I hear from hundreds of women each month asking a fascinating variety of career and work-life questions, hoping for some guidance. But one question emerges more frequently than any other, from women of all walks, levels, and capabilities.
The one question I hear more than any other is, “How can I figure out what my passion is?”
I had a powerful personal experience this week that I think exemplifies the answer to this question and I’d like to share it with you.
I had the wonderful opportunity to attend two important conferences in New York City that opened my eyes to new insights and learnings. The first conference was on business innovation and “disruption,” sponsored by WOBI, and the other was Claudia Chan’s S.H.E. Summit, a global women’s leadership and lifestyle event. WOBI on Innovation focused on the many, multifaceted disruptions that are impacting business today, and the tremendous upside opportunities they present for those flexible and aware enough to both spot and react to them quickly.
The next day I attended the 3rd annual S.H.E. Summit which convened more than 60 thought leaders and partners igniting change and offering a global conversation and celebration of female potential and possibility.
Both conferences featured renowned experts, and both focused on exciting topics at the forefront of culture and business.
After the first day on innovation, my mind was full with new ways to think about business and career problems, how to turn these problems upside down and perceive and analyze them differently. I was inspired and motivated, by Andy Cohen, on Overcoming Barriers to Disruptive Thinking, and by Stephen Ritz, on Transformational Innovation. Ritz’s story is deeply inspirational – it reveals the transformation that’s possible when we challenge assumptions, think very differently, and refuse to accept the unacceptable. Ritz is a Bronx County science teacher leading a double revolution – of education and urban renewal. His world is New York City’s South Bronx, a place traditionally associated with gang activity, poverty and crime. As the leader of the Green Bronx Machine, Ritz is driving a movement that is changing people’s perceptions and transforming lives, based on his belief that students shouldn’t have to leave their community to live, learn and earn in a better one. The best quote of the day for me was his, “I don’t want to accept what I cannot change. I want to change what I cannot accept.” (Now THAT is passion.)
The second day offered the same high level of educational and informational information and experiences – with fabulous speakers including Claudia Chan, Marlo Thomas, Sallie Krawcheck, Nigel Barker, Gary Barker, Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, and many more. I was engaged and upflited, and also had new flashes of insight and revelation about the current state of affairs for women around the world, and new solutions to improve that state.
But one thing grew very apparent to me throughout the two days’ experiences – my heart, spirit and mind were much more actively engaged by discussions, research and information that touched on global women’s growth and advancement.
Throughout the S.H.E. Summit, for example, I cried, I laughed, and felt deeply moved by the speakers’ experiences and often contrarian viewpoints on gender equality, violence against women, fostering diversity in corporate America, integrating men in the support of women, women’s economic independence, education, and more. At times, I wanted to jump up on stage and join the conversation myself, and (dare I say), add my different views and perspectives. I was “buzzing.”
The important lesson I was reminded of from this experience is that when you find yourself learning about an area in which you desperately want to help and simply can’t stop yourself — that’s your passion. And you are happiest in your work when you’re tapping into that passion – giving form to your life intentions in ways that help others (as Maria Nemeth explains in her great book The Energy of Money).
Based on my coaching and training work with hundreds of women around the globe who’ve found their passion, and are leveraging it in their work, here are the hallmarks of the experience when you’ve discovered your passion and are working in your sweet spot:
- Despite all your concerns about how crashingly busy you are already in your life, you want to DO more to help this situation and are ready to act NOW
- You’re enlivened by the people you meet who are involved in this cause or area, and they inspire you
- You feel like a beginner – you realize you have many things to learn and can’t wait to learn them
- This area of focus for you is deep, rich and inexhaustible – there is so much that needs to be done and explored
- You feel more alive, valuable, and contributive when focused on these issues, and that makes you happier and more engaged personally and professionally
- Being involved in this area helps you marry up everything you’ve ever cared about, and everything you are, and allows you to draw on your many talents, skills and capabilities in new, exciting ways
- This area of focus gives your life meaning and purpose
- You feel humbled at the enormity of the task ahead of you, but thrilled to be part of it
- You feel more love and compassion in your heart, and more connected to the world around you
But many women say, “Kathy, I’m not sure what I’m passionate about. How do I discover that?”
To identify what you’re passionate about, dig deep and answer these questions:
- Look carefully at what you’re drawn to in life. What do you read, watch, listen to, follow?
- What agitates and upsets you in the world and compels you to DO something?
- Where are the people who inspire and uplift you? What are they focused on?
- If you could take one college level course or program for free on anything at all, what would it be?
- In what areas are you drawn to helping others?
- What “mess” in your life can be turned into a “message” for others?
- What skill or talent do you wish you had, that would be exciting to pursue?
- What area do you secretly fantasize about being involved in but feel foolish to say it out loud?
- If you knew you couldn’t fail and it would all work out beautifully (financially and otherwise), what would you try?
- What did you adore doing as a child that you’ve let slip through your fingertips?
- What (or who) holds you back most from pursuing what excites you most?
Before my current career, I lived through 18 years of a corporate life that was devoid of passion and purpose, and that led to depression, illness, and misery. I can tell you without a shadow of doubt that being lit up by your work is a far happier and more productive way to go.
Are you ready to identify your passion and get moving doing important work that fuels that passion?