Curiosity, not passion

March 6, 2014

images-54Elizabeth Gilbert is one of my favourite writers.  Her work is engaging, accessible and just all-round brilliant.  Her writing is delicious and sometimes I could eat the pages.   I know I have found a good author when the writing is good enough to eat.  But that’s just me.  I’ve always found reading to be a type of mental food that I absolutely cannot live without.

I follow Elizabeth Gilbert on Facebook and she often posts insightful, beautifully articulate essays on topics such as writing, self-discipline, finding your niche, coping with criticism, dealing with difficult people, perseverance and relationships.  She hits the nail on the head with God-like wisdom and insight.  I enjoy this writing of Liz’s even more than I enjoy her novels.

Recently she wrote about the pursuit of curiosity rather than passion.  It resonated with me and I want to share it with you.

DownloadedFile-3I’ve always been a big fan of Finding Your Passion.  For years and years, I’ve been searching high and low for mine and I still haven’t found the damn thing.  Following Your Passion feels as if I’m trying to catch a soap bubble.  I run after it and grab it, then it pops and I always think, ‘Dammit, that didn’t turn out well.  Maybe that wasn’t my passion after all.’

I always thought that training and teaching people was my passion but, when I did it in my job, I hated it.  To be fair it could have been the duller-than-dishwater material, which was out of my control.  Then I wondered if organizational psychology/HR and people’s career development in the workplace was my passion but then I realized that I don’t even like working with people.  People constantly disappoint or irritate me.  I realize I am unreasonably impatient, a little passive-aggressive and I don’t suffer fools which makes me hopeless at teamwork.  Imagine saying that in an interview.

‘What’s your weakness?’


No one would hire me.  That’s why, when I am asked that question, I say my weakness is perfectionism, just like everyone else does.

People say you should Follow Your Passion when you choose a career.  It stumps me because I don’t actually have a burning fire in the belly for anything.  Is that a bad thing?  Is there something wrong with me?

Then I read Liz Gilbert’s recent essay and I breathed a sigh of relief because I finally felt as if someone understood me.  She says that passion is often a tall order and you should follow your curiosity instead.  Passion is rare but curiosity is every day.  Passion is a tower of flame, but curiosity is a tiny tap on the shoulder that whispers, ‘This is interesting …’

images-43I have LOADS I am curious about.  I am curious about writing, about nutrition, about Pilates, about wellness, about literature, about cooking, about history, about World War 2, about child development, about religion, about psychology … about … about … etc etc.  I waste so much time searching for my big passion that I miss out on the little interests that bring me joy.

I admit that in many countries, choosing a career is a race against time and there is little opportunity to faff about following curiosities that ultimately fizzle out.  That is why the British system is so marvelous and lends itself to the curiosity concept.  When you leave school, you can do an off-the-wall or dead-end degree, perhaps History of Art or Marine Biology and then, after 5 years or so, you can become a Chartered Accountant.  But during the time at university, you have the opportunity to dither about and follow your curiosities and hope that one morphs into your passion before you reach your deadline and have to choose a proper, financially viable career.

Following my curiosity seems so much less intimidating than Finding My Passion so that’s what I am going to do from now onwards.  All these little things I am interested in don’t need to become a full-blown career but I am sure that if I pursue them and heed the tap on my shoulder and the whisper in my ear, life will be more interesting and a lot more fun.

Here is Liz’s essay:

I am a big advocate for the pursuit of curiosity. You’ve maybe heard me talk about this before? We are constantly being told to pursue our passions in life, but there are times when passion is a TALL ORDER, and really hard to reach. In seasons of confusion, of loss, of boredom, of insecurity, of distraction, the idea of “passion” can feel completely inaccessible and impossible. In such times, you are lucky to be able to get your laundry done (that sometimes feels as high as you can aim) and when someone tells you to follow your passion, you want to give them the middle finger. (Go ahead and do it, by the way. But wait till their back is turned, out of civility.)

But curiosity, I have found, is always within reach.

Passion is a tower of flame, but curiosity is a tiny tap on the shoulder — a little whisper in the ear that says, “Hey, that’s kind of interesting…”

Passion is rare; curiosity is everyday.

Curiosity is therefore a lot easier to reach at at times than full-on passion — and the stakes are lower, easier to manage.

The trick is to just follow your small moments of curiosity. It doesn’t take a massive effort. Just turn your head an inch. Pause for a instant. Respond to what has caught your attention. Look into it a bit. Is there something there for you? A piece of information?

For me, a lifetime devoted to creativity is nothing but a scavenger hunt — where each successive clue is another tiny little hit of curiosity. Pick each one up, unfold it, see where it leads you next.

Small steps.

Keep doing that, and I promise you: The curiosity will eventually lead you to the passion.

And that’ll be the end of boredom.