New-age management advice focuses a great deal on being able to find your passion for work. The belief is: If what you love to do matches what you actually do, you will be successful. Your performance will peak and you will be in a zone, like the sprinter who flies.

But how do you get there? Well, the first question to answer is whether a passion is really a passion.This isn’t easy. For the alchemy of passion is a mystery.

Often, people mistake a hobby for a passion. For example, just because you like to read books or watch cricket doesn’t mean you should be a writer or work in the field of sports. In the professional context, passion is not just an interest area. You have to picture yourself working immersively. You know you are passionate about an area of work when you are willing to easily say no to other interesting options. For example, both of us, at different stages of our lives, of course, have chosen to work in higher education. It’s what we feel passionate about, and we have said no to other entrepreneurial opportunities, or consulting assignments, to pursue our passion.

When it comes to getting to this point, the journey will be different for everyone.

There are those who know their passion, and begin their careers accordingly. That is a rare (and fortunate) group. Even then, there are many ways to think about that passion. Say, you are passionate about music and are good at it. Should you become professional musician? Or, you are passionate about music, but not so good at it yourself. Should you work in, or start, a music-related business to match your passion?

Some might stumble upon their passion, mid-career. That brings its own dilemmas. Should you stay in a career or a profession that has worked for you, or chase a passion itch? How should you negotiate stability vis-à-vis risk in such cases?

There is more than one right answer. Most crucially, it is a function of your stage in life and what matters most at the time: money, stability, desire to learn. These and other compulsions usually decide if you can take the road less travelled now or later.

There are, of course, those who don’t know what their passion is. In fact, this talk of passion can be stressful—and annoying—for them. How do you figure out what you are passionate about? You can’t script it, and there is no one place you can go looking for it. You usually discover it: either by running into it, or by your passion finding you.

Well, trying out different things is a good way to start, if you can afford some career detours, and can live with the discomfort of not following a linear career path.

For example, many people think they are passionate about teaching. Test that urge. Try and become a visiting faculty member in a college, even as you continue to work where you are, and allow yourself the opportunity to find out if the experience is what you imagined it would be.

Sometimes, by allowing yourself different experiences, you will discover what you really enjoy. Focus on that, and shape your life to work in that area.

Don’t fret too much about not having found your passion. It’s not easy for any of us. Keep looking though, because finding it definitely lives up to the hype.

This is the seventh in the eight-part Art Of Work series on building a fulfilling career. Pramath Raj Sinha has founded several higher education institutions and Shreyasi Singh is a business author who now works in higher education. Read the first six columns in the series at Livemint.com/ArtofWork.

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