I’ve been wrong all these years. Even 20+ years ago when I was teaching high school, I was giving out bad advice. Like so many others, I’ve been telling people to follow their passion. The problem is, that’s like telling someone to build a house but giving them only a photo of the front elevation.
The truth about passion
Last week I listened to a podcast from Sounds True’s series called Insights at the Edge. In the episode in question, Tami Simon, who has crazy good interviewing skills, spoke with Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love (which I’ve never read). At one point in the interview, they got to the topic of passion, and Gilbert grabbed me by the eardrums with this:
Passion is the big burning tower of flame in the desert. You’ll know it if it ever happens to you. It’s like a big love story.
Curiosity is so much easier to access than passion. You may not know if you have a burning life passion, but you’re probably curious about some stuff.
Don’t worry about finding your passion. Just look around today and ask yourself if there’s absolutely anything you can find in the world that you feel even 1% curious about and then follow it.
That trail of pursuing your curiosity very loyally, with discipline, knowing that your curiosity will eventually take you to your destiny, I think that’s where you find your passion.
Following my curiosity
What Gilbert said is absolutely true. In thinking back on my life, I can’t find a single instance when any of my passions began spontaneously, when I didn’t first go through a period of exploration.
As an undergrad, for example, I recall watching my friend Doug get really absorbed in learning computer programming. I asked him questions. I watched as he turned his handwritten lines of Fortran into stacks of punch cards to be run through the IBM 1130, and I wanted to do that, too. I got the chance in one of my physics courses, and my curiosity blossomed into full-blown passion. A few weeks into the semester, I stayed up late into the night reading the whole book and figuring out subroutines and writing programs to do some cool stuff.
More related to what I do now, in grad school I watched my thesis advisor, Liz Seiberling, design and build an off-grid house in central Florida. I asked questions. I learned a little bit about construction. I began reading about photovoltaics and composting toilets and passive solar houses. Then I went out and did it myself, and that’s what launched me into this new career. I finally had discovered what I’m passionate enough about to spend my life working on.
This blog is all about following my curiosity. I read something that raises a question for me. I hear someone say something that makes me think of something else. I see a product and wonder why anyone would make (or buy) such a thing.
Elizabeth Gilbert hit the nail on the head. Passion is a great thing, but it’s too big to access directly—or even to know where to find it. Look around and pay attention to the questions that arise. Your curiosity will take you where you need to go.
What is it you wonder about?
Allison A. Bailes III, PhD is a speaker, writer, building science consultant, and the founder of Energy Vanguard in Decatur, Georgia. He has a doctorate in physics and is the author of a popular book on building science. He also writes the Energy Vanguard Blog. For more updates, you can subscribe to our newsletter and follow him on LinkedIn.
Photo by Emilio del Prado from flickr.com, used under a Creative Commons license.
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