Want to Find Your Passion? Start with the Objects You Love

Image: Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

Sometimes, people ask me how I found my passion, or when I realized I liked to write. And writing is, very much, a labor of love. For example, I’ve been writing at Medium since 2013. Claps were hearts, nobody knew what it was, there was no Partner Program. And even before that, I was blogging since I was 15.

I never bought any books on passion or took any tests. If you think that’ll help, I say go for it—but I have a hunch that you already know what your passion is. Maybe you just can’t access or accept it quite yet, because you’ve had years—decades—of people, teachers, parents, friends, etc., signaling or straight up telling you what they want you to do. Your thoughts and your feelings are twisted, and you can’t tell which is what. 

The truth is, though, I can only tell you how I found my passion for writing in hindsight. There was no “aha!” moment. But looking back, t was equal parts obvious and inevitable. And I’ll tell you how I figured it out.

The Talisman Approach

Sherry Turkle suggests in The Empathy Diaries, “To be good at a job, you had to love the objects associated with that job.” I think that’s a solid way to find the job you love, too.

It’s like Kanye West once said, “If you don’t make Christmas presents, meaning making something that’s so emotionally connected to people, don’t talk to me.” The objects that surround me—stationary, index cards, technology—all spark joy. Every object and interface is a precious talisman for me, one that unlocks something I didn’t know about myself. 

When you see life like this, everything you do becomes more important. You hold yourself to a higher standard, because you know somebody out there is going to be using the thing that you’re working on.

So if you’re about to quit your job and go YOLO, and you want to know what to do with all your time and figure out how to make meaning or have fun, go look for the objects and interfaces that pull you in. Spend time with them. And look back in your own life—maybe your teenage years, or the things you did for fun as a 12-year-old—and the objects that those memories involved. For me, here are some clues that I really liked writing and technology:

Exhibit 1: I really loved books

My parents and I shopped at Payless most of my childhood. But they gave me $50 for book fairs and Scholastic book orders. I would buy books on how to draw manga, I’d buy Gordon Korman books, and I’d buy Goosebumps

My parents would also drive me to Chapters and Indigo on the weekends, and I’d sit on the floor and read an entire Animorphs book. I would borrow 50 books at a time from the library. For a few years after college, I bought every book that I was interested in because that wasn’t a luxury I had as a kid. When I look at my bookshelves, I still feel like a million bucks.

Of course, my dad was an electrical engineer, so tried getting me interested in that too. Once, he bought a circuit board and he and I made a radio out of it. But it never caught me the way books did. Despite loving my parents and wanting to like the circuit board, I didn’t. But I loved books.

Exhibit 2: I really liked English class

In Ali Wong’s memoir, Dear Girls, she writes on p. 158 about her experiences at UCLA, where she “saw Asian American people undertaking extremely artistic and creative endeavors.” I lived near a public high school with an art program, so I went there. 

Where I studied, there were tons of students who looked like me, and many of them were incredible at art. Mostly in visual art, music, and fewer in dance and drama. Maybe if there was a writing program, I could’ve given it a shot. Alas, I tried my hand at visual art, and after a semester dealing with clay and kiln, I gave it up. I didn’t love the smells, the textures, and the very tedious process of sculpture.

It’s not a stretch to say my distaste for the material largely closed off any path I could’ve had as an artist. But I got lucky. In my final year, I had a great English teacher who taught the class the importance of perspective, and a Philosophy teacher who taught the importance of authenticity. Without those two insights, I probably wouldn’t be writing right now. 

Exhibit 3: I tried so much software

One of my cousins built his first website—maybe even his first computer—before he got out of elementary school. I wasn’t that interested in all that, but I really liked software and interfaces. I spent countless hours after school on HoFo trying to get my Sony Ericsson w600i’s icons to animate like the w900. 

I’d plug it into my computer and flash the firmware. Later on I’d do the same with trying to get my Windows XP to look more like a Mac with Steve Sinchak’s Hacking Windows XP book. I never got around to making a Hackintosh, I couldn’t risk it with my only computer, but the first time I saw one at my friend’s place, my mind was blown.

When I got access to the Windows Longhorn beta, I impulsively spent $100+ getting software to burn the .iso to a disc, partitioned my hard drive, all on a school night, so I could just get a new interface. I would visit Kanye UniverseCity all the time, so when I made The World According to Kanye a decade later, it felt like a hobby.

If you linger around my first blog, you’ll see reviews of 3D desktops on Windows (including one that was funded by my future employers), you’ll see me write about review samples I got independently like mechanical keyboards and stuff.

I did all of this for fun, and I had so much fun running down memory lane just now. It makes perfect sense that I went into tech marketing and started my editorial studio Wonder Shuttle—I liked technology, but I didn’t like programming or hardware. I just liked trying new things and talking about it! 

List Your Favorite Objects and Tools

When I talk about passion, I’m talking about my love for the craft and vocation of writing. That doesn’t mean that it’s a viable way of making a career. I’m not sure I’ll ever choose to be a full-time author, but I count myself lucky to be able to do it as much as I do these days. I might’ve been able to buy a house a few years sooner, but instead, I get to do the thing I like every day. 

I’ll tell you one thing: I definitely didn’t start writing because of the money. If you ask most other writers, they’ll probably tell you the same thing. They did it because they love books, libraries, and bookstores. They did it because they wanted to be on a first name basis with stories and words. 

So if you want to find your passion, make an inventory of the objects you love and ask yourself what they all have in common. Or just start making things like those objects. And you’ll start getting closer and closer to realizing what your “genuine” passion is.

If you liked this piece and want more ways to find your passion, you should check out my book, There Is No Right Way to Do This. I talked to practitioners like Mike Saviello (visual artist Big Mike), Dacoury Natche (Grammy-award winner DJ Dahi), and #the100DayProject facilitator Lindsay Jean Thomson, and I’ve written up 46 starting points to support you at finding your passion and getting started with your creative work.

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