“Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.” – Rumi

I used to be obsessed with finding my passion, and it took me down a very unhappy road. I would wonder what I am supposed to be doing and why I hadn’t found it yet. I would compare myself to other people and come up lacking. I felt frustrated, disappointed, and small. Then I discovered you don’t find your passion – it finds you. It was a big lightbulb moment.

Our Passions Find Us

Our passions don’t belong to us; they come through us. Why do you like chocolate ice cream? Or Coldplay? Or the color yellow? You just do. You didn’t choose to like what you like, you happily discovered it. The same is true of all our passions in life.

I recently met someone who spent years in the high-stress world of international banking. Tired of traveling, he was ready for a change. He followed his passion for hiking and is happily applying his business skills in a nonprofit that supports a national park.

Clearing the Space for Our Passions to Shine Through

Our passions appear to us when we clear away everything that inhibits their expression. Do you have a picture in your mind about what your work life should, and shouldn’t, look like? Do you let fear hold you back? Our job is not to find our passion, but to find all the barriers within ourselves that keep us from realizing it. One by one, as these are seen and laid to rest, there is space for your life, your gifts to shine through naturally.

The seed of these gifts has always existed. Remember what it was like as a young child? You were curious and inquisitive. You followed your passions, whether it was a cookie or your sister’s toy. You didn’t worry about your capabilities or self-worth. Although maybe submerged or hiding out in the darkness, the delight of exploration, of potential and possibility, is still within you.

Picture yourself as you are now, standing in one of your favorite places. Now, recall that childlike feeling in which the world is your oyster. You are infinitely curious and creative. You have never been told you can’t or you shouldn’t. You haven’t been influenced by the pressure to follow a certain career path or adopt a given belief system. You are unhampered by inner constraints and limitations. Your choices are not defined by conditions that may have been placed upon you. This freedom is yours to reclaim.

So forget about finding your passion. Instead, focus your attention on what derails you from happiness and fulfillment. Methodically uncover what holds you back, and allow your natural inclinations the space to flourish.

Identifying Limiting Beliefs

A belief is a thought, and a limiting belief is a lie. They activate directly after a brilliant idea has surfaced, and their function is to deflate, dismiss, and discourage. They make you procrastinate and doubt yourself. They can be critical and pushy or pessimistic and slippery. Their intention is to help you stay safe and do your best, but in reality they undermine and obstruct.

Identify your limiting beliefs by reflecting inward. Sit quietly for half an hour, and write down all the thoughts that keep you from realizing your natural life path. Envision yourself floating down a river. What impedes your journey? Look for thoughts that begin with: I can’t…I should…I shouldn’t…If I do…What if…What will they think…

Recognize that these beliefs have been trying to protect you, but realize they are no longer needed. Let them lose their power over you. Every time they appear, reconnect with the freedom you long for, and graciously let them go.

Childhood Stories

A motto in my family as I was growing up was, “Don’t work too hard.” It was an expression of care and protection, but the message I took was to stay limited. I heard: don’t take on anything too big or complicated, don’t get overwhelmed, play it safe. It was years before I realized this belief was affecting me. Since then, I’ve needed to pay close attention so it doesn’t undermine my progress.

Many of our limiting beliefs originated in childhood. Although I absolutely believe that parents do their best, they sometimes fall short of what we really need. See if the beliefs you discover are so familiar because you learned them when you were young. Remember that experience of wonder and curiosity that was present before the learning took place. Tenderly hold the pain of the past in your boundless loving heart. See yourself as you really are – unburdened, receptive, and excited by the unknown.

Fear and Risk

At the core of limiting beliefs is fear. Your passion is unlikely to bloom to its full expression if you are ruled by fear. But if you create an expansive and hospitable space that welcomes in whatever you discover, even if it is scary, your unique gifts will flower. Do this by abandoning ideas about what your life should look like and being open to everything, as you will never know how your passion will manifest.

Eckhart Tolle describes how he felt impelled to leave London and move to California without knowing why. He soon began writing The Power of Now, which became an international bestseller.

Be willing to take risks and live courageously. The actions you take to live your passion may look surprising or odd. Explore underneath the fear to see if the step you are considering feels truly right, and if it does, shed your expectations and allow your deepest yearnings to show you the way.

Recognizing Your Passion

Sometimes our passion sneaks up on us. It may have been there all along, but was unrecognized. Maybe you love animals or excel as a parent or have the insight to know how a business can be improved. Maybe your heart aches when you see people suffering from hunger and lack of education. Reflect inside to see your true heart’s desire.

Open up to all possibilities and seriously consider how they can be given a more prominent place in your life. Before the naysaying begins, contemplate doing what you absolutely love, and if you don’t know what that is, relax, be still, and see in what direction life moves you.

Finding our passion is not in our control. What we can do is get our lives on track, clean up areas of confusion, and let go of ideas about how our lives should be. This creates the fertile soil for the seed of our passion to germinate and grow.

A Sacred Request

In this state of openness and receptivity, floating a request might be helpful. You might say – to a higher power, to the universe, or to the potential of life – “I’m ready and available,” “Could you please guide me to discover my passion?” “Could you show me a sign to indicate what it is?” “I’m listening for your response.”

You might call this request a question or wish or prayer. You are aligning yourself not with fear or narrow thinking, but with the true desire to know your life’s direction.

Now, listen patiently for the answer and continue to investigate what deters you from exploration beyond your comfort zone. Let your gifts be seen, your talents expressed. Allow the light beam of your passion to shine brightly for all to see!

What keeps you from discovering your passion? How have you realized what it is? I’d love to hear your questions and stories.

Photo by Dare Darlington

Gail Brenner

Gail Brenner, Ph.D. is a psychologist and author who joyfully shares insights about discovering that suffering is optional. Find more from Gail at her blog, GailBrenner.com and on Twitter. Her work offers a bridge between psychology and spiritual understanding and brings clear seeing and compassion to everyday human challenges. She is the author of the forthcoming book, "The Way of Yes: Finding Peace and Happiness Right at the Heart of Your Messy, Scary, Brilliant Life."

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