How to Find a Passion Project

A woman engaged in her passion project

One of the joys of retirement is having more time to do what brings pride, purpose, and, yes, passion to your life. That is, if you know what you’re passionate about. We’re sometimes so consumed with work and family responsibilities that we lose track of what brings us joy. The good news is that it is never too late to discover what you love and how you can turn it into something that adds meaning and happiness to your life. Here’s how to find a passion project that suits you.  

Pinpoint Your Passion 

While many people are clear about their passions and how to enjoy them, others are less certain about what they can become enthusiastic about in retirement. “Retirement to me means retiring from what I no longer want to do. Therefore, retirement can bring tremendous joy if I am doing what I love. I retired many years ago from what I don’t want to do,” says Leonard Szymczak, who, at 74, is passionate about helping people as a therapist. 

For Carla Manly, a clinical psychologist and author of “Aging Joyfully: A Woman’s Guide to Optimal Health, Relationships, and Fulfillment for Her 50s and Beyond,” the key is to find activities and pursuits that truly bring joy. “Each aspect of life that brings you joy is an indicator of underlying passion. When we pay attention to our little indications of internal joy, we are on the path to exploring our passions and ultimately finding the right one or two that we want to devote our energy toward,” she says. 

Questions to Ask Yourself

To better understand what you might enjoy doing most, Szymczak and career coach Rikki Goldenberg suggest answering these questions:

  • What were you passionate about when you were a child? What did you love to do?

  • What would you have liked to have done when you were a child but were unable to?

  • What are your talents or gifts? For example, are you a musician or an artist? Can you write or teach? Are you good at helping others? Cooking, turning castoffs into treasure, or gardening?

  • Of those things you’re good at, which ones do you enjoy doing?

  • What activities in general do you enjoy the most, whether you excel at them or not?

  • What are things you’d like to be good at? Why?

  • What are some topics that are important to you?

  • What values are important to you?

  • If you had unlimited resources, what would you do?

  • If you had all the time in the world, and knew you’d do it well, what would you want to work on?

Write down your answers, then review them. “Is there overlap? What is bubbling to the top of how you like to spend your time?” asks Goldenberg. That’s what you want to focus on. 

As you go through this exercise, tamp down any self-doubt, cautions art therapist Emily Sharp. “When I work with clients who are struggling to identify what they are passionate about, I often hear a lot of self-doubt come up. For instance, you could love art and feel very passionate about it, but shrug off time for making art because you say, ‘I’m not an artist,'” she says. Simply allow yourself to enjoy doing it without thinking about the labels usually associated with it.  

Turning a Passion into a Project 

It’s one thing to know what you’re passionate about. It’s another to turn it into a project. How do you go from “I love playing pickleball” to joining a team or creating a local pickleball league?  

After you’ve identified what brings you joy, says Manly, brainstorm how you might do more of it or do it in a way that’s fulfilling. “For example, if rescuing a wild bird makes you feel more alive and radiant, it may be that you’d find volunteering at a bird rescue center a perfect fit. As another example, if you find that making jam and sharing it with neighbors and friends is a genuine joy, a small home-based business could be where you want to invest your energy,” she says.   

Here’s a guided list-making approach that Sharp uses with clients.  They start with a large sheet of paper and markers or pens in different colors, and she walks them through the following exercise step by step:

1. Make a List

Write down your favorite  hobbies or activities you love without over-thinking it. Then write down things you’ve always wanted to try, but haven’t. Finally, list things you’ve seen other people doing that you wish you could do, especially if they’ve made you feel envious. “Feelings that come from comparison often reveal what our souls are longing for, and if we can stick with that feeling and follow it, sometimes it can lead us to insight,” Sharp says.

2. Read Through Your List

As you look through what you’ve written, ask yourself: What on this list makes me feel the most excited? What lights me up? Circle these with a different color.

3. Set a Goal for the Week

Using a third color, circle again one or two of those circled ideas to explore this week by investigating what’s available. For example, if you’ve selected “ballroom dancing,” research local classes or look for ballroom dance clubs.  Even if you feel yourself resisting this exploration, do it anyway. This exploration and resulting project might not feel like it’s important initially, but treat it like it is anyway. You never know where a simple little list might lead.

Put in the Time

If it hasn’t happened already, it’s unlikely you’ll stumble on a passion project that excites you without putting some effort into figuring it out.

Set aside specific time blocks each day to work on your passion project, too, advises life coach Mari Vasan. “The latest brain science shows that for maximum productivity, focus for about 35 minutes at a time, and then take 10-minute breaks before starting again. This approach leads to the best output,” she says.  

While it might take time, experimentation, and a little research to zero in on a passion project you’re willing to sustain, stick with it. The rewards will be worth it—what could be better than doing more of what you love for the rest of your life?  

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