Where’s The Passion

  Have you ever yearned to find more passion, or even some passion, in your work?  Reading Lean In: Women, Work and The Will To Lead by Sheryl Sandberg over March Break made me remember an experience when I so strongly felt that yearning.  About ten years ago, I went for a ride in a hot […]

Where's The Passion


Have you ever yearned to find more passion, or even some passion, in your work?  Reading Lean In: Women, Work and The Will To Lead by Sheryl Sandberg over March Break made me remember an experience when I so strongly felt that yearning.  About ten years ago, I went for a ride in a hot air balloon with my Dad.  We flew over my home town of London, Ontario on a bright, still, sunny morning, full of possibility.  What reading her book triggered for me was the memory of talking with the pilot of the hot air balloon and hearing his story of how he became a pilot.  It turns out that piloting hot air balloons was something he did for fun.  Flying hot air balloons was his passion.  He worked as a real estate agent for his “day job”.  I remember thinking: “I so wish I could find work I am passionate about!”   Ever since I had decided to become a stay-at-home mother back in 1998, I had been yearning for work I could be passionate about.   I didn’t find passion in my lawyering.  However, now I know that I might have found some there, or at least hints of it, had I known how to look.   That’s part of my mission as a coach for high-achieving women like you – to help you find, connect with and harness your passion to help you achieve goals that are deeply meaningful to you.

Sheryl Sandberg offers us much wisdom in her inspiring and empowering book.  One of the first steps she suggests taking before “leaning into” your work/life/whatever it is you are doing is to find something you are passionate about to actually lean into.  Leaning into work that you don’t feel passionate about is not part of her recipe for success.  I know from my experience and that of my clients that finding passion and then acting on it is not always an easy process.   Sometimes it may even feel impossible.   However, now that I am a coach, I also know that there are ways to access and harness our passions, because they are there in us.  For sure.

Taking a step back, before I offer you a first step to help you find your passion, let’s look at a definition of passion, from a foremost expert, Prof. Robert J. Vallerand:

“Passion is defined as a strong inclination toward an activity that people like (or even love), that they find important, and in which they invest time and energy.”

When we are passionate about something it also becomes a part of our identity.   Someone who is passionate about tennis, doesn’t just play tennis; rather, she is a “tennis player”.  (Prof. Vallerand, who I heard speak at the First Canadian Conference on Positive Psychology last summer, further divides passion into two types – obsessive  and harmonious.  “Obsessive passion refers to a controlled internalization of an activity in one’s identity that creates an internal pressure to engage in the activity that the person likes.  On the other hand, harmonious passion refers to an autonomous internalization that leads individuals to choose to engage in the activity that they like….With this type of passion, the activity does not occupy the entire space in the person’s identity and is in harmony with the other aspects of the person’s life.” [from “Passion at Work”, p. 178 of Emerging Perspectives on Values in Organizations] Harmonious passion is the type of passion we need to access to improve our well-being.   For our purposes, I will be assuming we are looking at harmonious passion.)

There are many routes to uncovering and following one’s passions.   Here is one way, suggested by Barbara Fredrickson, a preeminent positive psychologist, in Positivity. Notice when you go into a state of “flow”.  Find those unique activities that allow you to be in flow. “Flow” is  “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”p. 4 Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Here’s a super short video that explains “flow” well.  Think about when you completely lose yourself in activity, even losing track of time.  To be in flow you need to be challenged just enough, as is well illustrated in the video.  You also need to have a clear goal in mind and  immediate feedback.

Take a moment and reflect on when you might have been in a flow state recently.  Were you immersed in project at work? Were you flying down a ski hill?    Were you in a deeply meaningful conversation with someone and completely lost track of time?  When you are following your passions, finding flow, you are building  your opportunities for positive experiences and emotions and that is so important for enhancing your well-being, especially happiness.  And of course, it’s step one in following Sheryl Sandberg’s advice.

Here’s an example from my work life to further prompt your reflection.  When I think back a few years to my time as a young lawyer, one of my favourite experiences was having to draft a contract for which there was no “precedent” (lawyer talk for similar contracts).  I was so used to relying on precedents  that the challenge was a bit scary, but mostly it was fun.  And I definitely got into a state of flow while I was drafting.   Had I known then what I know now, I would have reflected on that experience more afterwards.  I would have thought about why I enjoyed it.  Was it the writing? Yes.  Was it the challenge? Yes.  Was it the novelty? Yes.  Was it about how much I enjoyed working with the more senior lawyer on the file?  Yes, that too.  (I might have also realized that what I was doing was creative and that alone would have been a huge insight, since I did not think of myself as the “creative type”.  BTW, this was a total misconception.  We are all creative.  It’s just a question of how we are creative….but that’s another blog post.)   All of those questions and answers – that reflection – could have helped me to then be more proactive and look for more experiences like that.  More flow.   And then I would have been able to say that I had found some passion in my work as a lawyer.  Those experiences would have generated more positivity for me and who knows what would have been different – at least I would have felt a whole lot more positive.  The fact that I did not feel passionate about my work made it much easier for me to decide to be at home with my young children.  I leaned away from work toward my children and home for which I did (and do) feel passionate.   I learned so much from being “at home” and loved much about that time.    It shaped who I am now and it helps me to be a better coach.   However, I also had this yearning for work outside of my family life that I was passionate about – there was something missing for me until I found coaching.  I do love “being” a coach.  I’m leaning in now.

What about you?

Where do you find flow in your life?

How could you create more flow in your life?

If you are eager for more ideas about finding your passion and what to do when you have found it, here are some steps you can take:

  1. Sign up for my newsletter to get more ideas and tips to prompt your reflection (put your name and email in the box up on the right on this page).  Periodically, I make special offers such as the opportunity to apply for a complimentary coaching conversation with me – a Shifting Gears Strategy Session valued at $175.   This session could really help you get clearer on your passion and where you want to go with it (i.e. your vision for your future).
  2. Sign up for a complimentary, secure journal on my journaling site. Once you are there, indicate in a journal entry that finding your passion interests you and say a bit about why and what’s challenging for you.  If you select “Have a coach review my journal for free”,  I will see your entry and review it and offer you some questions and more ideas to help you along in your reflection.   More info here.
  3. Read Lean In: Women, Work and The Will To Lead.  Sheryl Sandberg’s book is all about helping you lean in more to this work you are passionate about, as are the Lean In circles she is encouraging people to create, via Leanin.org.

If you are really keen and determined, do all of the above!  What are you waiting for?  Make some room for this in your life!

As always, I love to receive your comments.

P.S. And to tie this post to managing energy, a theme in many of my posts: feeling passionate generates energy – emotional energy and the human spirit kind.  Then the question is: what  are you going to do with all that wonderful energy?

P.P.S. I have blogged about passion before – see this post for more: Elements and LEAPS in Las Vegas.

Author: Milisa Burns

Milisa Burns is a certified professional coach, former lawyer and married mother of three, with her own website: www.milisaburns.com.

Share This Post On