How to discover your passions by looking at your past

10. June 2015



I recently asked my four year old niece what she wanted to be when she grew up and she responded that she wanted to make French fries. When I was around her age I told my parents I wanted to be a Christmas tree. Makes sense – she loves French fries and I loved Christmas. While our goals may not be lofty (or realistic in my case), I think we were onto something. We associated our dreams for our life with something we loved.

While some people are lucky and actually do make the connection with a passion and a career, most of us are stuck in desk jobs that don’t parallel these passions. We work for a paycheck and live for the weekend. Routines sink in and we wonder if we have left our dream behind.

The reality is that life gets more complicated with each passing day and we become more complex people. This isn’t a bad thing. We discover new interests, we develop (and sometimes lose) relationships with people and we face trials and triumphs of all shapes and sizes. These experiences shape us into the unique humans that we are.

Yet, sometimes we just feel lost.

When I was a child and my mom took my sisters and me to a place with large crowds, the first thing we’d do is establish a meeting place if we were to get separated (back then kids didn’t carry cell phones). It was important to have a plan so that we could quickly regroup should we get lost. If we didn’t discuss this ahead of time, it would have taken much longer to reconnect and there would have been a lot of angst and worry and tears all around.

It’s also important that we establish our own mental meeting place for ourselves when we feel lost. If we know who we are and what our goals and ambitions are, we can go back to that state of mind and regroup ourselves.

First, you must establish where that place is. My mom almost always selected the entrance to the location we were at.  It was a place she knew we would recognize and a spot we could easily ask others for help to navigate to.

Our starting point is also at the beginning. It is within our childhood. While not everyone had an idyllic youth, it’s where much of your current personality was developed – for better or for worse. If you don’t understand and know who you were as a child, you’ll never understand who you are as an adult.

As children we were most likely encouraged to be creative and to dream big. If you had an imaginary friend at three years old you weren’t crazy, rather you had an “active imagination”. We were told we could become anything we wanted to be and we believed it. We were our most pure versions of ourselves.

Go ahead, think back to what you were like as a child. What sports/activities did you enjoy doing? What did you find fun and what were you naturally good at? What did you say you wanted to be when you grew up?

Like most kids, I had a pretty creative mind. I made myself a Rocketeer jetpack costume out of a box and some broken sunglasses and jumped off my bunk bed while pretending to soar in the sky. My best friend Lindsey and I started “The Do-A-Lot Club” where, among other things, we did-a-lot. We wrote and starred in our own New Year’s Eve plays for our parents. As young entrepreneurs we charged admission and up-sold them to purchase playbills which we knew they’d feel obligated to buy.

My goals for a career were constantly changing as my interests evolved. When I realized that I could never actually become a Christmas tree, I decided I wanted to be a flight attendant. I loved the thrill of being on an airplane and knowing that I was going on an adventure.  Then, after reading every Nancy Drew book in the series, I decided I wanted to be a spy. I’m not sure that my sisters appreciated me honing my sleuthing skills on them during this phase, but I loved the spy kit I received for Christmas. By the time I started my freshman year of college, and fueled by a love of the TV show The West Wing, I set out to become a press secretary.

While I didn’t become a flight attendant, a spy (or did I?), or a press secretary, these all provide clues into what motivates me and what makes me happy.

It’s also important and sometimes necessary to ask others to guide us to our meeting point. My parents have the best insight into what I was like as a kid, so I emailed them questions about my childhood.  I asked them what natural skills they saw in me and what career they thought I’d pursue. I requested that they send their responses separately and to not share their answers with each other before they sent them. I wanted their unique perspectives. While not surprising, it was encouraging to read that they had very similar things to say and that those things aligned with my memory.

It helps to know what you were like as a child because it helps you understand your adult self better. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to be self-aware – even if it means acknowledging some things about your personality you wish you could change. Your uninhibited and fearless childhood self should also inspire you. You were one creative and unique kid! The best part is – you are still that person!

Sometimes we are in such hot pursuit of new interests and passions that we forget about the ones we’ve had all along. When you’re stuck, stop trying to discover new passions and reflect on the ones you’ve had from the beginning. We all want to live in the moment and with our eye on the future, but it won’t hurt us every once in awhile to reflect on our past. In fact, it may hold us back if we don’t.