I’m supposed to “do what I love” – but what if I have no idea what that is?
by Andrea Wien
I’d heard the advice. I’d taken the classes. I’d complained to my friends over brunch.
“I know I’m supposed to be following my passion. I know if I could just find ‘it,’ I could make ‘it’ happen. The problem is, I have no idea what ‘it’ is.”
It made no sense. I was smart, driven and talented, but I felt like a total failure. All around me, I watched people—increasingly younger and younger people—following their dreams and creating perfect careers. “Why them and not me?” I moaned.
The problem wasn’t me. The problem was the message that I’d been told since I was a little kid. This idea that my passion would suddenly hit me like a lightning bolt, and I’d be on my way to ultimate satisfaction and happiness. I know now that that’s not how it works, but it certainly seemed that way when I was busy stressing myself out over finding “it.”
Let me fill you in on a secret: you never find “it.” At least, not in the sense of the anvil falling on top of your head. Instead, you find a million “its” and piece them together to create a path. Unfortunately, the way that education is structured doesn’t leave much room for this piecemeal way of building your dream life, so it’s up to you to prioritize it for yourself.
That’s part of the reason I love the gap year. A year of discovery, spent doing just about anything, to really unearth what gets your blood pumping. A year out in the world, experiencing real life versus sitting behind a desk learning about it.
But the gap year is only the vehicle for kick starting this discovery, not the answer.
The answer lies in your own curiosity, which (warning!) may be hidden under mountains of algebra lessons and your third grade teacher’s bad attitude. But it’s there. And it’s your job to dig it back out, dust it off and take it for a spin.
Because here’s the thing: your curiosity is the key to finding not only your million “its,” but also your creativity and innovation. After all, how can you fall in love with something that you don’t know exists? You need your sense of curiosity to lead you to your loves.
I wish I’d taken a gap year. Instead, I didn’t travel internationally until I was 21. I didn’t think of jumping off the track because I wanted to “make it.” I even graduated college in three years because I couldn’t wait to get going. But it wasn’t until I actually gave myself permission to slow down and be curious—about the world, about myself, about business—that I landed on a path that felt closer to “it.”
Now, I’m passionate about helping young people not make the same mistakes I made—to encourage them to slow down and get curious much, much sooner than I did.
I’m passionate about helping them to pry open the Pandora’s box inside their heads and follow the contents down the rabbit hole. Love Superman? Great! Learn about the ins-and-outs of his life, dress like him for ComicCon, read everything you can get your hands on until you either get bored, or you find a way to turn your love for Superman into something you can pay your rent with.
And that’s the other thing that no one tells you: it’s okay to get bored. If you follow a hundred rabbit holes and all of them lead to dead ends, don’t get discouraged. You’ll still be 100x more interesting than the person who stayed trapped inside the boredom because they felt obligated to stay the course.
Most people don’t have one passion, and those who do are special creatures who I’m, at times, still very envious of. (It just seems easier, you know?) But some of the best paths are forged between two, or more, loves. Maybe you love Superman and architecture. Think of what could happen when you meld more than one thing together. The possibilities become endless, and competition gets replaced with collaboration.
I wish someone had told me that there’s nothing wrong with being curious, and getting bored, about lots of different things. But the good news is that the narrative we tell each other is changing. Now, there are even TED talks about why some of us don’t have one true calling. People are starting to re-write the story about passion, purpose and meaning, and young people today are hearing a different message than the one I heard.
Get curious, follow yourself down the rabbit hole, and report back. I can’t wait to see where you end up.
Andrea Wien quarterbacks the first global gap year community, Gap to Great. She’s also the author of “Gap to Great: A Parent's Guide to the Gap Year,” and a regular contributor to Forbes where she shares the ups-and-downs of her entrepreneurial journey.