If you come into my office and tell me that you’re looking for help finding a career you’re more “passionate” about, the question you get back might surprise you:

“Great!  So how exactly are you planning to suffer?”

I know people always hate when coaches/counselors use annoying riddles like this to get points across, but in this case, sorry, I just can’t help it.  As my mentor pointed to me, years ago, there’s an unavoidable link in life between risk and reward.  And apparently some 13th Century Latin scholars realized this, too, since when they invented the word passio that eventually led to our current word, passion, the definition initially meant “suffering”.  The phrase “passion of the Christ” reflects this original meaning, for example.  It was only later that we came to associate the word in an entirely upbeat context, using it as a synonym for “personal interests” or perhaps to characterize somebody who is just really, really jazzed about doing something.

Interesting, don’t you think?

At any rate, my point is that if you truly want to be passionate about your career, don’t expect a walk in the park, necessarily.  Odds are you’ll probably have to “suffer” for what you believe in to some degree, small or large, whether this takes the form of giving up some quality time with your family to do a great job at work or perhaps spending months or years of your life studying, improving, and doing whatever it takes to sharpen your professional skill sets.

If somebody tells me they’re passionate about “sustainability” or some other field, for example, both myself (as well as most employers) probably won’t take the person very seriously unless they demonstrate that they’re already devoting a lot of hours to volunteering in the field, as well as investing the time it takes to read books, blogs, and other topical sources of information about the subject.  Lip service alone doesn’t cut it.  When many job hunters use the word passion, in fact, it kind of comes across as “I’ll start learning about it when you start paying me!”

So if you’re passionate about something in life, you probably already know it, and any quick peek at your calendar — and how you invest your time each day — will confirm it.

What about those people, however, who report having NO passions at all?

While it may surprise some people to hear this, I routinely encounter professionals who report that they can’t think of anything at all — personally or professionally — that they’re interested in, committed to doing, or fascinated about.  Even when I ask them every probing question I’ve got in my coaching arsenal, they only display a mild reaction, at best, to certain subjects.  So either they’re in abject denial, their passions are simply beyond my skills to pull out of them, or thirdly, we have to accept the idea that some professionals today just don’t have much passion around anything.  This, of course, really bums some of these people out, since conventional wisdom (as well as every book ever published on career change) seems to assume that everybody in life can point to something that is of compelling and fascinating interest to them.

So first of all, I’m looking for any commentary from all of you out there as to whether you think is truly the case.  Have you met people that really don’t have much passion for anything?  Or do you feel you’re currently in such a state, yourself?  If so, do you feel this is a lifelong trait of yours, or simply a temporary thing related to your current circumstances?

Curious to hear your thoughts.

While we’re at it, though, here’s a list of some of the routine questions many experts suggest can help unearth some core passions:

1.  What would you do with your life if money was no object?
2.  If you had the capital to start any sort of business, what would it be, and why?
3.  What were your favorite subjects in school?
4.  When you visit a bookstore, which section are you naturally drawn to?
5.  What hobbies would you like your kids (if you have them) to get involved in?
6.  What do you get so absorbed in doing that you lose track of time, on occasion?
7.  What would you spend your days gladly doing, even if nobody paid you?
8.  If you had to give a speech on any subject, what would it be about?
9.  What puts a smile on your face?
10.  What’s the favorite part of your current or most recent job?
11.  What career would you choose if you could start your professional life all over again?
12.  In what aspects of your life do you feel you show the most creativity?
13.  Who do you envy — or would you trade places with, professionally?
14.  What do you envision doing during your retirement years?
15.  When you look back at the end of your life, what will you regret not doing?

Again, I’m not sure these questions are foolproof, since I’ve met many a person who had to take a total pass on many of them, when asked.  But they’re definitely a good place to start.  And if you still end up drawing a blank on many of these items, I’ve got one word for you: experimentation.

If you’re not fortunate enough to already have figured out what really spins your jets, out in the world today, it might be time to get out of the house and expose yourself (in the good way) to a wide range of subjects to see what sticks.  Try reviewing some community course catalogs, volunteering at various places, striking up some new conversations with people, or even just going to one type of event or meeting you wouldn’t normally go to, each week.  You never know.  You might stumble across something that really…just…feels right!