be a chef! It doesn’t mean I’m not a passionate foodie. It’s just that I choose how I want to manifest my passion for food.
Activity vs. Subject
If you’re struggling to find something you’re passionate about, it might be because you’re trying to zoom in on a subject rather than thinking about the activity that interests you. Or vice versa.
When it comes to speaking, there isn’t one particular topic I enjoy speaking on versus the other. Sometimes I do inspirational keynotes, other times lectures on engineering or entrepreneurship. I just enjoy the act of speaking itself.
I know others like Jiro who are passionate about a single subject, sushi. In his case he pursues a lot of activities all around the one subject, instead of one activity around multiple subjects like myself and speaking.