April 15, 2013

Discover Your Passion: Know Who You Are

What follows is a guest post from author Boyd Lemon. I'm pleased to share some of his thoughts on an important topic: discovering your passion by discovering who you are.

Key to a fulfilling life

A key to living a fulfilling life in retirement is having or discovering a passion (or passions), something that truly drive you, that you feel you are here on earth to do.

I have known a few people, one quite well, who discovered in their early twenties what was important to them, what their passions were, what they felt they were here on earth to do, and pursued those passions. They knew themselves and didn’t let their parents, friends or society dictate how they would live or what their life’s purpose was. I envy them. Most of us are not as perceptive of ourselves at such a young age.

I had to discover a passion for retirement because I had worked all my life at something that I was not passionate about. I understood that in order to discover a passion I had to understand who I am. Figuring out who I am was not complicated, but it required time and effort. It took a lot of mental work, the hardest kind of work. It took a lot of experimenting and trial and error, the scariest kind of work. But almost anyone can do it. You don’t have to be a monk, priest, philosopher or psychologist. You don’t have to have a college degree.

What does it mean to ask who am I? 

It sounds like some new age gobbledygook, but it is really not as mysterious as it sounds. Who I am, the authentic me, consists of what fulfills me; what, to me, is important and unimportant; what I like and dislike; what interests me and what does not; what I want out of life; what makes me feel that I am doing something worthwhile; what makes me feel happy, fulfilled, competent and esteemed. What makes me feel sad, frustrated, angry, afraid and inadequate was instructive. When I grasped what caused those feelings, I was close to discovering what I was passionate about.

Knowing yourself makes it more likely that you will find something that you are or become passionate about. Although there is such a thing as an epiphany, when all of a sudden something important just comes to you, the discovery of a passion did not come to me in that way. Usually some experience with something is required before it becomes a passion.

Finding out who I am not was also helpful. I am not my job. Although I didn’t realize it for years, I was not a lawyer. I practiced law, but a lawyer was not who I was or who I am. I was not wholly a husband or a father; they were only part of what I was. Just as one never really knows another person, he never totally knows himself. Knowing yourself is a lifelong process that never ends.

Questions Asked

During the process of finding out who I am and am not I found a passion. Some of the things I asked myself and did that helped me understand who I am and to discover my passion were:

• I thought long and hard about what during the course of my life I had enjoyed doing. I also thought about what I didn’t enjoy. I considered what made my heart sing, what excited me, what I wished I could do more of, what were some general characteristics of what I enjoyed. Were they usually done outdoors? Did they involve something creative—music, dance, painting, writing, building or designing things? Did they involve doing things with my hands?

• What part of my job or jobs did I enjoy?

• I thought about what other people that I admired were doing.

• I even made lists of possibilities.

• I understood that I liked to learn new things and considered what type of things I would enjoy learning.

• I asked myself whether I am a planner, or am I more spontaneous? Some activities need more planning than others. Some of the creative arts are relatively spontaneous. Organizing a political campaign requires a lot of planning.

• Many people are passionate about creating. I thought about whether there was anything I would like to create. Men especially often bury the creative side of themselves. Once guys reach adolescence they are not encouraged to pursue anything creative. That doesn’t mean it isn’t buried down there somewhere. I tried digging it up.

• I always knew that history, art and culture interested me. There are a lot of activities that involve history, art and culture, including travel and writing.

•I realized I am not really a people person. I am more the solitary type, an introvert. This is important because a people person probably shouldn’t try to pursue something that involves a lot of alone time—writing, for example; a solitary person should not try something that keeps him around people most of the time, such as fundraising for charities.

• Do I enjoy physical effort or mental effort more, I asked?

• Do I need to keep busy doing a lot of different tasks, or am I happy focusing on one thing for a long time?

• Do I enjoy dealing with detail, or am I more a big picture person?
• Am I a perfectionist?

• Does helping other people make me feel fulfilled?

• Do I like sports, reading, writing, listening to music, hiking, taking photos?

• I looked through the catalogue of local night schools and extension schools to find classes that interested me, not necessarily to take the classes, but to clarify what types of subject matter interested me.

• I thought about what the meaning or purpose of my life could be? What would fulfill me or might leave my mark here on earth?

• I tried to keep an open mind and do and see things I normally wouldn’t. I read about things I hadn’t read about before, realizing that I might discover something that I had buried, so I might not readily see or feel it. I examined every possibility I could think of.

• I thought about my values. Why am I here? Why is anybody here? What is most important to me? I read books about what other people have had to say about those questions.

Eventually, I discovered that my passions were writing and travel, and that is what I have focused during my retirement, which has been the most fulfilling time in my life.

Boyd Lemon-Author of Retirement: A Memoir and Guide; Eat, Walk, Write: An American Senior’s Year of Adventure in Paris and Tuscany; Digging Deep: A Writer Uncovers His Marriages; and 4 other books. Information, reviews and excerpts: http://www.BoydLemon-Writer.com.  Amazon Author Page: http://www.Amazon.com/author/boydlemon.

Satisfying Retirement received no compensation for this guest post or its promotional value.


  1. You must be passionate about your blog, b/c figuring from when this appeared on my blog, you posted this at either 2:30 or 3:30 a.m., depending on where you are ... because I know you're traveling, which is obviously your other passion! Hope you're having a good trip!

    1. Google allows me to pick a time to post so I set it up for 2:00AM. Because there are lots of East Coast Readers and several overseas I try to get the notification into mailboxes first thing in the morning!

      The trip is going very well. I'll have an update with plenty of pictures in a few days.

  2. I know you're not crazy about 'retirement coaches,' but as someone who helps other who are stuck in the process, I think you created an excellent list of questions to ask. I have found that finding a passion and purpose require two things; a willingness to ask the kinds of questions you listed, as well as spirit to experiment with activities and take risks. Unfortunately for many people as they get older, it's easier to sit back and take it easy. I commend you for getting out there and living and sharing your experiences.

    1. This list is from Boyd but I like it or I wouldn't have published it! His list really helps someone focus on what will keep him or her happy and engaged with life.

      BTW, the piece from a few months ago about retirement coaches was mostly tongue in check. I find it unfortunate that so many folks haven't a clue what their interests are. How did they get through life to this point? But, I guess if it takes a coach to help them, then that is much better than sitting in a chair and watching TV for hours a day.

  3. Thank you, Cathy. You made a very important point when you said that to find your passion (and I would say to really "live") you must be willing to take risks. Otherwise, you're just along for the ride.


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