How to Find Your Life’s Passion

What's the flame in your heart that can't be extinguished?

What’s the flame in your heart that can’t be extinguished?

When I woke up this morning, I felt sad. There was an emptiness inside me that I couldn’t quite explain. I’d gone to bed happy, I’d had a good day, I’d had a good few weeks. I had nothing to complain about. In terms of my summer goals, all except for one was going swimmingly. Last week, my Fulbright adviser told me that my essays were amazing and there was nothing more to improve. On Monday, I gave my presentation on the Chinese Cultural Revolution for my Honors Summer Fellowship group. If I may say so myself, I kicked some ass — since I was on set for 13 hours on Sunday filming Transformers 4 (!), I had to finish my Powerpoint hours before my presentation. Yesterday, I met with my Romance Languages thesis advisor and he was extremely pleased with my progress. I think his exact words were, “You’ve already done so much work. Are you sure you want to do more? You really don’t have to.”

So why was I unhappy? As the moody Gemini I am, sometimes I’m struck with the blues for no reason. This morning, though, there was a specific reason. My book. I haven’t given you guys an update for a while because I haven’t received any definitive news. All I can tell you now is that the road to publishing is not going as smoothly as I hoped for. Though my agent is still optimistic, I’m feeling less and less hopeful for the fate of this particular novel. While I’m more experienced with rejection this time around, I also had higher expectations for this book. It was better written, the concept was extremely marketable, and my agent loved it. I just want to scream from the rooftops, “Why the hell won’t anybody publish this damn book?!” The feedback’s been all the same: Rebecca Cao is an extremely talented writer, she has a great future, I loved the concept, but didn’t love the novel as much as I wanted to. Everyone seems to think that I will inevitably be published and have a long and successful career as a writer, but right now that feels so far away. 

My point is this: today, I realized once again that — despite what I might tell myself — my writing career matters more to me than the rest of my life put together. Well, I guess I mean my professional life (sorry Mom and Dad). And guess what? This really sucks sometimes. Because I can’t be happy with all the things that are going well because the one thing I want the most isn’t. I know what you want to say. Hello, Rebecca? Stop being such an ungrateful bitch, will you? Appreciate your life more. I know, I know, ‘kay? I’m working on it. Slowly. One thing I’m very grateful for is the fact that I am more certain than ever that I’ve found my life’s passion. So, here is a guide to finding your life’s passion. Let’s hope that yours is kinder to you than mine has been to me. 

Steps to Finding Your Life’s Passion

  1. Take the pressure off. This is an odd first step, but I promise you it works. When you try too hard to find your passion, you take the fun out of everything. It’s very difficult to turn an entertaining hobby into a serious career without making it feel like work. So, just relax and stop overanalyzing your every interest.
  2. Self-reflect. After taking the pressure off, you should still do some thinking. Ask yourself: throughout your life, has there been one pastime or one academic subject that you’ve always enjoyed? Something you haven’t gotten sick of? Something you always go back to?
  3. Increase your involvement gradually. The key is to avoid overdoing it at first. For me, I found my first major — Romance Languages — when I decided languages was something I couldn’t get enough of. So, I enrolled in a French class, loved it, and went from there.
  4. Stick to it. You’re never going to find a “perfect” career where you never have to do anything you dislike. That’s a myth. There’s going to be times that suck and work that bores you or even offends you. This step is the real litmus test to determining whether or not you’ve found the right passion. Do you want to quit when times get hard or do you hunger for success even more? 
  5. Fail. You’re also going to fail. This is part two of the litmus test. Does it break your heart? Good. It should. Do you get back on your feet quickly? Do you handle each failure better and better?
  6. Succeed. If you’re doing something you really love, then you’re going to work hard. If you work hard, inevitably success will follow. Not every writer can be J.K. Rowling and not every scientist can be Albert Einstein, but everyone can achieve various degrees of success. 
  7. Work harder. If you succeed and stop striving for more, then you were just lucky and you really haven’t found your life’s passion. But if you succeed, and you still want to achieve greater things, you’re on the right track. 
  8. Be flexible. Remember that you can have many different passions in life. Probably not all at once, but don’t be afraid to jump ship once you’ve had enough of one career. 

Have you found your life’s passion? If yes, did you always know or did you fall into it? If not, did you find my list helpful?




15 thoughts on “How to Find Your Life’s Passion

  1. Taking the pressure off is a must for finding your passion. I never knew I wanted to be a writer until I graduated high school and couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, so I decided to focus on what I wanted to do at the time. Writing a book was always something that appealed to me, and now it’s what I want to do for the rest of my life. If I had kept on putting pressure on myself, I doubt I would have figured that out so quickly.

    • Finding your passion in high school is pretty early, I’d say. You’re lucky! If you don’t mind my asking, how did you end up pursuing writing? I mean, did you major in creative writing or just write books? In any case, good luck in all your future endeavors and thanks for reading. 🙂

      • I am 🙂 No, I used to write a lot of poems in middle school and classical theatre in high school. I’ve always been a big reader and both my parents are journalists, writing is just something that runs in the family suppose. Thank you and good luck to you as well!!

  2. Hi Rebecca,

    I think your life is very interesting and i thank you to share a part of you life in this blog. I like to see that each human is different in his way and that each human has a different concern about life. Before this blog, i’ve never met a person that would like to become a writer, but now i see how tough can be. Now i see that happiness is presented in different shapes and one must endure in difficult times to arrive to the final goal. I think that, that is life. Life without obstacles would be boring. I hope that this chapter of your life will be successful and if not, you already know the recipe:keep trying until you succeed!

    I have my passion too, and i must recognize that it is very different from yours. But in the deep it’s the same recipe that you showed us in this post. I would like to become a GOOD politician and that’s very difficult nowadays but not impossible.

    I hope to know more about you in this blog, thanks for sharing!

    P.D: Sorry for my english, but it isn’t my native language. I come from Mexico.

    • Hola amigo, ¿qué tal? 😉

      No need to thank me for sharing my life…it’s readers like you that make it so rewarding! I’m glad I was able to show you a glimpse of what it’s like to be a writer. That’s part of the reason I love writing — when you read, you can learn so much about other’s lives. I’ve never had children, gotten divorced, or dealt with terminal illness, but through reading fiction, I understand those things better. Thank you for your well wishes. I will definitely keep trying my best!

      I’m also considering working in the government, maybe not as a politician but as a diplomat. It’s a tough job and it’s hard to maintain your values while obeying orders. Are you currently working in the government?

      Thank you for reading and commenting! Sé que es difícil de leer y escribir en una lengua secundaria, pues muchas gracias y bienvenido.

      • I spent the last year in Mongolia as an ETA. My grant term is over now, but I chose to stick around an extra few months. I pounced on your mention of the program as soon as I saw it, but the question’s pretty relevant to your post; while being a Fulbrighter hasn’t exactly pinpointed my life’s passion for me, it’s started me down that path. For one thing, I’ve ruled out EFL as a career, at least in countries where I don’t speak the language, and for another, keeping this blog during my grant has helped me to realize just how important writing is to me.

  3. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts! I think this is a subject matter that a lot of people in high school or college don’t actively or consciously try to grasp, though they may be struggling with it subconsciously. I think sometimes you go through asking yourself and others a lot of questions like how do you make money or how do you support your family or how do you help the world (not that those aren’t important) before you start asking the real question: what is your passion? For me, it helped to ask myself what I would do every day for the rest of my life if money were no object. And part of it was volunteering. I think you have a wide range of activities that sound amazing and fun and engrossing – it really reminds me of my senior year, which was not so long ago- but volunteering is something that you may want to dip your toes into. It’s a total change of framework and puts you in touch with people and industries and fields that you never would’ve actively been oriented towards yourself. Oh, and finally, I think this is a Jesuit saying but am not 150% sure that it is: you will find your calling at the intersection of what you love, what you’re good at, and what the world needs. So maybe it’s really all three! =)

    It’s also funny to read your blog because you also remind me of myself! I’m also Chinese American with a love for different languages (especially the Romance ones) and writing and traveling and working abroad. I came on your blog while looking for references to Taiwan, which is where my boyfriend and I are currently living for the next three months. If you’re bored, feel free to drop by or check out my photos on Flickr. You’re sailing into exciting waters in your last year of college… bon voyage!

    • Wow thanks so much for taking the time to write such a thoughtful and encouraging response! It’s because of people like you that blogging is one of my life’s passions. 🙂

      I do volunteer quite a bit, but I’m not sure how you can do that as a viable career? Are you volunteering as a hobby in addition to a “real” job?

      Haha we do sound like twins! I’m so jealous that you’re living in Taiwan, I really do love it there. The year after I graduate, I’m planning to either work in Morocco or China/Taiwan. I’ve been trying to convince my (Korean American) boyfriend to go to Asia with me, but he doesn’t like the idea. He’s happy here and he doesn’t think he can find a job in his field overseas. How did you manage that with your boyfriend? Did you guys just apply for the same program? You guys are literally living my dream life right now. 🙂

      I checked out your blog and it looks like you’re having trouble finding housing? I know the housing market in Taipei is ridiculously expensive and difficult. Hopefully something works out. Let’s stay connected! Find me through Facebook or Twitter. 😉

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