You know the story.
For the umpteenth time, you think you’ve got it. You’ve figured it out. You’ve realised the one thing you were put on this little green and blue rock to do.
So you open your pad, primed to start the first chapter. Or you fire up your laptop, barely able to contain your new business idea. Maybe it’s a canvas, a musical instrument, or a course application.
Whatever the case, it’s the beginning.
Fast-forward a few months. Or it might be weeks, days or even hours.
Your head is in your hands. You’re like a tyre with a slow puncture, and the last bit of air has just escaped. You think, “It can’t be this.”
What was meant to be effortless – filled with joy and flow – was defined by frustration, doubt and boredom. Time to go back to the drawing board.
If you keep flitting between “passions”, starting off enthusiastically but eventually losing interest, then stay with me. I’ve got a subtle, simple hack that might be the key to solving your problem once and for all.
The Invisible Influence Wreaking Havoc on Your Thoughts
Just why do you end up disillusioned time after time?
I mean, other people spend their days absorbed in creative work, enjoying the fruits of their craft. Why not you?
I believe there’s a simple belief at the heart of this problem. But first, let’s step back and take a look at the broader picture.
As a society, we’re bombarded with images and stories of “perfect work”. Work that’s effortless, inspirational and deeply enjoyable.
It might be the photograph of the writer, utterly concentrated at his book-strewn desk. Or the magazine article of the businessman who’s so driven he toils for twenty-seven hours a day. What about the artist marvelling at his latest creation, his overalls covered in paint?
We see images like these and think, “I want a career like that!”
Or it might be subtler. We might consciously recognise exaggerations like these are just a little too perfect, all the time secretly longing for them. As pleasure-seeking creatures, a small part of us hopes they might exist.
In short, we’ve been sold a romantic idea of work. And it’s only partly true.
Why You Don’t Really Want to Find Your Passion
If you look at your motivations, you’ll likely find they stem (at least in part) from the notion of work described above.
But it goes deeper. We hear phrases like “flow” or “following your bliss”. And taken out of context, these ideas only serve to propagate the myth of effortless, eternally joyful work. Simplistic memes like, “Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,” add even more compressed peat to the fire (I’m pretty sure nobody chops wood anymore).
So here’s the crux of the problem:
You don’t want to find your passion. You’re really looking for permanent pleasure.
And it doesn’t exist. No work on the planet is going to give you endless bliss. And that’s why you can’t find what you’re looking for.
What’s more, as I’ve mentioned, it’s often subtle. Maybe unconscious. You might acknowledge on the surface the images of work you’ve been sold are too rosy. You say to yourself, “I know real work is hard.” Yet all the time you’re searching for the mirage.
So what’s the solution?
Here’s the Simple, Powerful Question You Should Ask Instead
In one sense, the remedy is simple. Stop looking exclusively for pleasure. Change your metric of success from “pleasurable all the time” to “pleasurable some of the time”.
You recognize that enjoyment, flow, and natural momentum are necessary ingredients. But they’re also mixed in with all the others you might not want.
But there’s more. To really solve the problem, you need to change the word “pleasurable” to “meaningful”. And that means looking at results.
So here’s what to do:
Do something that produces a meaningful result and ask, “Would I do that again…and again…and again?”
This question is so powerful for a simple reason. To answer “yes” you need to connect with both the process and the results.
If you think there’s a novel aching to get out, for example, write and edit the first chapter. If you feel you’re destined to be an entrepreneur, build an MVP (minimum viable product).
But here’s the thing: it has to represent a serious effort.
That’s how you distinguish between activities that are just enjoyable – like baking a cake or playing Clash of Clans for fifteen hours – and work that’s genuinely meaningful.
You might love the destination but hate the journey. Alternatively, you could love the process but be indifferent to the result. It’s when you find the place in between that you know you’re on the right track.
Meaning and pleasure are different.
Pleasure is good. For a while. You can even get addicted to it. But eventually, you’re going to feel that nagging sense of emptiness. And then, as sure as bedtime follows that extra crammed-in Netflix show you couldn’t resist, it’s back to the drawing board again.
Meaning, on the other hand, fills you up right to the root.
When you finish the day, how do you want to feel? Like you’ve had an enjoyable trip out to the beach? Or like you’ve accomplished something that demanded your deepest creative energy. Something that will touch the lives of countless others.
The two feelings couldn’t be more different.
Do you know that wonderful, worn-out feeling after hard physical labour? It’s like your whole body knows it’s achieved something. Meaningful work does the same thing to your mind.
Just imagine finishing the day knowing you’ve done something good.
Your mental energy is drained, leaving a well of peacefulness in its place. As you eat dinner or slump in front of the television, you reflect back with a smile. Ideas about what to do tomorrow float around at the edge of your mind. You resist the temptation to open up your laptop and start the next task.
For the first time in your life, you love your work.
And there’s no satisfaction quite like it.