Got Passion? The Quiz

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What’s life’s single most important question?

There are many perfectly worthy ones — questions about family, relationships, work, love — but when it comes to charting our futures, one question rises above the rest.

What’s your passion?

Yes, it’s a cliche. But it also happens to be irrefutably true. Passion — that primal, unreasoning, uncontrollable enthusiasm that links our identities with a distant goal — forms the emotional foundation for all excellence, no matter who you are.  Science shows that passion functions in our brains like rocket fuel; with it, progress is swift and exhilarating. Without it, progress is slow and tedious.

So the question before us is not whether passion is important. The big question is, how do we know when we’ve got it? Life is a series of crossroads and decisions: how do we choose what path to pursue? How do we tell the difference between our casual enjoyments and our true, lasting passions?

One logical way might be to look at case studies of successful, passionate people — since they located their passion; perhaps we can learn from their process and apply their insights.

Yet when we ask those successful, passionate people how they found their passion, we get a surprising result: most of them have no idea. In fact, the smarter and more successful they are, the dumber they sound when they talk about it.

For example, here’s Warren Buffett on how he discovered his passion for investing.

“From a young age, I always was interested in money, and how to make it.”

And here’s Wayne Gretzky on how he discovered his passion for hockey.

“I liked playing hockey. I’d play all the time.”

Not exactly insightful stuff, is it?

But I don’t think Gretzky and Buffett are being falsely modest or evasive. Rather, I think it’s because they genuinely don’t know. Passion occurs largely in our unconscious mind. It sneaks up on us. It isn’t like an inborn trait so much as it is like a virus — infecting us without us knowing, directing our primal thoughts and emotions, taking over our emotional lives. Asking a successful person how they got passionate is like asking someone how they caught the flu. They don’t know because they can’t know. One day they didn’t have it. The next day — wham! — they do.

What would be useful for most of us, I think, is some kind of passion-detector. Some tool that we can use to know when our fires are being lit; a thermometer that gives the early warning signs of a passion infection

So while we wait for neurologists to build such a device, I’d like to offer the following brief quiz. It’s a completely unscientific list of questions based on my experiences visiting talent hotbeds (where the passion virus tends to be epidemic) as well as ideas cribbed from motivational psychologists like Carol Dweck and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

It works like this: put your potential passion in the place of X. In each paired statement, choose whether you agree more with (A) or (B). (Of course, putting “sex” or “eating chocolate” in place of X will work fine, just as it should.)

1.

A) X gives me a feeling of euphoric happiness

B) X gives me a feeling of euphoric happiness plus a deep fascination. I find myself wanting to look deeper. I want to figure out how it’s done.

2.

A) I think about X a lot.

B) I cannot not think/talk/dream about X. My friends and family think I’m a bit nuts.

3.

A) X provides me with enjoyable payoffs — like recognition and pride.

B) I would do X for free, even if nobody were watching.

4.

A) When I’m doing X, I’m happy and engaged.

B) When I’m doing X, it’s as if I’m in a private world. Time flies.

Scoring: If you answered (A) to most questions, you have a mild case of passion for X. If you answered (B), on the other hand, then you might have a serious passion infection. Choose your path accordingly.

Big thanks to all you readers for your great comments and questions — I appreciate every bit of it. Here’s to a great 2011!


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12 Responses to “Got Passion? The Quiz”

  1. Scott says:

    I really think this is a key premise for both our own personal development as well as that of our children. I have struggled my whole life (now 47) to understand what that is, and although I am successful as an EH&S Manager for a fortune 500 comapny, I have not found that which fills me with passion. My wife thinks I am nuts to be so concerned about it, but I think it is something that we as individuals as well as myself as a parent parents must continually seek out and feed, both for ourselves and our kids.

  2. Doc says:

    For those of us who have many interests and no true passion (at least at the present)I would recommend reading the book “Refuse to Choose”. After reading it I still wanted to find a passion like others I know but I realized that I’m not abnormal just because I haven’t found it.

  3. Great article.

    Is passion not a component of habit?

  4. djcoyle says:

    Thanks a lot — and good question. My two cents: it’s good to draw a line between passion and habit because they involve different sorts of circuitry — unconscious emotional connections in the case of passion; conscious cognitive/motor connections in the case of habits. A passion is something you feel — a link between you and some future self/future goal, while a habit is something you do.
    That said, we all know people whose passion circuitry is so well-developed that they can identify with lots of future goals. They’ve essentially made passion a habit. So yeah, in those cases you’re absolutely right. Passion is an emotional habit.

  5. Daniel ~ An excellent post. I see you as very much in the same league as Carol Dweck and Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi. (I’m still trying to build enough myelin to be able to spell his name without looking.)
    There’s a lot both of them could crib from you!

    Your quiz is very well done and super useful. Way to go, nailing the essentials without going on for pages! It reminds me of how good it is to try new things, if only to work on the skill of learning, and also because we might stumble on something we love and are really good at (as was the case with Mick and Keith and songwriting). Liked your Keith post, by the way. I wrote one on him too – you might want to take a look: http://bit.ly/i15PHc. See also http://bit.ly/hLm12k (citing your work in Section 3).

    Looking forward to reading more of you. All the best in 2011.

    Susan Alexander
    @SusanRPM4

  6. Thanks for that DC. Great answer! Thank you!

  7. Question number one really bit me. The distinction you made between A and B was a wake up call and confirmed for me that, Yes, I do have a passion living inside. I felt my body relax as I read that question B and KNEW it is more than a passing interest.

  8. Lisa Cohn says:

    Dan,
    I’d love to hear your thoughts–and your readers’ thoughts– about how to deal with a super passionate child–one who only wants to pursue one or two interests during all waking hours (I’ve had two of these kids, and they start showing their passions as toddlers.). How important is it to strike a balance In life (ie, having friends, doing well in school) or do you simply give these kids the tools they need to follow their passion and let them follow their hearts?

  9. djcoyle says:

    Good question, Lisa. Ellen Winner calls this phenomenon “the rage to learn.” And it’s the fire that drives certain kids to do some pretty amazing things. Some things to think about: 1) it’s pretty rare. As Dr. Winner says, if you have to ask if your kid has it, they probably don’t. 2) it doesn’t always last. Early teens are transition points for most kids. Some keep going; others find new outlets. 3) It’s a long process. I think it’s easy for parents to lock on to an idea about their kid (she’s great at chess! He’s a tennis star!) without realizing that very act of defining their kid, while fun and temporarily empowering, can also carry a detrimental effect. Here’s the thing: it’s really tough to be a prodigy — and it’s quite scary to have adults treat you like you’re magical. Often the child realizes their magical status and starts taking fewer risks (gotta keep that status) — which slows down their learning. So for parents, being mellow and taking a long-term view, while tough to achieve, can be a very healthy approach.

  10. Alex says:

    Dan,

    I totally agree with you on the importance of passion. However, I think there is one important thing to notice: Some things (Xs) are just easier than other things(Ys) for people/kids go get passion on.

    For example, if you put X = video games, I think a many kids, including younger me will put it in category B. But that does not mean they should just focus on playing games for the rest of their lives, right? Why there are not equally many people passionate on mathematics or writing? How to make/lead our kids to be passionate on the “right” things?

  11. djcoyle says:

    Hi Alex — you make a great point, and one that I’ve struggled with (after all, we do have a Wii in our house, and it does inspire a lot of attention). But I think the important thing is to draw a distinction between enjoyment and passion. Kids enjoy videogames. They love them. But the difference with passion is that it involves their identity. Enjoyment is something to do — passion is someone to be. And so as a parent, the best way to help kids ignite about the “right” things is to put them in a space where they can see those people, connect with them, and get inspired. It can’t be forced, but in the right space, the odds of it happening go up.

  12. Jeff Roux says:

    Passion is the fuel for success in sport and in life. Thanks!

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