We’ve all heard the phrase, “Do what you love.” The idea that we can and should do what we love doing in our work, and that we should choose experiences that make us feel good in life, was a pretty unconventional idea 20 years ago. These days, however, it’s an ideal that most of us believe in and want to live by.

So then why aren’t we all doing what we love? Why aren’t we all following our passion?

Do you know what you love?

One of the challenges of our internet-savvy generation is that we have access to lifestyle models and opportunities all over the world. We’ve got an abundance of choices available to us, and this can lead to being overwhelmed and a habit of questioning whatever we have and wondering whether the grass is greener on the other side. And of course we still have social pressure from our families and peers who place their expectations on us. We’re dealing with more opportunities and demands than ever before – it’s no wonder we get a little unsure of what we want!

The idea of doing what you love is of no use to you if you’re unsure what you want and love. And nobody else can tell you what you love – the whole point of doing what you love is that you’re doing what YOU love, rather than the things other people tell you you should love. But while you can’t learn what you love from other people, you can learn how to meet your true self and discover what you love for yourself. There are lots of ways to discover what you love, and one of the most unexpected routes to discovering what you love is through your fear.

How to find your passion: let your fear guide you

Fear feels horrible, and we tend to code experiences that feel horrible as “bad,”  and then we try to avoid those “bad” experiences that we’re afraid of. Avoidance is a great strategy when the experience really is an actual threat to us, but most of what we spend our time being afraid of these days doesn’t pose any real threat to us, and might even be really good for us – and then we miss out on the good stuff when we avoid it.

You see, we’re wired to feel fear whenever we’re stepping into unfamiliar territory, because fear helps us to stay alert and pay more attention in unfamiliar situations. So we need to recognize that fear doesn’t always mean that there’s an actual threat and that we need to get away from the thing that’s triggering our fear. Sometimes fear means that we’re entering new territory and learning, growing and thriving. Sometimes our fear is pointing us to exactly what’s most important to us and what we love most, in amongst the myriad of different demands and opportunities presenting themselves to us.

When something is important to us, it matters to us how it turns out. The more important that thing is to us, the more fear we’re likely to feel about it – because our heart is in it and we care deeply about it. If it wasn’t important to you, you wouldn’t worry about how it turned out.

So how do you know whether to avoid the thing you fear most or move towards it?

Martha Beck has a great metaphor she uses to help us to understand the difference between the kind of fear that’s letting you know that something is a real threat to what’s important to you so you need to avoid it, and the kind of fear that’s letting you know that something is important to you so you need to move towards it, even though it’s scary because it’s going to require you to grow. When the thing you’re fearing is a real threat, you’ll feel afraid and probably a big disgusted, as if you were  scared of heights and standing on a high-dive board, looking to dive into a pool of sewage. When the thing that you’re afraid of is something you’re meant to move towards in order to live fully and express your true self, you’ll feel afraid, but you’ll also feel a sense of excitement, as if you’re standing on a high-dive board, looking to jump into a beautiful, crystal clear pool on a hot summer’s day. My husband has taken to calling that combination of excitement and fear his “Afraidar,” because it’s like a radar that detects and reliably points him to what he loves and what would give him to opportunity to become more of the person he wants to be.

So if you’re unsure about what you want, take some time to explore your fears right now:

1. Mindmaps are a great way to access both your heart and mind, so start creating a mindmap with the words, “My fears” circled in the middle of the page.

2. Then create satellite circles round that, each labeled with an area of your life – finances, friends, recreation, work, health, family, spirituality, and any others you’d like to include.

3. Now brainstorm the opportunities and demands being presented to you in each area of your life that give you fear when you think of them right now, listing them on the page.

4. Highlight all the fears that also give you a feeling of excitement.

5. Look at the fears you’ve highlighted and ask yourself, “What’s important to me, and what do I love within these opportunities and challenges that both scare and excite me?”

6. Then finally, having discovered what you love and what’s important to you, ask yourself, “How can I bring more of that into my life right now?” and go and do that. A lot of the time we create big visions of major changes and we defer having what we want to a later time in our lives. But you can have more of what’s important to you and what you love in some small way already now. Start bringing what’s important to you into your life in small ways now already and over time, momentum will develop and before you realize it, you’ve made major changes. Taking small incremental action is a sneaky way of overcoming your fear of change itself.

There’s so much going on in and around us these days and there’s more change and therefore more uncertainty and fear triggers than ever before. Rather than getting overwhelmed by all the information or becoming paralyzed by fear, learn to use your fear to find your passion and create more of the life you want.

Photo byThe Ivory Tower

Cath Duncan

Through projects like the The Bottom-line Bookclub, Cath is helping people to be more agile and to learn and change more easily and elegantly… so they can thrive in these fast-paced, high-information, high-change times. Cath blogs at Mine Your Resources and you can connect with her on Twitter.

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