These days, everybody’s got their passion, and every employer wants their employees to be passionate about their jobs. When there’s so much pressure to feel passionately about something, how can you really know what that something is?

The problem with passion is that the word is too general. It’s difficult to operationalize and easy to misuse. You might say you’re passionate about something when really you’re only moderate interested. I’m moderately interested in information visualization, but I’m not passionate about it. The word “passion” describes the goal you want to achieve, but doesn’t help you diagnose how to get there.

Here’s my best shot at operationalizing the term. Imagine it’s December 28. You’re on vacation, holiday stress has somewhat faded, and you have taken care of your pressing commitments. You just want to do something you enjoy. What would you do?  More generally, what do you do when you have nothing else to do?

Here’s another approach. Doing something because you’re passionate about it is another way of saying  you would stick to your passion despite obstacles. So what would you skip dinner for? What will do even if you’re tired and hungry? What activities so absorb you that you might fall asleep doing them? (No, sex doesn’t count. That kind of passion is for another post). In what activities do you experience a sensation of flow?

Or consider your senses: taste, touch, smell, vision, hearing, proprioception (our sense of our own bodies) and empathy (our sense of other peoples’ states of mind).  In what modalities do you feel especially sensitive or receptive? How do your special receptivities relate to the activities you identified before?

I hope this helps you identify the concrete activities that might make up your passions. If thinking about passion doesn’t help, try doing something and see how it feels. Let me know.

3 more diagnostic questions than “What’s your passion?”

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