A young man I worked with was on a success mission. He was a straight-A student who’d beaten off hefty competition to score his first corporate job. He was smart, focused, socially savvy—and utterly miserable.

His problem was prodigious talent. Studies. Sports. Guitar. Debating. Dating. From a young age, he’d participated with gusto—and made a smash success of everything he’d touched.

But in his early 20s the balloon had popped. He was good at his new job but not (yet) a star. He’d lost his drive, he couldn’t see a way forward—and he wasn’t even sure if he liked the field he had chosen.

He wasn’t feeling any passion.

A psychologist can’t tell an ambitious young person to put their talent on ice or not to go all out in pursuit of their dreams. That would be weird, potentially even damaging.

But you can help them think less about what they want from life, and more about the kind of life they want.

So I asked him: “What’s fun for you, Jack?”

He stared at me blankly so I asked again. “What do you do for fun? For no purpose other than it makes you feel good.”

The Great Burden of Passion

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I’m staunchly against the Passion Hunt. Don’t get me wrong: It’s fantastic to know your life’s higher calling, to throw your heart into your activities and to do what you love every day.

But the simple truth is most people need time, misfires, wrong turns, experience, and perspective to figure out what lights them up.

Most people need time, misfires, wrong turns, experience, and perspective to figure out what lights them up.

Most of us are not born on an arrow-like mission to be-the-person-we-are-born-to-be. We’re not springing from bed the moment the alarm goes off so we can make our unique contribution to the world. Most of us are getting up to the ordinary chaos of life, to all the problems we’ve struggled to block out overnight.

So I get nervous when young people rush out onto the highway of success, committing to a life of #Productivity so that they don’t waste a single minute of a single hour of a single day. It’s a worthy theory, but it puts them under too much pressure; it sucks away the joy in living.

It’s healthier to slow down, try things, take time to find your way. And if it means you demonstrate little (or no) talent at something, be grateful.

Here’s why:

The Magic Power of Doing Things Badly

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1. You can do things for fun.

Or because you like the sound of them. Or because your friends do them. And you don’t have to devote all your time to that ONE thing you are excellent at.

2. You are free to mess up.

When you lack excellence in a field, everyone expects you to make mistakes, lots of them, as you are learning. This reduces the pressure to succeed.

3. You don’t have to stick with it.

You can drop the activity without much drama (and hopefully not too much expense) and move on to try something else.

4. The bar is set low.

Everybody’s expectations of your talent or performance stay low—even your own. This is valuable while you are experimenting, learning or deciding whether to commit to an activity.

5. Outcome focus is reduced.

Too much focus on results can be make you fear failure, or scared to try. Instead you get to focus on the doing (or the process) which is where the fun in learning lies.

Jack decided to spread his interests into other areas, to try some new things or pick up a sport he had previously enjoyed. At work, he switched his focus from achievement to learning.

It was a smart strategy. Being on a singular mission from a young age sets you up to view life through a narrow lens which can stunt development. And trying to attack everything with passion is artificial—not to mention exhausting.

Notice the things you sneak back to when no one's looking.

Instead, experiment lots and take notice of what you like doing—especially of the things you sneak back to when no one’s looking, the thing you quietly itch to do, especially if you haven’t done it for a while.

If your talents and the things you enjoy collide, that’s great, you have a clue as to where you should put more energy. But if it comes down to a contest between them, choose what you enjoy.

Because then you can go do it badly. And there’s so much freedom in that.

This article originally appeared on Medium.


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