Author: Jennifer Sutherland-Miller

How to Build a Passion Driven Life

There are two types of people in this world: those who are living passion driven lives, and those who are not.

You know them instantly when you see them, and the difference is glaringly obvious. Two people living, externally, very similar lives can be as different as the princess and Cinderella on the inside, and it leaks out of every pore. You know exactly what I mean because you’ve seen it. The difference has very little to do with what they’re doing and everything to do with why they’re doing it.

What are the primary differences? Choice and control.

People who live passion driven lives do three things:

  1. They identify their passions
  2. They make choices
  3. They take control

Here are three things they don’t do:

  1. Follow the crowd without thinking
  2. Live to please other people
  3. Let their externals define them


I can hear you arguing with me already, and you’re right, partially. Not everyone has the desire to do something great or different. Not everyone has the money they wish they had. Some people have very real limitations: health, physical ability, or family situation.

“This idea that anyone can do anything if their dream is just big enough and they work hard enough is a lie.”

This idea that anyone can do anything if their dream is just big enough and they work hard enough is a lie. There are things we cannot do. There are seasons of life we cannot do them in. We have responsibilities and have made choices that limit our freedom.


Welcome to the real world. Does that mean we can’t live passion driven lives, even if we had kids at an inconvenient time, have a job that ties us to Fargo, North Dakota, are caring for an aging parent, or are physically unable to climb mountains or get outside of a reasonable radius from our healthcare support team?


In a word: No.


My dad taught me a lot of things, but perhaps the most empowering lesson is that my greatest limitations are within my own mind. There is almost always a way around the physical issues, or a compromise that can be made; the key is to apply strategy to the situation and free our minds to think about things in a new way.

What Does This Have To Do With Living a Passion Driven Life?

passions sailing

If you’re like most people, you’re probably doing your best just to keep your head above water.

  • You work your job
  • You’re involved in your community
  • You take care of your kids
  • You run the circuit between home-office-school in an endless loop
  • Your weekends are filled with home maintenance and little league
  • You live for your 2 weeks of vacation

You’re bored, and you’re exhausted. But you’re also obligated and dedicated, and you’re not the sort of person to drop the ball. You work hard and do what you have to do to make ends meet, keep a roof over head, get the kids raised, move up the career ladder, and keep all of the plates spinning.

So why, if you’re doing all of the “right things,” does it feel like something major is missing?

Why do you lay awake at night wondering if this is all there is?

Why do you feel like you missed the boat somewhere?

Because you’ve lost your passion. So let me ask you something:

What Are You Passionate About?

passions teaching

One of two things just happened: Either your brain just exploded in fireworks and inspiration started pouring forth in the form of one and two word answers that are miles deep.


Or there were crickets in your head… chirping… silence… “I got nothin’.”


If your brain is exploding, get a pen, start writing it all down, everything that comes to mind. Make lists. Write paragraphs. Delve into those passions and explore the corners.


For me, my passions include:

  • Travel
  • Writing
  • Education
  • Art
  • Literacy projects
  • Humanitarian work in developing countries
  • Expanding ecological awareness
  • Encouraging others to live their dreams
  • Learning languages

What’s your list?

Now For You People With The Crickets

passions paraglide

This is a serious problem.


Let me assure you that you do, in fact, have passions. You’ve had them in the past. They’re just latent somewhere. They’ve gotten buried under layers of demoralizing realities. You’ve let them die.

“The first step to living a passion driven life is having some.”

Beginning today you’re going to start actively seeking your passions. You’re going to make time to think about them. You’re going to prioritize feeding them. You’re going to allow yourself, no, require yourself to develop your passions.


Why? Because the first step to living a passion driven life is having some.

Here are some questions to get your juices flowing:

  • What would you do if you could do anything at all?
  • What does your perfect day look like?
  • If you could change the world in one way, what would you do?
  • What do you wish you had more time to do?
  • What makes you fighting mad?

Take some time this week and explore the answers to these questions in depth, peel back the layers of your answers while you drive, wash dishes, fold laundry, eat your lunch, and brush your teeth, make your commute, care for your dependents, or shovel snow. The clues to some of your passions are in there, I promise.

So Now What?

passions bakery

Here’s the part most people are messing up. Are you ready?

Most people are living to work.

They’re prioritizing everything around their job and their responsibilities, leaving very little time for themselves, the things they’re truly interested in, and their passions.




Backwards, people!! No, no, NO!

The key to living a passion driven life is to work to LIVE.

The work you do gets prioritized around the living you want to be doing. You live for your passions, and then you find a way to create the income you need around that. Sometimes that shift is one that only happens within your own head, but it’s the key point. It’s the magic that makes the mundane meaningful.


I know, I hear you: you’re already asking a million questions about how that’s possible when you’re already flat out, maxed out, and up to your ears in shit you’re not enjoying.

“If you’re not living from your passions, you’re going to die having done none of the things that matter most to you.”

How can there possibly be any time for anything more, or better? How can you possibly find the time or space to live from your passions?

Well let me tell you something harsh: You’re dying.

Right this moment, you’re dying. I’m 100% sure of it, because we all are. If you’re not living from your passions, you’re going to die having done none of the things that matter most to you. True story.


You want your epic life. You want to live a passionate life. You want to live your dreams.


The odds are good, if you’re reading this site, that travel is one of your passions, but I’m betting you have others.

  • Perhaps you want to write a novel, or farm instead of pound the pavement.
  • Maybe you want to start an arts school for the under privileged in Honduras, like my friend Duane did.
  • Or maybe you want to build windmills to draw water for remote villages in Malawi like my friend Phil has done.
  • Maybe you want to create meditation centers in India and Thailand like my friends Chinua and Rachel have.
  • Or perhaps it’s simpler for you and you really, deep down in the bottom of your soul want to build a little house off the grid and aim to work 60 days a year because that’s all you’ll need to support your little family and raise your kids. That’s my brother; he sailed all the way around the world over a five year period before he found his dream right back at home.
  • Maybe you want time to create art, or live intentionally with your kids, or perfect the art of the perfect loaf of bread.

Here’s What I Know: Your Passions Are Worth Your Time

passions music
Without them, you’ll die a little every day as your soul slowly withers away from the outer shell of your life. Remember that pinata project you made in fourth grade? You applied layers and layers of stuff to the outside of a balloon, and when it dried you let the air out of the balloon and you were left with a hollow shell. Like that.


Your passions are those things that inflate you, that provide the support you need to bear the layers of other things. Your passions are the essence of you and what makes your life worth living on the inside. Are you nurturing those? Or are you letting your balloon deflate and wither inside the shell of something that may or may not be “you?”

“Your passions are the essence of you and what makes your life worth living on the inside.”

I’m going to do something I don’t usually do: I’m going to give you some homework. It’s not for everyone, it’s just for those of you who ended the last paragraph with a light bulb coming on, or a hollow feeling in your gut – for those of you who’ve just realized that you’ve let your passions slip out of your reach. So are you ready?

Here’s Your Homework:

  • Identify your passions: Take the time to think, to make some lists, to remember what lights your fire.
  • Set a goal for yourself, putting your passions at the center instead of shoved out to the fringes.
  • Decide what you are going to DO this week to move yourself forward? How are you going to turn the tables on the status quo and begin to live from a place of passion? How are you going to re-prioritize so that you begin living your life, your way?

If you’d like to tweet me your answers @bootsnall, I’d love to hear them, and we can work our way forward together!


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