“Do what you love, and you won’t work a day in your life.” It’s well known that people who follow their personal interests into a career tend to be very satisfied and engaged. But how do we find that passion for ourselves or perhaps help our children discover what they love?

As we discussed last time, Angela Duckworth’s book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, divides the kind grit that leads to success into passion and perseverance, something that requires tremendous effort. However, very few will hang in there long enough and put in the effort to succeed unless they are deeply interested in that particular topic. The science of interest, says Duckworth, is that “passion for your work is a little bit of discovery, followed by a lot of development, and then a lifetime of deepening.”

Most people don’t discover their primary interest overnight. It takes years of trial and error, probing and exploration. You have to stay with something quite a while in order to understand it enough to know if it holds enough interest for the long run. After an interest is first encountered, it must be experienced over and over again to determine if there is a connection. In other words, playful exploration must occur before the years of hard work in the development stage. And exploration is best experienced in an environment where there is a support team of parents, coaches, or teachers cheering us on.

If you happen to be part of this support team, here’s what NOT to do in the discovery stage: be overbearing. It wears away at the intrinsic motivation necessary for development. If you rush the discovery stage and move people (such as your kids) too fast along the road to become an expert, you may get short-term production, but the risk of burnout and resentment is real. Encouragement, support, practice, and feedback are important. The idea is to nurture the interest. Pushing too hard may be damaging in the long term.

Of course, if someone is to eventually become a true expert, one of the best in the field, he/she must go beyond discovery to the development and deepening stages. It takes years and years of learning and examining the nuances of a topic in order to reach that expert status. In fact, about half of grit is being consistent with your interests over a few decades. Our interest level must be fierce and it cannot be short-circuited.

So how do you discover a passion? Duckworth gives several tips:

  1. Ask these questions: What do I like to think about? What matters most to me? How do I enjoy spending my time?
  2. Begin with what you know. What do you really like? What do you really dislike?
  3. Don’t be afraid to guess. Exploration is key.
  4. Don’t be afraid to abandon something that isn’t working.

Take your time. Discover, develop and dive deep into your lifelong passion.