A talk by Hero Journeys creator John P Morgan on the three key ingredients to having passion in your life.
Recorded in London, UK on 16th June 2011. This video has 30,000+ YouTube views.
Audio version is a bit longer as it includes a Q&A at the end.
I’m going to hold the mic because I definitely cannot stand still. I have far too much passion. [Laughter]
Matt mentioned that I studied physics. It’s true. I’m really into solving problems. It’s my thing. It’s what I like to do. I like to figure stuff out. People often ask me why I don’t use my physics degree. Actually, I use it every day as I’m doing what I love to do. Because for me, physics is just about solving problems, and figuring things out, and creating systems. And what I want to share with you tonight is a way to systematize having a passionate life.
Early in my twenties I realized I had a passion for helping people. I’d find myself sitting down with friend who had a problem, who wanted to figure something out. We would work through a problem in their life. And when we sat down, I’d always take out a piece of paper. We’d be sitting at a table somewhere, and I’d just start to ask them questions. I wasn’t trained to be a life coach. I just started asking questions. What’s going on in your life? What do you want to do? Let’s come up with a system, a strategy to get you more of what you want.
My passion is still sitting down with a person with that blank piece of paper. I’ve done this with my friends. Those of you here who are my friends know that. My clients will confirm that whenever we meet, I show up with a notebook and a pen.
Tonight I want to take you on a journey. Obviously I can’t interact with you one-on-one here, but imagine yourself sitting somewhere with me, with that piece of paper. I want to talk to you about a system for finding your passion.
This is a funny story. I had just arrived in London and I was sitting with one of the first British guys I had met here. I told him what I enjoy doing, saying “Maybe I can do this for a living. Maybe I could just talk to people and help them live their dreams. There’s people in America that do this. They get onstage and talk about how to live out your dreams. They get everybody excited.”
He said, “Oh, yeah. We have people like that here. We call them wankers.” [Laughter] I was an American. I had just arrived here. I didn’t know what wanker meant. I was thinking about where to put wanker on my business card. [Laughter] About introducing myself at a party.
“I’m John Morgan.”
“What do you do?”
“I’m a wanker.” [Laughter]
Afterwards this guy said, “Just tell them you’re an American, and they won’t call you a wanker. You’ll be fine.” [Laughter]
Anyways, I ended up pursuing life coaching. It’s what I’m doing now, and I love it. It’s very exciting to be able to teach people how to live their dreams. I help people connect with each other, specifically in the area of dating. I work with both men and women. For me, it’s a doorway into their lives. Helping someone meet the right person is usually far deeper than what a person looks like, or what they do for a living.
When Matt created a meetup called “How to Live a Passionate Life,” he contacted me and asked me to be a speaker. I figured twenty people would come. One email, and the presentation sold out in three days. I advised him to get a bigger room. He did, and we had seventy people signed up in two days. There’s a hundred people in this room, right now, all of you interested in the idea of living a more passionate life.
Being in front of a hundred people that are interested in living a more passionate life is very exciting for me. Think about that for a second. There’s a hundred people here that want to live a more passionate life. That are interested in living a more passionate life.
So, just what is a passionate life? I’d like to throw this question out there. I want to see if somebody can answer this for me. In your own words, tell me what you consider a passionate life? Please.
Doing what you love doing.
Doing what you love doing. Okay, cool. Anybody else? Did you all come to find out what a passionate life is? [Laughter]
Living without fear.
Living without fear. That’s good. I like that. What else? I heard some mumbling. What is it?
Appreciating what you have.
Appreciating what you have. Cool.
Sharing what you have.
Sharing what you have.
Doing something that inspires you every day.
Doing something that inspires you every day. Cool.
Challenging yourself. Yeah.
Making a difference.
Making a difference. Cool. This is all good stuff. Let me twist the question and become a coach for a second. How will you know when you’re living a passionate life? Please.
You don’t come to talks like this one. [Laughter]
You don’t come to talks like this anymore. [Laughter] Bunch of losers! How else?
You’re feeling fulfilled.
You’re feeling fulfilled.
With no regrets.
With no regrets. I like that. I’m going to hold onto that. You’re feeling fulfilled. I’m going to come back to that later. I think that’s cool.
The next question I want to ask is an interesting thing for you to think about. Why do you want to live a passionate life? I’m not going to ask you to share it with everyone, because everybody’s answer is going to be a little bit different. It’s going to be unique to each of you. And I believe feeling fulfilled is part of that.
When I was around twenty-two or twenty-three, I had just finished university. I was hanging out with my friends, eating dinner at a TGI Friday’s in America. There’s like a million of them. As I was sitting there, eating, I realized I couldn’t see out of one eye. It was kind of weird.
Over the next few days, I went blind in my left eye. Completely blind. I went to my family doctor. He didn’t know what it was. I went to an optometrist. She didn’t know what it was. She sent me to an ophthalmologist. He told me to see a neurologist. They gave me an MRI, scanning my brain. They told me that my brain had lesions all over it, that I had multiple sclerosis.” I said, “What’s that?”
They told me it was a disease which attacks the nervous system. Your immune system gets confused, thinking your nervous system is bad for you, and it attacks it. And as it does that, it damages the nerves, which can then no longer send signals.
Now, that freaked me out, and I asked them what my future held. Well, people live their whole lives with just one episode, and it never bothers them again. It was possible the blindness would go away and I would be fine. It was also possible that I would become paralyzed and die. They couldn’t tell me.
That was obviously a holy shit moment. It obviously it stressed me out. Over the next week, I took steroids. The blindness went away. My vision returned, and is almost perfect now. And over that week, I shifted from being really scared to really excited. I just flipped it. I just flipped it.
My eye was fine again. I was healthy. I was strong. I was happy. I realized that this disease is no different than the disease that every single one of you guys and girls have right now—a disease called mortality. Mortality. And I believe this is connected to the concept of fulfillment.
Mark Twain said that, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the things you did do.” My reason for living a passionate life is because I want to make sure that when I die, I know that my life wasn’t wasted. And the way I will know that it wasn’t wasted is by knowing that I really lived. I really lived. How will I know if I really lived? I will feel fulfilled, because that’s how we know if we’re alive. We feel.
That’s my reason, and I’m sure all of you have your reasons. You might not be aware of it, but you should take some time to think about it. Why should you want a passionate life? Because from there comes the motivation to live that passionate life. In a few minutes, we’ll discuss how to make that happen.
If you and I sat down to have a one-on-one session, face-to-face—the first thing I would tell you is that we are going to come up with a strategy for you to have a more passionate life. The first thing I would ask you is to tell me about your life, and tell me what you like to do.
You might say, “Well, I work. I work like fifty or sixty hours a week. Sometimes after work I go out to the pub with my friends. Once in a while, I go out to eat. I try to get to the gym at least once a week, maybe twice. Sometimes I go to a game.”
“So, what else? What else do you like to do?”
“Well, there’s this course I want to take, and this other thing…”
At that point I’ll say, “Let me talk a little about my life and my passions, just to give you an example of what I mean by passion.”
When I was sixteen or so, I got my first guitar. At that point, it was just something I was interested in. So, I took guitar lessons. The first thing I learned was how to pick on one string. I started from this clunky picking until that, “Come as you are…” A Nirvana song, right? I thought, Oh, wow! This is exciting!
From there it became strumming and learning chords. That was even more exciting. Then the chords became riffs and songs. Then I started singing and writing lyrics. I started a band, created an album and went on tour. Then I got passionate about playing the guitar. And I consider the passion I had for playing the guitar a passion in depth. I went deeper and deeper and deeper into playing the guitar, and grew more and more passionate about it.
Here’s another example. I studied in Sydney. This was my first time leaving America, and it opened my eyes in so many ways. I realized the world is not actually what it looks like on American TV. That was amazing. Then I became interested in traveling. When I was at uni, I went to Italy for a couple of weeks, and wrote a story about it. Then travel became even more interesting to me.
As I got older, I made good money investing in property, and decided to start traveling because I loved it. I bought a one-way ticket to Malaysia, not knowing how long it was going to last. It lasted three years, because I was so passionate about it. My passion for travel was not a deep passion, but a wider passion, wider in variety and breadth and width. I was doing all sorts of different things.
Every time I had a new or different experience, I wanted even more new and different experiences, whether it was seeing the Festival of the Hindus in Malaysia, or visiting concentration camps. I visited all kinds of places, just to expand my mind and expand my experiences. I became passionate about traveling, but in breadth, not in depth.
So, there’s different kinds of passion. Everybody has their own balance and it’s different for everyone, but these are some examples. Are you starting to understand what I mean by passion? Perhaps you’re thinking, Now I get it. I see what you’re talking about, but I just don’t know what my passion is. How do I find my passion? Have you ever asked yourself what your passion is? Okay, cool.
How many of you believe in love at first sight? Raise your hand. Okay, cool. Well, I’ve got some bad news for you guys. [Laughter] It’s a fairy tale. If it ever happens, it’s just serendipity. It’s just chance. I don’t believe it’s real. It’s the same with finding your passion. You’re at the bookstore one day, flipping through a book. Someone walks up to you and says, “Hey, what’s up, man?”
You answer, “I’m just searching for my passion.” And then, “Holy shit! There it is! I found my passion! It’s on Page 78 in this book!” No, that’s not how it works. That’s not how you find your passions.
Passions have to grow. They’re not just discovered. Passions are grown, not discovered. Just like love. You don’t discover love. You fall into love. What I’m suggesting is that you start thinking about falling into passion. Now, how do you do that? That’s the next question. How do you fall into passion? If you can’t force love, and you can’t force passion, what can you do?
Obviously, if you want to fall in love, you can’t sit at home all day and never meet people. You’re not going to fall in love that way. You’ve got to be around people so you can set yourself up and give yourself some really good odds at finding passion.
Which brings us back to the first question I asked. Notice, I didn’t ask you, “What are your passions?” I asked you, “What do you like to do? What are your interests?” Because that’s where it begins. And discovering the things that you like to do (or would like to do but you’re not doing now) is the next path you take to fall into passion. But you need a start.
The next thing I would have you do is list ten things that you would like to do. The next problem that typically comes up is, “Wow. That’s great. I can see the things I’d like to do, but I’m not sure I could ever do any of those things.”
And I would respond, “Well, I’m going to talk to you about that, but hold on. Let me teach you one more thing. Let’s get some clarity around which of these ten things you’re interested in could actually develop into passions. Let me share with you my formula that will help you discover those things about which you could be passionate.”
When I was a little kid, I liked to shovel snow. I’d shovel snow with my dad, driving the snow shovel around and creating paths like figure eights. My dad would always say, “No, no, no. Do it this way. Straight, like this.” I would do what he told me, but it was never as much fun. I wasn’t as excited about what he wanted me to do, and I became less passionate about it.
When I was at university and playing in bands, I started building websites for the bands. I enjoyed it. I’d stay up until three in the morning writing code, nerding and geeking out. And it was fun. I was passionate about that. Then I started doing it for clients, who always needed the website done by a certain date. It wasn’t as fun anymore.
What happened? What changed with those things? What made them go from being fun to not fun? Any ideas? I’m going to tell you. Don’t worry. [Laughter]
Yes, responsibility, that’s part of it.
Freedom. That’s the word. My freedom was taken away. To be totally passionate about something, you have to feel free to do it. You have to be free to feel it. When I was in my band playing, there was no way I could have been passionate about it if I was unable to choose who played in the band. I was passionate about travel photography, but there’s no way I could be passionate about taking pictures of crying kids in a studio. I was passionate about photography and I was passionate about my band because I had the freedom to decide how I did the photography and who was in the band.
Now, I don’t want to get you hung up on the idea that you have to be free by some external standard. This is about perceived freedom, as Marcus was just talking about. It’s about perception. As long as you perceive it as freedom, then you are free. At this point, I’d tell you to go through your list of the ten things you’re most passionate about, and place an “F” next to the things which would give you that feeling of freedom, whatever freedom feels like to you.
Let’s talk about the second way to find your passion. Think back to when you were a bartender or a waiter or working retail. A job you liked in the beginning, but then after a while, it got boring. Who here has had a job like that? Anybody ever have that? Yeah, okay. What happened there? What happened?
It got stale. I couldn’t grow.
It got stale. You couldn’t grow. Did you look at my notes? [Laughter] No more answering my questions.
You didn’t grow. You were growing at the beginning of the job, because you were learning. Then you hit a ceiling, and you couldn’t grow anymore. The passion was turned off. The moment you stop growing, you stop having access to passion, because passion depends on growth. You need to be improving just enough to keep you moving forward, to maintain that desire, the belief that you can actually do better. So put a “G” next to all the things you listed that you like to do, which will satisfy you, and have an infinite potential for growth. You want to keep growing.
Let’s talk about the third way to help discover your passion. At the end of my third year traveling, I was living in a tent and cycling my bike. I had just cycled the Pacific Coast of the United States. I was about to cross into Mexico (because I was headed to South America) and was sitting on a beach in L.A. watching the sunset. I thought, I’ve been traveling for three years. I’m living my dream. I’m growing. I’m free. And yet, something’s missing. Like I’m living the dream, and I’m still not satisfied. Something is wrong with me. I had to figure out what was wrong.
Let me give you a hint. If this roof caved in, right now, I’m pretty sure the first thing you would do is ask yourself, Am I okay? Am I okay? But what’s the second thing you’d think about? Somebody tell me.
But the minute you realized that you were okay (after the roof caved in) what would be the next thing you would think about?
The guy next to you.
The people around you. The guy next to you. I’m okay. Are you okay? Instantly! The second you know you’re okay, you worry about if the people around you are okay. I believe this is a core driver in all of us. And Marcus talked about this before, about giving. About altruism. And this is not only part of fulfilling your life. This is about passion.
And the thing that kept popping into my head was that I was raising money to build a library for kids in Cambodia. All of a sudden, I was ready to stop traveling and do something about this passion. I realized that contribution (the letter “C”) was a necessary component to fulfillment.
Since then, I’ve discovered that contribution is not only necessary for self-fulfillment, but is also a vital part of feeling passionate. For me to believe, for me to perceive that what I’m doing is bigger than myself, I have to be making a contribution, doing something for the greater good. Again, it’s about our perceptions. That’s where it comes from. So put a “C” next to all the things you’d like to do that you think would give you a sense of contribution. It’s going to be different for everyone. F. G. C.
Once you’ve marked each of the ten things you’d like do with “F” for freedom, “G” for growth, and “C” for contribution, you might be thinking, Oh. I get it. I can really see how the things I’d like to do could turn into passions, if I was actually able to do them. But man, I just know myself. How do I get the motivation to do these things? Does anybody ever wonder that? How you start doing this stuff? Just nod like this. Nobody can see you.
Let me talk to you about motivation. It’s one of my favorite topics. It’s one of my top tips.
It’s interesting, because passion is a kind of motivation. I call it perpetual motivation. Because passion is the kind of motivation where you just feel this energy within, and it keeps you doing something. You don’t have to have the carrot and the stick anymore, because you feel motivated from within. The reason why I haven’t used an alarm clock in ten years is because I wake up excited each and every day. It comes from within. It’s that passion. It’s that feeling.
You know when you’re a kid and you’re going on holiday? You can’t sleep the night before. You’re too excited, and you can’t wait for the day to start. That’s how passion is. That’s how passion works. So, perpetual motivation. That’s what we want. But, you don’t have it right now, or don’t have as much as you want. How do you get there?
When I was sixteen, I had a pickup truck. It was my first car. It was a four-speed, manual shift. After about a month, the starter stopped working. So, every time I parked it, I had to make sure that I parked it either on a flat street or downhill. Then I’d have to open the door and push the car until it starting going. Then I’d jump inside, pop the clutch, put the thing in gear and it would start.
And it would run. It would run fine, but I had to do something manual. I had to use some additional energy in the beginning to get me to that point of perpetual motivation. To get me to the point of passion. So, you need raw, external motivation and strategies to get you doing the things that you would like to do.
Another question that you might ask yourself unconsciously is why do I not do all the things that I want to do? Isn’t that weird? Do you ever even think about that? You really want to do these things. Why are you not doing them?
My friend James has helped a lot of people make changes and become motivated in their lives. He talks about the amygdala, the part of your brain that creates your emotional drive. The signals that the amygdala sends to the rest of your brain are 75 percent dedicated to avoiding pain and 25 percent dedicated to seeking pleasure. This means that most of your brain is working hard to keep you safe, and that only a small part of your brain is working hard to make you feel good.
For as many years as human brains have existed, they’ve been working mostly to keep you safe. Now all of a sudden the world has expanded, and there is more stuff that we want. Some of the things we want may be perceived as dangerous, and our brain has yet to adapt. We’re stuck here, staying safe, and it creates this kind of inertia. You have to overcome that in order to get moving.
So, let’s talk about this idea of perception. Because think about it for a second. Your brain is trying to keep you safe based upon how you perceive the risk. And the risk of the situation is just some ideas that you have. They are based on your perception, which comes from your perspective.
My friend Mark has this cool idea that he calls reverse role models. People often ask me, “How did you end up traveling the world? I’d really like to do that, but my parents don’t think it’s a good idea. My friends think it’s irresponsible. I have a career.”
I always ask them if they would like to live the lives of the people that are telling them not to do the thing that they really want to do. They usually answer no. You have to realize that the advice your family or your friends are giving you comes from what they know to be safe, and that’s what will end up leading your life. So if you don’t want their lives, you need to do what they’re telling you not to do.” They are reverse role models.
Think about your perceptions. Think about how your perceptions are causing your fear. Because actually, the fear is just an idea. You’re not about to fall off a cliff. It’s much more complex than that. It’s about undoing your perceptions. Digging deep. Figuring out where these fears come from.
The second thing you can do besides looking at the fear in a different way is to understand fearlessness. That’s a big word, and sometimes a scary word. But I believe that your more passionate life always exists outside of your comfort zone. Always. It has to.
So, instead of looking at fear as a stop sign, what if you looked at fear as a sign post leading you towards your more passionate life? It’s still going to feel like it feels—but if you feel it, that means you’re thinking about it. If you’re thinking about it, that means you care about it. If you care about it, you’ve got to do it so that you become fulfilled. So that you’re really living. You’re really living.
What’s the third factor? We talked about fear, and looking at fear in a different way. We talked about using fear as a signpost. The next thing you need to learn is how to move beyond that fear. You need to turn that desire into what I call a need-strength desire.
You need to need it, because until you need it, you’re not going to do it. And that also comes down to perception, and that is about the why. Remember I asked you why you want to live a more passionate life? You have to come up with a reason why that’s big enough to move you. And that creates emotion. And emotion causes motion. Emotion causes motion.
Obviously, I can’t do that for you here. If we were working one-on-one, I’d work to figure out what your reason is, because everyone’s different. We would work to help make you feel, to push you forward. And there’s other people in this room that can help you. James can help you. Marcus can help you. Matt can help you. Figure out your reason, and have it fire you up to push you forward and get you moving.
Those are three tips to getting the pickup truck started so you can jump in and get that perpetual motivation. But, there’s still one piece missing. I know you’ve become excited before. You’ve all been excited about something. You’ve been motivated before. You started. But then after a while, whatever motivated you just died off and you stopped. What’s that about? I thought you said all you have to do is this, then the truck would keep going? What’s that all about?
An experiment is being done in Berlin where they put give volunteers an MRI. Each volunteer is given a box to hold, and each box has two buttons. All the person has to do is push one of the buttons the moment they decide they want to push that button.
In the next room is a researcher looking at a computer screen, and watching the activities of the volunteer’s brain. When a volunteer pushes a button, the researcher sees it on a timeline. He’s looking at the areas of the brain that light up. And the researchers found a definitive correlation between certain areas of the brain lighting up and certain buttons being pushed. One area of the brain lights up when you push the left button, and another area of the brain lights up when you push the right button.
What’s crazy about the correlation is there is a gap in time. The researcher can see what your response will be six seconds before you actually push the button. Six seconds. What does that mean? I’m not going to stand here and say that means you don’t have free will. The theory is that your decision process is deeper than your conscious thought. That the thoughts you think you’re having are actually far deeper than the surface thoughts, and are a result of your existing neurological patterns. The things you do habitually.
I want to give you an example of this. Everybody clasp your fingers together like this. Clasp your hands together. Interlace your fingers. Notice which thumb is on top. Now I’m going to have you separate and then reclasp your hands, but have the other thumb on top this time, so all your fingers switch by one. Does that feel a little bit awkward? Yes, because you’re used to it the other way.
Now, I’m going to count to sixty, and every time I count, you’re going to open and clasp your hands back together. You’re going to do it the awkward way every time. And each time you clasp your hands together, squeeze. We’re going to do it sixty times. Ready? All right? Sixty times.
One, two, squeeze, three, four, five… Fifty-five, fifty-six, fifty-seven, fifty-eight, fifty-nine, sixty. Separate your hands, and just put them together in whatever way comes naturally to you. [Laughter] How did it go? It’s not going to be the same for everyone, right? How does it feel? Does the new way feel a little bit more comfortable than before?
Yes. Repetition. It creates new neurology in your brain. Something that felt awkward a minute ago now started to feel normal. Now, obviously this will fade. You’ve got to do it many more times, over time, in order to make a permanent change.
You have to do this in life, as well, in order to live your passions. You’ve got to build habits. You’ve got to use motivation to get you going, and each time it starts to wane, you’ve got to use motivation to keep you going until you create habits. And once you have that consistency and commitment, the habits create possibility for growth, freedom and contributions to forge a new passion.
Obviously if I could sit down with you, one-on-one, I would go through this. But I am offering you three choices. The first is there’s a piece of paper in front of you with a checkbox and an e-mail slot. Put your e-mail on there. On Monday, I’ll send you a worksheet that lays out this entire method. You can try to do this by yourself. And if you do, please send me the results, because I’d love to read it.
The second option is that I am offering ten people a private session where I will help you plan out your passionate life. I’m offering this at one-third the normal cost, and the first ten people that talk to Faye (that pretty blonde in the back) will get to sign up for that.
The third thing is obviously I do coaching and mentoring. If anybody is really interested in working with me to develop a more passionate life, come talk to me. We can talk about that as well.
Whatever happens—whether you just download my worksheet or we end up working together—my hope is that this piece of paper with all its words, lines, and circles lays out a plan for you for a more passionate life. That you go off into the world and you start doing new things. That you start to create habits, and break through your fears, and you push yourself. That you learn to understand yourself better.
A few months go by or maybe a few years. I bump into you some day, somewhere. I ask, “How have you been? How have you been since the talk?” And you start telling me what you’ve been up to. You start talking about this thing and that thing. And you don’t even realize how much you’re talking, because you’re going on and on and on—modestly but excitedly. You’re bringing your whole world to me and talking about it with so much energy.
I stop you, and I say, “Wow! You really live a passionate life.” And you stop for a second. You look surprised, but you think about it, and you say, “Yes. I guess I do.” Thank you. [Applause]