Notes from last night - "How to Find Your Passion"

photoThe Rehearsal Room at the Adam Street Club was packed out last night, when 60 Escape the City members came to hear Julie Leitz advise us on how to find our passion, and how this can help us lead a happier and more satisfying life. Julie has a background in psychology and neuroscience and is an expert in the science and art of happiness.

As usual, the room bubbled with the chatter of attendees meeting each other, discussing their reasons for coming to an Escape the City talk, talking about their plans and progress. Throughout her talk, Julie called on the ease, friendliness and candour of the audience to discuss her ideas and respond to the activities she suggested, in order to find those things in our lives that we are passionate about.

Julie shared her own experience which led her to where she is now. She framed it in the revelatory experience she had when she reaslied that one day, in a few decades, she would be dead. I’ll admit, it felt like a morbid place to start, but Julie illustrated to us the profound way that being mindful of this can help overcome many fears and barriers between our lives now a life that has more meaning, more passion.

Retelling the lessons shared by the Australian palliative care nurse, Bonnie Ware, she told us what three regrets come up most commonly from people on their deathbeds.

The regrets of the dying

  1. I wish I had had the courage to live a life that is true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard and had spent more time with my loved ones, rather than on the work treadmill.
  3. I wish I had let myself be happier.

Julie reminded us that happiness is a choice.

Once you choose and take action, you can and you will make change in your life, and this choice comes from discovering what you are passionate about.

Julie encouraged us to challenge ourselves: “What would you do if you let your gut and your heart rule your head? The first thing that came into your mind might be the first step to finding your passion.”

What excites you?

There’s something out there for each and every one of us that lights us on fire. But where do you start? How do you find your passion?  Julie then presented her advice, based on her own experience and the experience of her clients.

She started with what not to do, which is to ask yourself what the next logical move should be.

The likelihood of finding your passion by asking yourself this is close to zero! Passion takes time and nurturing to grow, and evolves from some key things, which Julie went on to explain.

We need to create an environment that cultivates passion.  These are often a series of self-reflective activities, however Julie widened their focus so they became a conversation with others in our lives, or the strangers sitting next to us at an Escape the City talk!


Here are the key messages in Julie’s talk…

1. Know your values

These are the non-negotiable things in your life, the qualities that you never want to compromise on. Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint them, so instead, Julie encouraged us to think about someone else who we admire, then think about the qualities of that person we admire.  She then had us turn to the person next to us and share these.

2. Know your strengths

Julie then advised that we should know our strengths. She encouraged us to follow the link on her handout saying it was an incredibly well spent $10, as the results are incredibly valuable.

Additionally, she pushed us to email 10 people as soon as possible, people we are close to, family, friends and colleagues. Share with them what you’re wanting to do and ask them what they think your strengths are, what they think you could be doing. This will help give you an external view of your strengths and the positive qualities others see in you, and may help.

What you do with the responses, though, how you use that information, is entirely up to you!

3. Ask yourself powerful questions.

The handout Julie provided had 15 questions on the back, ranging from “what do people thank you for?” to “You have been given a billboard and can put any message you want on it. Thousands of people will drive by it every day and see it and their lives will be changed in some way by your message. What does is say?”

Again, Julie asked us to turn to the person next to us and talk about these questions, to ask and discuss our responses. People loved doing this, so much so that it was hard to bring the room back to order!  Fortunately Julie has a piercing whistle, which got everyone’s attention!  She then asked around the room for the discussions they’d had. Most people discussed and responded to the billboard question, with responses ranging from “Smile!”, to “Turn off your phone and start living”.

“Honour that message”, Julie encouraged us.

4. Do Something Different

The next big thing to do on the path to finding your passion is to try totally new things, break your routine in any way possible. Don’t worry if it’s not related to your passion, this activity is all about getting fired up in a new way, and it relates back to your neurological physiology. It breaks down into four stages.

  1. Preparation. Everything we’re doing here. It’s the planning, the thinking, experimentation with new things.
  2. Incubation. This stage is where you stop thinking so hard, let go and enjoy yourself, immerse yourself.  Logic is hugely overrated, engage in things you’re curious about, especially if it’s not related to what you think your passion might be.  Doing different things will stimulate your brain in new ways, which will lead to amazing revelations.
  3. Illumination. The flash of insight that comes out of nowhere, and it might come to you when you’re doing something unusual, something you’ve never done before.  By doing new things, new neural pathways are formed and new ideas are created.  When Julie was undertaking this process herself, the revelation she had about wanting to be a coach came to her when she was working on a drawing of a French bulldog named Dudu!
  4. Verification. Go back to the beginning and start this process again, repeat the process, but with the new insight and inspiration you have.

The importance of this process is that it starts an attitude that leads to passion.

Julie asked us to turn to our partners again and tell them something that we’re curious about, something we’ve always wanted to try but have been too scared to do. Hold each other accountable to try that before the end of the month. I was fortunate enough to get to share mine with Julie, which is wanting to put a creative project I’ve been working on, a photography magazine, out into the world for people to see and respond to. Julie’s was to try acrobatics, even though she says she can’t even do a cartwheel!

One woman in the room said she wanted to try trapeze, an activity so exciting the woman sitting next to her joined in and committed to trying it as well!

5. Find Your People

The next important aspect to bring into your life is to surround yourself with positive and passionate people, another behaviour rooted in neurology. In the brain there is a type of mirror neuron that fires when we see others performing actions, so much so that the brain activity in both people (the doer and the witness) are the same. Our brains reflect our environment and those we surround ourselves with, which is why it’s so important to surround ourselves with those who are positive, encouraging and passionate.

6. Just Start

Julie’s then told us that there’s never a perfect time to change, never the right moment to start, so start before you’re ready. Start now.

7.  Finally, put your idea to the test.

Clarity only comes through reaction. This doesn’t mean throwing in your current job and diving into the next chapter in your life (unless you can and want to, in which case, go for it!) but find someone who’s doing what you’re curious about and ask to meet them, to interview them, shadow them or intern with them for some time. Try your idea, you’ll get new information which will help you move forward.

At the end of Julie’s talk, the feeling in the room was bubbling with excitement, so many people deeply inspired about moving towards a new, passionate life, and the trepidation that comes with it. With her final words, Julie reminded us of the revelation she had had herself at the start of her journey. We only have a few decades left and happiness is a choice, a decision about how to live. You can design your life. Don’t settle, go after the life you deserve.



This post was written by Ede Strong. Ede is currently planning his own escape, developing Ede’s Rascals, a food business that will soon bring his novel and delicious sweets, desserts and drinks to the streets of London. Check him on YoutubeFacebook and on Twitter @edesrascals.  If you want to get in touch, drop him a line,

 What is Escape the City all about then?

Frustrated by climbing the corporate ladder, we decided to build a community to help people build meaningful careers doing work that matters – to them and to the world. We help talented people find fulfilling work by making big career changes, building businesses, & going on big adventures. We’d love you to come with us on this journey.

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