I recently re-read one of my favorite childhood books “The Alchemist”, by Paulo Cohelo. It’s the story of a shepherd who leaves his home town and everything he has known his entire life to pursue his destiny. It’s a story about finding your purpose in life, and the magical things that happen to us when we begin to pursue these passions with our full energy and enthusiasm.
The first time I remember discovering a passion was juggling. I sat in my house for weeks on end teaching myself how to juggle with sock balls. Then during the Bar Mitzvah season when I was thirteen it was breakdancing and raving with glow sticks. Then when I was 15 I discovered hackysack and the sport of “footbag” (yes, it’s a real sport). Most recently? It’s meditation. I’ve always had a tendency to lose myself in a random activity that I loved, regardless of if any of my friends enjoyed it. I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed this passion discovery process.
Reflecting on these times in my life got me thinking about passion, purpose, and for lack of a better word, our individual “destiny”. Problem is, oftentimes we look at finding our “niche” or our “passion” or “purpose” as this vague concept that seems out of reach and unobtainable. If you ask most people what they are passionate about, they probably won’t know. Or, what they think that they are passionate about, isn’t actually what they are passionate about at all. Or, you’ll just get a shallow response like “I’m passionate about making money”.
Truth is, it’s hard work to find your niche.
Why don’t most people know what their niche is? Because they haven’t taken the time to explore their interests. I believe that discovering your passion, niche, or purpose is a direct result of exploring your interests (or what you think you might be interested in) and then following those interests and seeing what crazy places it takes you to.
However, I understand that finding your personal niche is much easier said then done. So, in an attempt to de-mystify how to find your niche, I have created a step by step process on how you can approach the long, arduous journey of discovering your niche.
Step 1: Think, reflect, and ask questions
Ask yourself, “If I didn’t have anyone to hang out with, what activities sound exciting? What things do I want to do? What is something I have always wanted to do but never tried?”
If these questions are a bit too vague, try and ask yourself, “what did I enjoy doing when I was a child?”
This might be reading books, trying a new sport, or spending time in nature. It could also mean trying a class like dance, painting, acting, etc. It could be any myriad of activities.
I suggest that you create a list of 50 things that you want to try, and go absolutely crazy. Once you have finished a list of 50 absurd things, narrow that list down to your top 10 that you can realistically see yourself giving a shot to.
The activities you choose aren’t really important, but the act of choosing something you have always wanted to do, but never actually done, isimportant. In the next steps you will do a lot of experimentation, so feel free to get crazy and write down all of your wildest dreams.
Step 2: Experiment
This is where we separate the dreamers from the do-ers. It’s one thing to dream about what you want to do. It’s another to get off the couch and go do it.
In this stage, the key is to simply start trying as much as you possibly can. Experiment with everything you wrote down on the list. You have to start testing things and seeing if what you think you like, is what you actually like. Chances are there will be activities you thought you would love, that you hate, and activities you never saw yourself doing that you fall in love with. It’s a delicate balance of experimentation.
Example #1 — After I left Korea I took a 7 day trip to the Philippines with the intention of becoming a SCUBA diving instructor. At the time I thought that I was going to fall in love with SCUBA and it would become my primary motivation for choosing future travel destinations. My first day I signed up for a course and….I HATED IT. Turns out, if you have bad sinuses, scuba isn’t good for you. I couldn’t equalize my ears properly, continuously got headaches, and found the entire experience utterly boring staring at fish. I’ve never considered trying diving ever since.
Example #2 — Ever since I was around 14 years old I’ve been freestyle rapping purely for enjoyment. I’ve honestly never thought I’m any good, but I enjoy the creative exercise. Over the years I kept this passion alive, until one day it lead me to trying an open-mic. That open mic lead to emceeing, which then lead to rapping on stage at concerts in India. Now, I write poetry whenever I get the opportunity to. I never initially thought that poetry would be a passion of mine, but it’s something I foresee myself doing for the rest of my life.
And so the story goes, you don’t know if you’ll like it until you try it.
Step 3: Ditch your friends…Temporarily
I’m not saying ditch your friends entirely, I’m referring to more of a temporary ditch. Take a break from your friends for a while.
Why? Because when we hang out with our friends, we oftentimes do what THEY want to do, instead of what WE want to do. Riding solo clarifies where YOU want to spend YOUR time. When you always hang out with the same group of people, you become immersed in that group, and you all begin to think similarly. This is commonly referred to as “groupthink”. You begin to do the same things over and over, and you don’t expose yourself to new people, ideas, and activities.
So what should you do instead? Take a weekend for yourself, week, or even month for yourself. Take a friend vacation and try to go make some new friends. Remove yourself from your outside influences and go expose yourself to new people.
It’s one thing to think about the things that you enjoy and doing them on your own. It’s another to get out into the real world and meet other people who have the same interests. Not only do you surround yourself with other like-minded people, but you challenge your own views of the world by exposing yourself to new ways of living and thinking.
Moreover, when you surround yourself with new people, you open your mind to new ways of turning your passions into a hobby, or even into a career. When you find people who share your passions, you can organize activities together, and then continue to build momentum in the direction of making it a sustainable part of your life. You might also get ideas of where you can branch it into next.
How can you do this? Look up events in your city. Look up meet-up groups for things that you are interested in. Search for a class that you can take.
Do something that puts you around people, and then get out of your shell and talk to as many people as you can. Strike up conversations with people. Ask them how long they have been doing this for. What do they enjoy about it? Take a genuine interest in the lives of other people who share a common interest with yourself.
Step 4: Cultivate
Once you have found something you truly enjoy, continue to cultivate it as much as you possibly can. This can often take years, but it’s well worth the effort. Eventually (if you’re lucky + diligent), you can find a way to blend your passion and profession into one.
Realistically, you can have one group of friends you do some activities with, and then another group of friends you do other things with. It’s healthy to have multiple friend groups that satisfy different parts of your life. You might have one Improv group, one foreign language group, and another for entrepreneurship. You very well might end up blending many of these together as well.
The main thing to keep in mind here? Patience. It took me 10+ years of freestyling before it manifested in my first time on stage. I traveled around the world for 5 years before I decided to turn my passion into a profession. It took me 3 years of building my current company before I discovered new long term career goals. I’m still discovering my passions.
Step 5: Follow the ripples
The place that you started will often lead you to new places you couldn’t have ever envisioned. Follow the ripples of your first step in the pond of passion 😉
Painting can lead you to other forms of art you never thought you might have been interested in. Dance can lead you to forms of movement and exercise. Rock climbing can lead to slack lining.
Discovering one passion can open up a world you never knew about. When I first got immersed in the world of entrepreneurship I knew nothing about Mechanical Engineering. Now I’m fascinated by robotics, 3d printing, self-driving cars and more. I never would have discovered this field had I not gotten involved in startups and entrepreneurship.
With every door you open, you open 5 more. Walk through as many doors as you can. Buuuuuuuuuut — if you find a room that suits your tastes well, dive deep my friend, dive deep.
Follow your interests, and then make it your goal to find as many people with the same interest as possible. Create relationships with these people who share your interests. Follow these interests to the wacky places and new people you discover. And when you finally find something that you love, dive deeply into it and immerse yourself as much as humanly possible :)
With these methods success will inevitably come. Not success in the form of achievement and money, but success in the form of living a fulfilling life.
Do you have a story about discovering your passion or niche? Please share it with me in the comments below! I’m fascinated to study the patterns in what makes us discover what we love most in life 😃