top of page

Successful Aging: Important questions that will help you find your passion

Question: I recently retired as a senior scientist from a laboratory. Several people have asked me what I plan to do next. Some have asked, “What is your passion?”

To be honest, I have loved my work but never described my work or interests as my passion. I don’t know if I have a passion for something to do in my retirement. I almost feel guilty not being able to answer the question. Am I unusual? — S.G.

Answer: Dear S.G.,

Most middle-age and older adults were not coached on finding their passion. When we were growing up our parents typically wanted us to prepare for work rather than “filling our heart space” or embracing our passions. Our parents were practical.

From my experience, the word “passion” was not part of the conversation or vocabulary except when it came to romantic relationships. Typically one pursued something of interest that tapped our abilities that would lead to a job or in some cases for a young woman who when married had little or no need to work.

That was the 1950s mentality. And if one had immigrant parents — survival was prime followed by fulfilling the American dream of owning your home and raising responsible children — before any conversation about passion.

Times have changed. Articles, books, websites and coaches are in the business of helping us find our passion. Web titles such as “Five Steps on Finding Your Passion” and “The Secret to Finding Your Passion” are plentiful. “” is a domain name that is for sale. Then there is the professional title of “Life Passion Coach.” Help is out there.

Finding your passion is a mantra directed to everyone from college students to retirees searching for fulfillment and happiness.

Fortunately, experts in the field have developed questions to address that can help us in the search.

What is something you are really good at doing, that comes naturally to you and that you could do with little or no effort? You don’t have to be good at it.

Think about what you loved to do as a child. Did you love horses, dancing, fixing a car or singing?

Take note of what you are doing when you lose track of time. That could be reading, writing or star-gazing.

Identify what brings you joy: grandchildren, symphony, ice hockey, biking, theater, cooking or a fine meal.

What would you do differently with your education if you had a chance to start over? If you had no fears, doubts and no need to please others, what would you do in this life? What is something that you can talk about for hours that makes you feel excited and energized?

When you were a child, what did you dream of becoming when you grew up? If money were not an issue, what would you love to do with your life? Whose life do you envy and why?

Although finding your passion sounds like good advice, not all agree. A recent study by Stanford scholars suggests a different approach. Paul O’Keefe and Carol Dweck write in the Stanford News, “Instead of finding your passion, try developing it.”

They continue that the idea of finding one’s passion implies that we have built-in interests waiting to be discovered. And that once the interests resonate, pursuing it will be easy. The researchers note that true passion is developed by being open-minded about delving into new areas.

Dweck conducted a study to address whether interests are fixed qualities waiting to be discovered or do they take time to develop?

Two types of students were recruited: techies and those interested in the arts and humanities. They were given two articles to read — one related to technology, the other to the humanities. Students who had a fixed mind about interests were less open to an article outside their interest area; implying that being narrow and committed to one area may prevent you from developing interests in other areas.

My recommendation: Do both; look inward, using past experience, what’s familiar and your dreams and then look outward. Dive into something new that you’ve never done before; something that excites you. This takes some effort and thought which will pay off in the long run.

S.G., Thank you for your good question.

Next week we’ll take your question a step further and share an additional approach to create a future of passion.

Contact Helen Dennis at

bottom of page