Sometimes, it’s hard to know who you are and what you’re best at, or what’s the best career, hobby, or plan for your unique skills, interests, and traits.
But it's best to have some idea what you're passionate about, both for a meaningful life and to answer others who ask. In fact, "what are you passionate about?" is a common job interview question.
What am I passionate about?
Before you can identify and speak about your passion, you have to really understand who you are as a person. You have to accept your flaws, overcome your insecurities, and become comfortable in your own skin.
Connect with your own emotions. Be selfish. Embrace yourself for all that you are. Once you have accepted yourself and unearthed what makes you tick, you’ll be able to find your passion — and talk about it with ease.
How do you discover your passion?
Follow the six steps below to help you identify your passions and start reaping the benefits of that knowledge!
1. Identify your strengths.
Make a list of things you know you're good at. It could be a task, a technical skill, or a soft skill more related to your personality, your way of doing things, or your attitude toward life. For example, I am a strong writer, I am very organized and good at remembering people’s details, I am warm and friendly, and I am good at building relationships and bringing people together.
Sometimes, you can easily identify a strength (i.e., I’ve been told I was a good writer and received good marks for my writing since I could write), and sometimes it’s good to keep a compliment or feedback log to track the feedback others (classmates, colleagues, supervisors, friends, and family) give us in order to better identify what we’re good at, especially as seen from an outsider’s perspective.
Research from Jacques Forest and his colleagues shows that when we use our strengths, we’ll find more happiness, so we definitely want our strengths to inform our passions and what we aim to pursue!
2. Sign up, take risks, and take note.
There are a couple crucial questions to ask yourself here. What makes you excited? What makes you wonder?
Many people don’t realize what their passion is until they stumble upon it and find they enjoy it. The key is to take note of what makes you more excited to live life, and what takes you out of the mundanity of your day-to-day details. I have always loved writing, but I remember the first time I went to a literary reading — more than just the act of writing itself, it was the sense of community and togetherness I loved, and being able to connect with others over the different writings we’d heard. I was hooked.
Most times, you don’t even know what to try. Say yes to everything; put yourself in new situations and take risks. I didn’t like gardening until someone asked if I wanted to sign up to volunteer during college. I didn’t know I enjoyed helping people until I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Psychology and my first job offer was at a mental health nonprofit. I didn’t know that training was even a job option until it was part of my second job out of college, and I received extensive training from exceptional mentors on how to conduct a memorable training for diverse adult learners. I didn’t know I loved the entire job search process until someone asked me to help them edit their resume and look for jobs. Sometimes, you just have to say yes, and try something new in order to find the thing that may become your passion in life.
3. Re-imagine possibilities.
So, as mentioned above, I loved literary readings — great! But now it’s time to re-imagine possibilities. At first, I attended some and started to talk to other writers. Eventually, I decided to start my own reading series, something I had never considered before or never thought I could do, just because I loved the feeling of being at one with quality readers/writers. And so I did it. Similarly, after her first hike in her early 20s, a good friend that she truly loved and felt most in wonder at nature. She ended up moving to the Pacific Northwest so that being outdoors could be a bigger part of her life. After taking a cross-country hiking and camping trip, that is!
4. Out with the old & in with the new.
Once you’ve narrowed in a bit more on what types of things you like to do, make those a bigger part of your life. I noticed I found less enjoyment in going to bars, where I felt I couldn’t truly have a meaningful conversation with friends, and started subscribing to newsletters to learn about literary events in my area. Through this, I’ve been able to build a network and attend quality events where friends may be performing, hosting, or at the very least, just recommending!
5. Reflect & repeat.
Reflect on new experiences and see what brought you joy. Maybe you liked the act of gardening after volunteering one day, but the garden is too far. Maybe you enjoyed teaching literacy skills, but you'd like to work with adults instead of kids. Maybe cooking is your thing, but you want to specialize in vegetarian options. Repeat the experiences you enjoyed, while making alterations that fit you and your life. In the gardening example, perhaps you could start a community garden closer to your home, for instance. Schedule it in, and make it work!
6. Ask others.
Some people discovered their passions early in life. Others developed them later on. Some are still searching. Everyone has a story to tell and wants to share it. If you know someone who has a clearly defined passion, ask her how it evolved. How did she build it? How does she make time for it in her life? Did she go looking for it, or did she stumble upon it? These questions can help you in the pursuit of your own passion.
Why interviewers ask 'What are you passionate about?'
Interviewers ask this question to determine if you will be intrinsically motivated in the job you're interviewing for. Preferably, the interviewer is seeking someone who's passions align with the job — passion can keep employees. driven and interested. This question also helps interviewers get to know candidates a bit more as a person. They can determine what part of employment makes someone tick, and they can determine if someone will be a good cultural fit.
How to answer 'What are you passionate about?'
First things first, be honest. Only speak about things that you are truly passionate about. Before the interview, think of how the job or employer will play on your passions, and find a way to connect the two.
Say you are passionate about the environment and you are applying to a role at a large soda company. You can say that you are passionate about environmental issues and you love that XYZ company has a focus on sustainable products. As a product engineer, you'd be contributing to something you care about.
Try connecting a few of your passions to the role as you prepare for the interview. Then, plan to use the most convincing pitch during the real thing.
Resources for finding and developing your passion
Finding a passion comes easily to some, but many need guidance to get there. These resources can help you explore your talents and what makes you happy.
1. The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau
At age 35, Chris Guillebeau set out to travel to every country on earth and interviewed hundreds of people who here reveal their motivations, desires, journeys, and quests.
2. Callings by Dave Isaay
The founder of StoryCorps shares stories of people doing what they love, including people who discovered their passions early in life and later and many who overcame great odds.
3. The Passion Test by Janet Bray Attwood and Chris Attwood
The authors provide a test for identifying your passions and a step-by-step program of action for implementing them in your life.
4. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Gilbert shares inspiration and offers guidance and motivation on living your best and most creative life.
1. Why some of us don't have one true calling
Writer and Artist Emilie Wapnick explores how people can have many different interests and pursuits over the course of their lives.
2. How to find work you love
Scott Dinsmore quit a job he hated in pursuit of work he found more meaningful. Here, he shares how to discover what matters to you.
Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Craft explore how to embrace the things that make you happy.
On this Slate podcast, people with unique jobs describe the ins and outs of their daily lives.
3. The Accidental Creative
Top thinkers, leaders, and artists share insights on work and life.
Find your passion
A client asked me recently, “How many passions should you try to include in your career?” She is a highly analytical thinker, and I appreciated the question. My answer? As many as you can, ideally. But also remember — you don’t only have to do one thing. The thing about passions is that you don’t only have to have one. You can have multiple at any given time, they can change or morph, and you can combine them or separate them, depending on what they are. And that’s OK; it’s all part of what makes you unique. Power on!
Chelsea Fonden is a career coach and resume writer based in Brooklyn, NY. Over the past 5 years, she has worked with countless jobseekers across industries and professional levels and holds a passion for women's advancement in the workplace. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Maryland and has worked for several NYC non-profits, as well as in freelance roles.