Passion Projects: Bridging the Gap Between Thought and Action

By Mia Foster

   It is easy to feel lost and powerless during this shut-down, as we derived purpose from the daily routines we structured, the work we did, and the social lives we tended to. Without these identifying factors to cling to, a majority of us, myself included, have had difficulty reshaping our identities and finding the motivation to work on something new. However, we must adapt to this new format of our lives. As the world we knew came to a stop, so did many of our dreams, aspirations, and projects–but it doesn’t have to stay that way. American professor Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky said it best; “some of us may wonder whether it is feasible or even possible to continue striving toward our goals during times of crisis…but commitment to goals during such times may help us cope better with problems” (Lyubomirsky 207-208). If you are feeling purposeless, lost, or sluggish, you are not alone. Feel what you feel–your feelings and emotions are valid. Once you are ready to take action and begin to feel better, creating goals that truly interest you can reignite a fire and provide a sense of purpose. We are going to take the leap from thought to action and start our own Passion Projects!

What is a Passion Project?

     Simply put, a Passion Project is a project that you do because you want to. This want is not the desire for the instant gratification of a piece of chocolate or the purchase of a luxury item; it is, as Harvard professor Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D. explained, a goal “we pursue out of deep personal conviction and/or a strong interest” (Ben-Shahar 72). A Passion Project is enjoyable during the process of completion, and the project, most importantly, is meaningful to you. Getting started on work that energizes you and matters to you personally can be a daunting but extremely rewarding process. The hardest part is leaping from thought to action, but it is entirely doable with guidance, support, and the bravery that you’ve been saving for “someday.”

Thought to Action

     I have recently had an experience I’m sure many of you can relate to. It was nighttime and I couldn’t settle on something I wanted to do, so I resorted to scrolling through Twitter. I read the Tweets of politicians I felt were blatantly lying about the state of coronavirus in the United States, and their supporters simply lapped up the lies without a second thought. My rage consumed me– in a government where the truth was not valued, how could I manage to make a difference through logic and reason? I felt unrepresented and powerless, like nothing I did would allow me to share my ideas and be listened to by politicians with differing viewpoints. I felt that the partisan divide in our country barred me from having legitimate discussions with half of the population. I wondered why I felt so powerless, and then it hit me: I had all these passionate beliefs inside of me and did nothing with them but leave them to fester. I never did anything about the things that upset me, but I expected my ideas to be considered nonetheless. If you need a kick in the butt to get started, like I did, author Mike Dooley phrased it perfectly: “Intent, or thought without action, is not enough” (Dooley 80). It’s time to act!

     Passion Projects are a way to pursue something that brings you joy while restoring a sense of purpose. As Coronavirus cases slowly skyrocketed in my home state of Washington, I began fundraising for Washington Youth for Masks, a nonprofit focused on purchasing masks for hospitals in Washington, a few weeks back. I fell in love with the project because I found its mission compelling and mainly because it provided the purpose I had been lacking. There was work to be done, and I refused to be complacent as I watched others in my community fight the virus on the front lines. Fundraising might not be your cup of tea, which is ok; this is something that excited me. Your Passion Project will be tailored to you and your interests. A direct benefit of having a long-term goal is that its “pursuit provides us a sense of purpose and a feeling of control over our lives” (Lyubomirsky 206). To regain footing in the new lifestyle of a world in lockdown, a personalized goal is necessary.

How to Craft a Passion Project

     Your Passion Project is yours–you have total autonomy. I am providing suggestions I believe are helpful for success and fulfillment, but ultimately, you have the power, and I’m excited to see what you do with it!

     Here are some tips for creating a project you find inspiring and fulfilling:

  • Think about issues or areas of interest that truly excite you. Do you like writing? Gardening? Music? Math? When watching politicians, what issues do you really care about? What policies do you support? What do you wish was different about your community? What do you enjoy that you want to share with others?
  • Choose your project based on what you want.
  • “Your priority should be to discern which goals will make you happy in the long term and to follow them” (Lyubomirsky 206). 
  • Find a project you will enjoy working on- “when goals facilitate the enjoyment of our present experience, they indirectly lead to an increase in our levels of well-being each step of the way, as opposed to a temporary spike that comes with the attainment of a goal” (Ben-Shahar 70-71). 
  • Take your interests and the thoughts that ping around in your head at night and brainstorm ways to put them into action. Avoid self-judgement here- we seem to have taken the “why not try?” approach with our hair during quarantine. Let’s apply this ambition to new, courageous projects! We’ve all got time, nothing to lose, and so much to gain. There’s no better time to go for it!

Making Abstract Concepts Concrete

     At this point in the process, you have thought of something or multiple things that you care about that energize you. Hopefully you have some ideas forming about how to act on these interests. If you don’t, it’s ok! Back up a little, continue brainstorming, and be gentle with yourself. If you do, it’s time to pull the concepts out of your imagination and put them in a tangible form; tell someone you trust, type it out, make a list. I personally enjoy using whiteboards for organizing my thoughts. By being able to physically see them, I can focus on the logistics of bringing my ideas to fruition instead of focusing my energy on trying to remember my ideas. Most importantly, by taking your thoughts and putting them into some format outside of your head, they feel real. A Passion Project involves goals, not daydreams. Your ideas deserve to be actualized!

     Once you’ve finished moving your thoughts out of your head and into the physical world, you can begin to plan the physical actions you will take to bring your project to life. Focus on the small steps so it isn’t overwhelming! All you need is a few small ideas to get you started. Trust that you will continue to find new ways to further your intentions as you go. I find that writing this part out is beneficial as well, but do whatever works for you! Here is an example of how I am currently pursuing a Passion Project:

My interest: Politics and Government

My desire: To be able to make a positive impact on the lives of Americans through government

How: Get involved in local government

Getting started: Email a state senator and see if internships are available

Future: Who knows? It is ok to not have the entire project planned perfectly. By giving myself the freedom to continue planning and inventing as I go, I can enter the internship with an open mind and make the most of the opportunities I find. 

     Of course, this is easier said than done. It took a tremendous amount of courage to step out of my comfort zone, which is talking about what I care about but never doing anything. Taking the step of sending that email was the hardest part. I had to believe in the validity of my goals and my ability to achieve them. This type of step is much easier with someone beside you!

Involving Loved Ones

     We are social beings. The support of those we love is important to us–so ask for it! Tell those close to you about your plans so they can provide encouragement and hold you accountable for following through. They can celebrate with you when you hit ‘send’ on the email and remind you why the project matters when you are feeling down. Don’t skip this step, it is so important!

Taking the First Step

     This is truly the hardest part of the process. Remember why you want to do this. Write it where you can see it. There’s nothing to soften this–take the plunge! By doing this, you become the driver of the car instead of the passenger. You no longer wait to see where life takes you, but choose the destination yourself and drive. You have so many wonderful things to accomplish. Your future self is looking back at you and smiling, grateful for the day you took the leap and took action. Let’s go!


     Before doing any work on your Passion Project, make it a habit to remind yourself why the work matters to you. When you care deeply, you will find an unbreakable dedication. The people who make a difference and experience fulfilling success are just as human as you and me. There is nothing holding you back from making a positive impact on the world! Remind yourself this: the work you do matters, and you matter. It is much easier to follow through on a plan when you approach it with love instead of fear. Do it because you love it, and always remember that love. 

1 Comment

  1. What a well thoughtful and well organized article! I think it’s so important to take that first baby step so that your project is out in the world and not just in your head and you stated that so nicely. Good work, Mia!!


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