A lot of people view interests and passion as something that is only to be discovered. There are a lot of books on how to identify your interests and passion. Very little is said about how to create passion. Yet, there are many people out there who say they don’t have any interests or passions that are worth pursuing.

Interests and passion aren’t something that is necessarily only determined by our genes. Our environment has a huge part to play in determining the interests and passions we develop. I have two little boys. If you ask them about their interests and passions, they change by the season and it usually depends on the type of TV shows and books they’ve been reading. It also depends on the kinds of friends they’ve been hanging out with. Both of them have changed what they want to do when they grow up many times in their short lives. Each time, my wife and I can simply look back at the things they were exposed to and tell.

This is exactly how we adults develop interests and passions. It is through exposure to our environment. If you go to Bengang, a village in Cameroon, and ask people about their interests and passions, you won’t hear a single person talk about wanting to become a firefighter. Why? Because there are no firefighters in their environment. Ask many young people in the U.S. and you would hear many say they want to become firefighters. Why? Because they are exposed to that career option in their environment.

The common way to develop an interest or passion is passive. Through unconscious exposure to the environment, our hearts and minds become impressed with messages that include the needs and opportunities around us. As a result, we start developing an interest or passion. Again, this happens passively, without us paying much attention to the change that is happening.

The second, equally viable option is to intentionally expose ourselves to the transformative influence of opportunities and needs around us. This is the active way of developing a passion.

I know people who never thought of dedicating their lives to serving orphans until they encountered suffering orphans. When they experienced their suffering, a paradigm shift occurred. A burning passion developed in their hearts and they gave up everything they had to go serve orphans for the rest of their lives. They may have had previous passions but those were replaced in an instant by a new all-consuming life passion. This doesn’t only happen in the domain of caring for orphans, it is true in the area of meeting other social needs.

You can intentionally develop an interest and passion for something by focusing on the social need, allowing yourself to walk in the shoes of those who are suffering and then choosing to do something about it. As lives are changed, you become excited, your brain physiology and the neurotransmitters it secretes literally change. You become happy and passionate about something new.

You have seen a person whose child dies from cancer. After experiencing the pain, they become passionate about helping other families who are going through it.

Michael J Fox has personally experienced Parkinson’s disease and has dedicated himself to helping find a cure. That’s a passion he might not have had without being exposed to the challenges of Parkinson’s disease. And his foundation isn’t trying to find a cure for the disease just for himself. He may not live to see the cure. He is passionate about helping others because he has experienced their pain and walked in their shoes.

Many people try to shield themselves from the suffering and needs of others. But that’s a very easy way to develop a passion for helping those people. Just to be clear, one doesn’t actually have to contract a disease like Parkinson’s to empathize and connect with those who have it. We can vicariously experience it.

If you want to create a passion for something meaningful that you would love doing, identify a pressing social need that can allow you to add value to the lives of others in major ways. The bigger the transformation or impact that your work can add on them, the more the reward. After identifying a problem that is both 1) a huge pressing need and, 2) has a large market or number of people who will appreciate your service, then allow yourself to experience their pain by simply trying to empathize and walk in their shoes. Visit them and live with them and see their struggles. Reflect, meditate, pray for them. Choose to help them. In the process of doing all these things, a huge passion will develop, especially when you start seeing the impact you are having on them.  Meaning in life comes from being good and doing good. Feelings and emotions (and passion is an emotion) will always follow when you are productive at doing something that is truly changing lives and making the world a better place. It is very addicting.

If you aren’t one of the many people who have stumbled onto their passion, you are one of the privileged few who has been entrusted with intentionally creating your passion.