Practice Makes Passion: An Exercise in Identifying Passion & Motivation

Rachel Bensler - January 31st 2022

(R Bensler, photo by Ty Gantogoo)

In my grade 10 year of high school, a prominent Canadian lawyer came to speak at my high school. He gave a 45-minute presentation on his work, and I remember thinking, “This guy has the coolest job!” After that day, I remember feeling like a seed had been planted in my brain: I wanted to be a lawyer. Now, at the age of 21, I have started my Juris Doctor at the University of Alberta’s law school!

My passion for law remained intact throughout my first degree, but the exact reason for choosing this path changed. I attribute this mainly to giving myself space to grow, fail, and change while staying true to my passion for helping people. The reality is that most people will finish their degrees in 5 years and change their major at some point in that time. I was lucky that the core of my passion stayed aligned with a legal career. If there is one piece of wisdom I can pass on, it would be to answer these three questions before going into postsecondary education: What am I most passionate about? What does “success” mean to me? What does “failure” mean to me?

(R Bensler, photo by Ty Gantogoo)

What am I most passionate about?

This question is about identifying what I call your “single essential variable.” I stole this term from Property Law, but it truly suits this subject well. It is a way of identifying the single thing at the core of who you are. This is incredibly difficult to figure out. I want to be clear, this is not something like: I am a student, daughter, academic, athlete, etc. It is deeper than that. This is about finding your motivation. You can do this by asking yourself questions like: what do I love most about myself? What gives me the motivation to work through difficult moments? What makes me excited/passionate? What 10 things are most important to who I am? I strongly encourage writing out your answers, as this will help you track how/if your passion can change over time.

You can also complete the following sentences:

1. I am excited by…

2. I could talk forever about…

3. I feel fulfilled when I…

For me, it is helping people. This is something I inherited from my family, who have majorly been healthcare professionals and teachers for the last four generations. However, some people might find that their passion is innovating or creating new innovations. Others might find it is about seeking efficiency or maximizing profits. Whatever your passion is, identifying it can help you choose an educational path and stay motivated during challenging periods of life.

What are “success” and “failure”?

If you are looking to define success and failure, I encourage doing the following activity.

Step 1: Write out 1 through 25 on a piece of paper or on your phone.

Step 2: Go through the list of words below and right S for words you associate with success and F for words you associate with failure (example: 1. S, 2. F, 3. S…)

1. Money

2. Imperfection

3. Fulfillment

4. Happiness

5. Financial loss

6. Shame

7. Material wealth (fancy house/cars/clothes)

8. Experiential wealth (fun experiences like travel, social events, or adventures)

9. Emotional well-being

10. Happy family

11. Straight A’s

12. Being respected

13. Being disliked

14. Being envied

15. Unhappiness

16. Being kind

17. Having lots of friends

18. Fame/being famous

19. Having lots of followers on TikTok/Instagram

20. Getting into university

21. Graduating high school

22. Being able to afford food, shelter, etc.

23. Being loved/being in love

24. Having power (political, social, etc.)

25. Making my family proud

Step 3: After completing this exercise, take some time to reflect on your answers. A famous quote from Ludwig Wittgenstein goes as follows “the limits of my language means the limits of my world.” Extrapolating from this example, I want to make the point that the broader your vocabulary is to define success and failure, the more deeply and accurately you can identify what is truly important to you.

Finding your passion, motivation, and definition for success/failure will take more than a quick exercise. But, as someone who engaged heavily in practices that helped find who I am and what I care about, I cannot recommend it more.