The long search for passion

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It took more than three decades, but I’ve finally found my passion.  For most of that time I hadn’t even known it was missing.

For much of my twenties I had no idea what my passion was.  Actually to be honest I didn’t have much of an idea about what passion was full stop.  I wasn’t particularly excited about anything in life – my career, my relationship, my future direction.  Even my travels often felt more like going through the motions than anything else.

From the outside I seemed to have a great life – working for a top finance company in different parts of the world, a long term girlfriend, travelling to dozens of countries – and yet on the inside was a big gaping hole.  I had no idea what was missing, but something certainly was.

Ironically it took the breakup of that relationship for me to figure out what I needed to fill the hole with.  Passion.  I had to stop existing and start living.  To start with, and to help numb the pain of having my entire world suddenly turned upside down, I turned to exercise.  Walking, jogging, running, the pain in my legs serving mainly to dull the pain in my heart.

As the emotional hurt subsided, however, I found that the running continued.  In fact, if anything it became an even bigger part of my life.  5km became 10 … and then 15.  I was doing it more often too, and felt unhappy if I couldn’t pound the pavement for a few days.  I couldn’t find words to describe how I felt, or why I was happy to drag myself out into a cold wet night to run for an hour or more.  The word I was looking for was passion, but without a frame of reference to compare it to I didn’t even recognise the feeling.


In the meantime I’d changed countries yet again, returning home to New Zealand in the search for happiness.  With newfound desire in one area of my life, I found it in others as well.  A new relationship came and went, burning bright and ultimately flaming out with an emotional intensity I’d never felt before.  I made new friends, lived in the city bars, explored parts of my homeland that I’d never seen before.  Throwing myself hard at the world, I was determined to make life in Christchurch work for me in a way it never had previously.

Sadly I failed.  The zest that I now felt for life wasn’t being reflected in my surroundings and try as I might, I just couldn’t find people that shared my world view.  At a point where many of the people I knew were settling down, buying a house, starting a family and beginning the long comfortable cruise to retirement, all I wanted to do was break free and live.  In the words of Mark Twain, “Explore.  Dream.  Discover.”  I realised at that point that it’s incredibly difficult to sustain a passion alone.  It was again time to move on.

With no job lined up, I had a clean slate to travel for an extended period rather than just days or weeks.  And so travel I did, wandering round the globe for a little under five months and reawakening the wanderlust that had been quietly suppressed for a few years.  I also did something that seemed totally innocuous at the time but has turned out to be one of the most important decisions I’ve made in the last decade.  I started writing.

My little travel blog was just for friends and family at that point, mainly because I was too lazy to write to everyone individually  and I hate sending bulk emails even more than I hate receiving them.  When I found myself regularly making time to put metaphorical pen to paper instead of sightsee, hunting out dodgy wifi connections instead of having my 200th beer of the morning, I should have realised that perhaps there was more to this blogging thing for me than just being an online travel diary.  I didn’t though, and with the end of the trip came the end of the blog.

Fast forward 18 months and although I was loving my new home of Melbourne, that familiar sense of dissatisfaction was rearing its ugly head once more.  My job sucked, life was kinda static and my passion was being slowly sucked out of me as a result.  I took a bit of time to evaluate what mattered, and realised that there were two interrelated things that always made me feel happy and inspired.  Travel and the freedom associated with it regularly lifted my mood, and sharing those experiences with others helped fill a need to give a little back to the world (or maybe a need for external validation, one or the other).  I started doing a bit of writing for travel sites, then started my own, and the rest is history.

Suit and tie

After the most amazing year of my life in 2010, returning to other people’s idea of normality was always going to be hard.  I still love Melbourne, my friends, my family, but when it comes to how I spend my days and my life things have irreversibly changed.  I started a new contract last week that will take me through to the end of the year.  It pays well, the company is a household name, it’s a more senior role than anything I’ve had before, I’ve met some good people there already.  It should be a great job, and it might even turn out to be.

But it doesn’t inspire me.  It’s just not my passion.

When I wake up in the middle of the night with my brain racing, it’s not the job that I’m thinking about (even though it probably should be).  It’s an idea for my next post.  It’s the fun chat I had with a fellow traveller.  It’s a funny or insightful comment that someone left on this blog.  I get ridiculously excited about the tiny amount of income that this site generates, even though I’ll make much more in a week in the office than I’ve ever made from this blog.  I suspect that’s telling me something.

Funding my life solely from this passion will never be easy.  It may not even be possible.  Writing of any sort is notoriously difficult to make more than beer money from.  The easy option, at least financially, would be to revert to being a wage slave and try to fit my happiness around it.  The thing is that I’ve been there and done that, and although it’s kinda worked for me in the past it’s not going to in the future.  I want ridiculous amounts of happiness to be the default, not just slotted in between longer bouts of mediocrity.  So despite any real evidence that it’ll be sustainable, I’m intending that this contract will be one of my last corporate gigs.  Maybe even the very last.

It’s pretty much guaranteed that I’ll make a lot less money than I otherwise would.  That’s not going to be easy or fun, but neither would spending the next thirty years in a cubicle.  If I have to choose between physical riches or emotional ones, I’ll take the latter every time.  When it comes to money, poor and happy vs rich and miserable may be the choice I have to make in the name of following my passions.

If what that ultimately gives me is freedom then you know what?  I’m just fine with that.

Am I deluding myself?  Do you feel the same way, or entirely different?  Thoughts?


[Passion image courtesy of Juliana Coutinho, suit and tie image courtesy of tsmall]

50 Responses to “The long search for passion

  • So impressed. I’m pretty sure you’re one of the only people that can keep me reading a post longer than 400 words haha. I have a short attention span… I change my carreer all the time. From an art teacher to an event coordinator. To a part time blogger to a marketing contractor. Try out different things, you can always find a job in your line of passion. Doesn’t mean you can’t make good money off it either.

    I get that hole too, trying to figure out what is I want in life and so on. Not 100% sure what my passion is though. I have lots of passions for different things. Really amazing you’ve found yours!

    • Haha I’m glad that I can appeal even to the ADHD crowd! 😉 And yeah totally agree about trying a bunch of different stuff – maybe it’s because I haven’t done that that I feel the way I do now when I actually find something I love. Who knows…

  • Nigel Dean
    10 years ago

    I was recently talking to a friend of mine who told me that it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you are happy in your own skin. Three decades ago I turned my back on a career that could have made me a big amount of money and in the meantime left me brain dead. The career I have chosen has, and still, stimulates me each day and I look forward with anticipation to going to work each morning. In the meantime we have had four great kids – so what could be better. My message – go for your passion and in many year’s time you will be pleased you did!!

  • Hi Dave
    You sound like me. I’ve been telling people for years & years that I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up ;o) I’ve also tried my hand at several career paths.
    like you I love writing & I only really worked this out last year. So I am very excited about getting my site up & running recently.
    Fingers crossed on our passion being able to feed us in the future!

    • I really hope so. I dream of being able to make some sort of income out of this – the feeling I get when I wake up every morning knowing that I have all day to write, is indescribable. If I can make enough money to be able to feel that way every day, that’s all I ask…

  • God were you writing about me??? Taking a year off to travel totally changed my life. Like you, Dave, I discovered writing. I absolutely love it. It is so personal. But it’s such a buzz when people love your writing. Great post 🙂

    • Thanks Kirsten! It’s such a huge buzz – I try to explain it to others, but just can’t. 😉

  • I’m still looking for something to be passionate about. If you find any extras, send them my way.

    • Hey Dustin,

      You can have my two kids if you like. Actually I’ll keep one so I still have a passion and then you can have the other one so you have a passion as well 🙂


      • hahaha that’s so nice of you to share!

        • Hahah! Look at this amazing traveling community. Loaning out children. I never thought I’d see the day. That truly is charity right there. So generous. I guess while we’re offloading, I’ve got some credit card debt you can have. I would love for someone to make it their passion to pay it off. Coz it sure as hell ain’t me!

          • You know I’d just *love* to pay off your credit card debt for you, right?

  • Good for you in making that realization – and decision! Hubby and I went through the same thing, and since mid-2009, we’ve been homeless, without jobs, roaming Latin America on a budget, and loving every minute of it. I totally understand where you are coming from, and you know what? Once you’ve made the decision, there is no way out.

    You’ve gotten through the hardest part of it. The rest will be easy…

  • Hi Dave,

    Fantastic! What a great article and oh so true. I think we all just default to a life they others say is correct. Spending the time to work out what it is you want in life is just the first step…

    I know you’ll find a way, hopefully we’ll be along side you at the same time 🙂


    Have any of you tried “48 Days To The Work You Love” By Dan Miller?
    Comments please!

  • Dave,
    This is such a great article. I loved it. It can be so difficult to find ones passion, but sometimes it’s even more difficult to embrace it.

  • Tracy Burns
    10 years ago

    Dave, amazing post and I can honestly say I know exactly what you mean. I’ve cruised through life not having a passion for anything. School well I was top of everything from art to physics but not passionate about it. I dawdled through uni and from career to career but nothing full filled me. The kids did for many years but I’m starting to come out of that now and wonder what my true passion is. Travel writing for the last year has been it. Like you I am constantly dreaming up new posts, my mind is always on it and that makes me so happy. I love that you are happy to not care if there is money in it, that the reward is enough. Good luck and let’s catch up in Melbourne this time! We’ll Be there in two weeks

  • This is a great post. I think, if you let go of more expensive things in life, it’s possible to follow your passion — I hope you manage to achieve it…

  • Really great Dave! Admitting it is the first step 😉 Think mine might be dawning on me right now too. Now to figure out the mechanics…

  • Well, I don’t think that everyone subscribes to the concept of
    “the long comfortable cruise to retirement”. My cruise has certainly been challenging, about learning new things and trying to contribute to the world in some small way. This means that I now try to only accept work that I enjoy – It is starting to become a mantra, takes real effort and I do not always succeed, but at least I try.

    No matter what one’s passion (and finding out what it is can be a real journey of self discovery), you owe it to yourself to make the effort to find it. And passion comes in so many different guises.

    Well done Dave and keep doing what smoke’s your tyres!!

  • Hiya, I totally understand where you are coming from. I’m fortunate to have a passion for my work but I think its because I have a passion for creativity and interacting with people. This thirst for passion inspired me to start up my own marketing consulting firm just over a year ago after I had a pretty hard situation with a relationship ending. It allowed me to practice what I love, do other things (like writing my own travel blog) and also test the waters with new ideas. It has been a great step for me. Through this journey I’ve actually recognized what I like about corporate world (I worked for 3 of the largest global firms for most of my 10 year career). However, I think that if I was to go back it would be quite the challenge. Depending what you do, I think you need to try to make sure you don’t lose that passion. We spend so many hours in a day at work (whether consulting, freelance or at an office) that it is essential to be passionate about what we do.
    Speaking from experience, there are ways to make money without being held to a corporation. However, you do lose the security of the same paycheque every week – but that can pay off too down the road. It is, like other things, a journey.

    You sound like you have a lot of ambition and if you found something that you were passionate about, you’d be successful at it on your own. Maybe take the next few months thinking about what this could be and go for it in the New Year.

    Good luck, Miriam 🙂

    • Hi Miriam,

      There are a few things I like about the corporate world too, but for me they aren’t enough to make up for the stifling conservatism, busy-work and meetings that seem to make up most of my time in an office. 🙁 I think I’ve just outgrown the concept of 50-60 hours a week in a cubicle, feigning interest in something that doesn’t inspire me.

      If I could feel the same passion that I do for writing and travelling while pulling in the same good stable paycheck, that’d be fantastic. If I could feel the same sense of freedom, it’d be even better. It hasn’t happened yet and to be honest I think it’s unlikely that working for anybody other than myself will provide it.

      I’ve got the passion, I’ve got the ambition and I’m pretty sure I’ve got the ability to succeed.

      It’s time to make a choice.

      Come the New Year, I will have. 🙂

  • Reading through the comments above, I find it fascinating how many people (myself included) are searching for that passion in their life! Like many others, I continue in the type of work that I do (IT) because it pays well. But there is no passion. And like many others, I bit the bullet and ventured overseas to travel for 5 months, and I loved it!

    Now, I’m back home again, and am committed to continue work in the job that I had before (good money, no passion) for another year or so until the mortgage is nailed. I will then be in a position to rent the house out and to mostly fund my travels through the incoming rent for a much longer period of time.

    And while travelling, I aim to find something else to ignite that passion. Not sure what it will be, but I’ll find it!

    I’m enjoying your inspirational posts!

    Lisa (a fellow Kiwi)

    • My career has been IT for the last 15 years too, so I totally understand!

      See you on the other side in 2012!

  • Great post, Dave, very insightful. I think we can all agree that one needs passion in one’s life. But what I’m still trying to figure out is how to do something you’re passionate about and still pay the bills.

    The choice between poor and happy vs rich and miserable is an easy one to make while you’re still (relatively) young and healthy, but what do you do once you’ve reached retirement age? Perhaps in a country where there are state benefits, but that’s definitely not an option where I’m from (and I wouldn’t want to live like that anyway). So how do you plan for old age?

    • I don’t have all the answers, that’s for sure. I’d like to hope that I can make sufficient money from doing something I love that I’ll be able to reach ‘retirement’ age (not that I can ever see myself stopping writing until I’m physically incapable of doing so) with more than a few dollars in the bank.

      Being poor and deliriously happy is the choice I’ll make if I have to. Being well off and deliriously happy would be even better!

  • Lovely post, Dave.

    I know what you mean about the excitement of people reading/engaging with your blog.

    I watch my stats hourly and rejoice in the odd burst of visits my baby gets.

    (No point monetising it yet…8 followers and counting).

    My year away changed everything in my life.

    Congrats on your epiphany.

    Happy days.

  • You are diagnosed with a bad case of travel bug, complicated by writer’s fever. I’m sorry to say there is no cure for this. The good news is, the condition is not life-threatening and by focusing on your physical, psychological and spiritual desires and needs, you will be able to live a long and fulfilling life, albeit outside the norms established by society- (a good place to be!)
    PS Totally self-serving comment because I truly enjoy your writing and content

    • Thanks Regine! And I guess if there’s no cure then I have no choice but to accept the ‘diagnosis’! 😉

  • I’m a bit believer that knowing your passion is 90% of the battle. The rest is just logistics and time to sort out how to make it happen.

    Hopefully, I’ll be as fortunate as you and figure out mine sooner or later.

  • Oh you know I feel the same way! But I really do believe there is a way to make money and do something fulfilling. Sure it will be less money but you will have so much more.

  • Beautiful post, and I completely get it, on more than one level. Are you still running? I’m a runner and it does something for me that nothing else can. It cleanses me, really. It clears my brain. Running for two hours does more for me than two years of therapy! Second of all, you are not delusional. Life is about living. Life is about passion. Life is not about money and it’s not about slaving away in a gray cubicle waiting for the weekend. My husband and I are currently in a year-long process to quit our jobs and sell our stuff before we take off to travel the world and write about it. Traveling, running and writing are my passion and I intend to spend my life doing all three. Cheers to you and your passions.

    • Hey Kim – yeah I am still running, although with the loss of fitness after 6 months of no running and excessive beer last year, any more than 10km is a struggle right now! I’m intending to run another half marathon this year though, so will be picking up the pace from now on!

  • I guess my problem is less finding a passion, but narrowing it down. I tend to be that person who has about 100 things going at once and thinks all of them are my life’s calling. It does not foster a calm mind for us ADHD folks. Anyway, I’m glad you’ve come to this realization. Like I’ve told you before, I look to you as an example of what I will eventually go through. Sort of a “Ghost of Christmas Future” if you will (that wasn’t the grim reaper, was it?) Anyway. I know that this job is just a job for you, but I’m proud of you for being realistic and settling back into the grind without too much bitching. I’m sure I never would have done it as painlessly as you, and if you respond with “oh, believe me, it was painful” then I will go ahead and PRE-respond you with… well then I would have raised a lot more hell about it than you did, so props (HA… I love winning arguments before they occur). All of that basically was just meant to say…

    Great Job, Dave. Keep up the good work.

  • Kenan Lucas
    10 years ago

    Dave: this post deeply resonated with me. Thank you for posting this.

    Right now I am at a critical point in my life, about to graduate from University, have no definitive idea what to do with my life or any plan for the future apart from travel. In less than two weeks I depart my hometown of Melbourne on a one-way ticket to Asia. I am slightly nervous but incredibly excited. Finding one’s passion is something I am looking to pursue this year, and like you feel as it could be travel and/or writing related.

  • Thanks for all the awesome comments everyone, and thanks too for the support and validation! 🙂

  • Your blog has appeared at a time in my life when I am limbo!
    Writing to your from my hospital bed, trying to keep myself entertained as tv is so boring at times!
    BUT I am going to consider what you have said above. Being in a marriage where money comes easily I wonder if you could truely be happy without money as there are always bills to pay. BUT I like to think that it can be done…. after all there are many activities and interests that are free to those who think outside the box. My task from your blog is to consider what I am going to do with my life? I loved your line “I want ridiculous amounts of happiness to be the default, not just slotted in between longer bouts of mediocrity”. I often consider happiness from a practical view as well as from a philosophical stand point. I hope I make some sense LOL Still pumped up on post op drugs!!

    • Hi Allie,

      First of all – get well soon! Hope the post-op recovery goes well! 🙂

      Could I be happy without money? Absolutely not. Could I be happy with much less money than I earn now if it meant having the freedom and passion to enjoy every single day? I’d like to think so.

      I know it’s possible to live and travel on literally a quarter of what I’m earning at the moment – it just requires some sacrifices in terms of where and how I live. Material things don’t matter much to me at all, so at least not having ‘stuff’ won’t be a problem.

      And you make perfect sense! Maybe we should all check out some of those post-op drugs. 😉

  • I really appreciate your writing Dave. I always spend much time here.

    I have taken the leap and enjoying hitting the road. I have no idea when I’m gonna be back home. Maybe when I will feel that I have fulfill some travel desires.

    I wish good luck!


  • meditatecreate
    9 years ago

    Just stumbled upon your blog through twitter…

    I really enjoyed reading this honest, authentic, becoming…

    Can relate deeply…

    May your passion and the needs of others collide in perfect harmony…

  • Dave, I can so relate to this post! And no, I don’t think you’re deluded, because if you’re deluded, then I’m deluded too! I’ve never been as inspired as when I was traveling in Europe for 6 months last year. I also started my blog for friends and family, then stopped when I got home. I’ve started it up again in the past couple of months with a vengeance because it’s about the writing. The need to get something out that NEEDS to come out. I too wake up in the middle of the night with ideas for blog posts and articles. It’s definitely becoming my passion, and to think, I never knew it until I took that fateful trip to Europe. Goes to show, you never know where your passion might be lurking!

  • Hi Dave, wanting to live an authentic life that is rooted in your heart’s passion is not deluded at all. I reckon it’s the purpose we are all here but only a very few brave souls have the courage to follow their passion and live it. I love writing and painting. It has taken me a very long time to find the things that make my heart sing, but now I’ve found them, i don’t plan on doing anything else! I spent years travelling too, living for five years in Japan. It was a fantastic adventure and i loved every minute of it. Wishing you all good things as you follow your heart and passion. Em 🙂

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