Some of us are lucky enough to be born with a passion. Equally blessed are those who stumble onto something that lights them up early in life. But if, like many people, you've made it into adulthood (perhaps deep into adulthood) and are still mystified about the deeper meaning of your professional life, are you simply out of luck?

Before you think you're condemned to trudge through years of working at ‘good enough’ jobs, paying the bills but never experiencing the excitement and dedication that seems to drive the most successful, you should check out a recent study from a team of German researchers.

Passion is made, not found

For the study the team interviewed 54 German entrepreneurs in the early stages of starting a business. The founders answered an array of questions designed to gauge both the level of effort they put into building their businesses and their passion for their project. The scientists discovered a simple relationship between the two measures.

“The researchers found that for each entrepreneur, fluctuation in these two ratings could be explained by one relationship: the previous week's effort influenced this week's passion, such that more effort led to more passion,” reports the British Psychological Society Research Digest blog.

Follow up studies looked into how much effort was actually needed to boost passion. Would putting in just a little bit of work raise a person's level of passion for entrepreneurship, or did they really need to sweat to get this effect? As you might expect, the more you put in the more you get out. Additional investigations also revealed — equally unsurprisingly — that unrewarded hard work also did little to increase anyone's enthusiasm. Only when a person felt their efforts made a real impact did their passion levels rise.

The takeaway, put simple, is that trudging through your job is probably the cause of your lack of passion, not the result (even if that job seems pretty menial at the moment). By choosing to take the work at hand seriously and really dedicate yourself to it, you can probably ignite the beginnings of passion in yourself. Who knows where that passion will take you.

‘Follow your passion’ is bad advice

This research team may have added some additional hard data to the backlash against the standard ‘follow your passion’ career advice, but they're far from the only ones pushing back hard against this anxiety-inducing orthodoxy. A parade of successful professionals and founders attest that passion generally follows commitment to a path, rather than precedes it, and is a product of determining to work hard at something rather a precursor of dedication.

“It’s time to stop searching and start doing,” entrepreneur Kent Healy told hand-wringing young people, summing up this camp's position. “Searching for your passion is not proactive; it's actually quite passive, because embedded in the pursuit is the erroneous belief that when seen, it will be immediately recognized. The reality is that a lifelong passion is most often revealed through working passionately on something you have immediate access to.”

So stop waiting for a passion to appear (or to result from anguished soul searching) and get out and start doing stuff. By working hard at tasks that need to be done, you'll create that sense of meaning, importance and fulfillment that we call passion.

Published on: Sep 25, 2015