You probably won’t find your passion. I know what I just said is contrary to the milk-and-honey clickbait diet of Lifehack, Buzzfeed, and HuffPo articles that would say otherwise. I know this differs from the cheap, feel-good millennial-baiting garbage we’ve become accustomed to. I know that bolded text probably lands with the subtlety of a bag of bricks thrown down a flight of stairs. Yet there is hope even still…
You won’t find your passion, but you might be able to create it. Soulmate passions don’t exist. You may be interested in many things. The world is an interesting place! With all the choices available to us, there is no meaningful way to reliably gauge what’s “right” for you to do forever. Fostering an obsession with what your “one true passion” is a form of detrimental perfectionism that may be holding you back. Indeed, it’s very thinly veiled perfectionism – it may as well be wearing Groucho Marx glasses.
The most reliable way to make your passion is to experiment. Experiment with things you may be interested in. You can learn from the experience. Pay attention to the facets you like and what feels good. Tweak your approach to making your passion as you learn. Your emotions, if you can view them in a detached manner every once in a while, provide extraordinary insight into what you really want to do.
What is passion? Well, let’s talk about what passion isn’t first. Have you noticed there are people in this world who get passionate about things that don’t look to be all that interesting from the outside? I’m talking about your stereotypical dads who get really into home repair, people who memorize anomalies in the road system and quote facts, or even – dare I say it – board gamers who collect several hundred games. Passion, then, obviously isn’t about being an astronaut or the President of the United States.
I believe passion and “flow” are the same phenomenon. When I refer to flow, I refer to Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi’s flow model – which shows that flow happens when you’re very skilled and very challenged at the same time. You get in the zone, so to speak. Those moments where we fall into flow are some of the most transcendent ones which we can experience on this plane of existence. I believe that this is what people seek when they seek passion – becoming one with something, falling deeply into something. I get it periodically when I make games.
How do you get flow? Well, it’s hard-earned. To consistently get work that puts you in that almost mystical flow state takes years of hard work and a lot of experimentation. Where there is experimentation, there is also a lot of failure. Start to find your passion by trying something that you’re kinda good at and something that’s kinda hard. That’s it! Don’t overthink it, just try a simple experiment.
Go hard on something for a couple of months and, once you do that, take a moment to reflect. If you like what you tried, keep doing it. Refine the things that don’t work and do more of what does. Seek challenge, seek learning, and seek engagement! If you didn’t like what you tried, that’s totally okay. Take a moment to really examine the reasons you didn’t enjoy what you tried. Be relentless in your self-questioning and get to the root causes. Try something new and don’t make the same mistakes.
I believe in enormous human potential. I don’t believe in magic, though. I don’t believe in shortcuts. I don’t believe in the easy road. By all means, be efficient and use technology to help you accomplish your goals quickly, but understand that the pursuit of passion is – for most of us mere mortals – a life’s work. Yeah, this is not something you can reliably crack at the tender age of 16 or 18 or 25 or 32. If you are the exception, that’s awesome!
It’s extraordinarily important to understand how hard it is develop a passion. You will probably have to back your way out of many dead end roads in the process. So it goes. I’ve found that many people function better when they understand the odds are tough. I’ve found that denial is only a useful shield for a short time and it’s much better to accept that you’ll have to do a lot of grinding and bill-paying. There are a lot of obstacles that will stand in your way that make it hard to develop a passion. Yet understanding that you will have to overcome obstacles will help you to dodge punches like a boxer. It beats the hell out of being blindsided.
Stay strong, stay experimental, and stay weird. Believe that you can create a passion with time, intention, experimentation, effort, and patience. I believe you can.
Key Takeaways for Game Devs
- You don’t find a passion. You create it.
- You create your passion by experimenting and learning about what you like and don’t like.
- Passion isn’t necessarily about doing the coolest thing.
- Passion resembles “flow” – it happens when you’re good at something and when you feel challenged.
- Both skills and challenge are hard to come by – so you have to spend a lot of time creating your passion.
- Don’t be afraid to stop doing what you don’t like at all.
- I like setting the expectation that finding your passion is tough. I think it gives you a better chance of making it.
- I believe in you.