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How To Follow Your Dreams When You Haven’t Quite Figured Out What They Are

“Follow your passions” is contested career advice to begin with–but what if your passions are difficult even for you to discern?

How To Follow Your Dreams When You Haven’t Quite Figured Out What They Are
[Photo: Flickr user Charles Nadeau]

I, personally, am tired of people giving advice like, “just follow your passion,” or “do what you love and the money will come.”

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If you’re one of the (very few) millennials out there who knows exactly what you want to do with your life, and you’re taking conscious, consistent steps toward it, then by all means continue to follow your passion!

But most of us aren’t in that boat. If you’re like the majority of millennials, you’re still struggling to uncover what it is that you’re actually passionate about. So what’s intended as an inspirational phrase turns into one more thing to stress about and judge yourself for.

How are you supposed to follow your passion if you don’t even know what it is?

I’ve been there and it’s not fun.

I’ve always been so inspired by people who have created something amazing and impactful at a young age. I’m fascinated by college students who created successful start-ups. I’ve always been drawn to read bestselling books by people in their early 20s (or younger). And for years I’ve followed tons of blogs by other millennials with an online empire.

Related: Build Your Career Around Passion

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As much as I admired these young entrepreneurs, it never really occurred to me that I could become one. “Normal” people don’t do things like that.

So after college, I did what I was “supposed” to do: I got a stable, decent-paying job in the field that I majored in (professional writing).

I knew I liked writing (I’ve always proudly been a huge book nerd), so I thought maybe that was my passion. And I figured, as long as I was in a job where I could write all day, I’d be happy, right?

Wrong.

Turns out your passion isn’t limited to a singular activity–it’s something much deeper.

Whenever I was bored or frustrated at my old 9-to-5s, I found myself pulling up those blogs or articles about the young entrepreneurs that inspired me so much. They seemed to have so much freedom in their lives and work–they got to make their own rules, be completely themselves at their job, and spend their time doing something worthwhile.

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Related: How To Support Your Passions After College

I was so jealous!

Then one day it finally occurred to me that, (duh) there was nothing stopping me from creating that kind of life for myself.

That’s when it hit me that I was in the completely wrong job category.

I had tried over and over again to be happy working at a company as an employee, when it was just never going to work for me. I was craving the autonomy and freedom of entrepreneurship.

It didn’t even matter that my jobs allowed me to write all day, which is something that I loved (and still love). The fact that I didn’t get to choose what, when, and why I was writing sapped all the intrinsic joy right out of it for me.

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When I finally embraced the fact that I would never be truly happy unless I was working for myself, then I was able to get clear on what I actually wanted to do for my job. And I surprised myself by realizing that I only wanted writing to be a part of what I did. Mostly, I wanted to help people become the director of their lives, instead of the passenger, which is why I became a life and career coach for millennial women.

I’m certainly not saying that entrepreneurship is the answer for everyone. In fact, I know several millennials who tried to start their own business and quickly burnt out (even though they were supposedly “living their passion”) because they realized that what they actually wanted was the stability and collaboration that comes with working at a company.

The takeaway: Until you first know how you want to express your passion, it can be hard to get clear on what your passion is in the first place.

So how can you start getting that clarity now?

1. Take note of what has consistently fascinated you for months, years, or even since you were a kid. Upon first glance, these things might seem trivial or silly, but if you give them a closer look, I guarantee there’s some valuable information there to help your clarify your passion.

2. Figure out how you want your passion to show up. It’s time to be honest with yourself: When it comes to your job, how important is collaboration and teamwork to you? How well do you deal with authority? Do you need your passion to be a part of your day-to-day work life, or would that sap all the joy out of it?

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If I’d paid attention to what had drawn my attention and fascination for years, I may have 1) become an entrepreneur and 2) discovered that I wanted to become a coach much earlier and saved myself several years of frustration.

Trust me, it’s a lot easier to figure out your passion (and then “follow your passion”) if you first know how you want to express it.

Kristen Walker is a professionally trained life coach for people in their twenties and thirties and the cofounder of Clarity on Fire Coaching, a life coaching company specifically for millennials who want to figure out their passion, turn it into a viable career, and create a solid plan to find freedom.

This article originally appeared in Levo and is reprinted with permission.