July 19, 2018

When I was in high school, I had a brief fling with ceramics. I took one pottery class, and then another, and quickly fell in love with the way clay felt in my hands and the satisfaction of molding something out of nothing. For a while, I thought I had a career as a brilliant sculptor ahead of me. I would win awards! Show my art in museums!

And then, things got tricky. A bowl I made exploded in the hot kiln. I tried to sculpt a snake and ended up with what looked like a wet ponytail. If ceramics were truly my passion, I decided, it should be coming more easily. So, after a few years of fun, I set pottery aside.

Sound like a familiar experience?

Maybe your "pottery" was drawing, dabbling in code, writing handwritten letters, or even belting out Aretha Franklin tunes. And when it got tough, you might have pushed it to the side.

There's a reason we do this: According to a recent study, many of us have what’s called a “fixed theory” when it comes to our passions—we think of interests and hobbies as things that are already out there, ready to be found, ready for us to be good at ASAP rather than grown and developed through time and hard work. It has to come naturally—or it's not for us.

But this mentality, the study found, doesn’t quite serve us. Researchers found that those with a fixed theory were less likely to stray outside of their established interests. Basically, trying to "find" our passions can keep us from discovering new things we could love.

We think of interests and hobbies as things that are already out there, ready to be found, rather than grown and developed through time and hard work.

Plus, the researchers found, thinking of a passion as something you “find” makes us more likely to quit when the going gets tough.

The solution? Try thinking of passions as things to be developed, not stumbled upon. The researchers call this perspective "growth theory."

"Encouraging people to develop their passion can not only promote a growth theory, but also suggests that it is an active process, not passive,” study author Dr. Paul O’Keefe explained. “A hidden positive implication of a growth theory is the expectation that pursuing one's interests and passions will be difficult at times because people are less likely to give up on them when faced with a challenge.”

Try thinking of passions as things to be developed, not stumbled upon.

Here, how to develop—and stick with—a passion.

1. Show Love to Your 'Sideline Interests'

You know that thing you love to do, but push to the side because you haven’t exactly nailed it? Take it seriously.

You don’t have to quit your job to paint landscapes, sure, but try giving a little legitimacy to the hobbies you enjoy, no matter your skill level. That could mean setting aside a certain amount of time to practice each week, or just changing the way you speak about your passions. If you find yourself belittling your hobbies, or acting as if they don’t matter, catch yourself and switch to more positive language.

2. Invest In Your Hobby

I took an adult ceramics class at a local YMCA a few years ago, and that same tactile satisfaction returned almost instantly. And while—spoiler alert—I’m still not winning any awards for my groundbreaking reinvention of the coffee mug, I could feel myself getting a little better with each class.

Many rec centers, local colleges and libraries offer adult classes in a range of subjects. Out of your budget? Try joining a group or club to hold you accountable—and share your interest with others.

3. Remind Yourself Why You Enjoy It

The next time you feel discouraged by the hard work you’re putting in—or the lack of ease you might think you should be feeling—make a list of what it is you like about that hobby or passion.

Is it the rush you get from finishing a crossword puzzle?

The calm that comes from playing the guitar?

Chances are, these positives outweigh the frustration of not feeling naturally good at whatever you’re pursuing. And remember—even the greats felt inadequate.

4. Try Something Wildly New

Love music? Try planting an herb garden. Ready poetry for fun? Pick up a calculus textbook. Throw yourself into a task that feels wildly different from what you’d typically do, then stick to it, even if it feels difficult.

The goal isn’t to “find” an unexpected passion— it’s to get you out of your comfort zone and remind you that there’s more out there.

You're more than one thing, and it's never too late to grow a new interest.

Read next: Why Your Passions Should Be a Priority)