Till about a few years back, talking of “following your passion” in an Indian context would have been futile, for you really didn’t have much of an outlet for what you liked doing. But that’s no longer true. The market has truly opened; people are willing to back you, especially in tier-1 cities, and your mistakes can be overlooked, at least by others. But all this still demands excellence. And excellence, my friend, is in doing the boring stuff well.

Following your passion starts by knowing your passion and as Robin Sharma quips, “People who study others are wise but those who study themselves are enlightened.” So, let’s delve deeper into this seven-letter word.

Here’s my definition: Passion is anything that you do without any external motivation. Put differently, passion is something that you don’t get tired doing. It doesn’t have to be profound or noble. Watching movies, gossiping, cleaning your house, chatting with friends, window shopping – any of that could be a passion. The interesting thing, however, is that “passion is blind”. While it can drive you, it can also quickly exhaust you.

Passion without reason can certainly waste you. A teacher is passionate and so is a murderer, but for entirely different causes. Said Khalil Gibran, “Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul.” While your passion propels you, your reason directs you. Passion comes from heart, reason from mind. We need both, especially a true, internally inspired passion. “Passion that is not the result of some commitment or attachment, passion that is not lust,” suggested Krishnamurti.

Your passion can be infectious – for your team, organisation and even customers. Identifying himself as someone who is excited by ideas and grounded by empathy, Satya Nadella is passionate about putting empathy at the centre of everything he pursues. As he took on the leadership at the struggling Microsoft in February 2014, the company was deeply fragmented, characterised by a “know-it-all” culture. But over the years, Nadella turned around the once-pioneer into a technological magnate and into a “learn-it-all” culture.

Nadella deems a company as a vehicle to channel individual passion for the larger good, and in the case of Microsoft, it’s about building products that empower others. So, you see, passion is not just a private affair; it can rally troops, provided you display it viscerally.

Kalanithi was passionate about writing, for he always contemplated between excelling in neurosurgery neuroscience or becoming a full-time writer. But the diagnosis of cancer at age 36 changed his calculus, and what he produced in his last few months is arguably one of the finest pieces on spirituality. His memoir, When Breath Becomes Air, left Bill Gates in tears. It’s almost of the same gravitas as Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.

But let’s see what passion looks like towards the end of your otherwise very promising career. On Kalanithi’s writing regime, Lucy, his estranged wife, remembers:

Paul wrote relentlessly, fueled by purpose, motivated by a ticking clock. He started with midnight bursts when he was still a neurosurgery chief resident, softly tapping away on his laptop as he lay next to me in bed; later he spent afternoons in his recliner, drafted paragraphs in his oncologist’s waiting room, took phone calls from his editor while chemotherapy dripped into his veins, caried his silver laptop everywhere he went. When his fingertips developed painful fissures because of his chemotherapy, we found seamless, silver-lined gloves that allowed use of a trackpad and keyboard. Strategies for retaining the mental focus needed to write, despite the punishing fatigue of progressive cancer, were the focus of his palliative-care appointments. He was determined to keep writing.

Only passion can take you through the most difficult phases of your life. Passion gives you a sense of joy, a drive to pursue something bigger than yourself. And this joy is very much personal. Others may wonder at your enthusiasm as unwarranted, but don’t bother; you don’t owe anything to most others. While I play my guitar at street corners for it delights me, most passers-by don’t bother with a first look. Perhaps that’s how I developed a thick skin.

Here’s a real testimony of passion. Twelve North American writers have won the Nobel Prize in Literature between 1901 and 2015, and yet none of them had an MFA (Master of Fine Arts). Four of them never even got past high school. Neither Quentin Tarantino nor Christopher Nolan, two of the finest directors of our generation, ever went to a movie school. Maybe that’s why.

“I’m a self-taught filmmaker. I never went to film school. I never studied filmmaking,” admits Nolan. “I started making films when I was seven years old. Making films using my dad’s Super 8 camera and action figures doing stop-motion films. A little bit of animation and a certain amount of live-action and I just carried on making films as I grew up and, over the years, they got bigger, hopefully better.”

Acknowledge that passion drives the purpose, and not the other way around. If you are driven, then you will find the means, including expertise, if necessary.

Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, writes in his memoir, Made in America, that his primordial passion is to compete. Building one of the world’s most prominent business empires out of the small town of Arkansas, Walton suggests, “Believe in it more than anybody else. I think I overcame every single one of my personal shortcomings by the sheer passion I brought to my work. I don’t know if you’re born with this kind of passion, or you can learn it. But I do know you need it. If you love your work, you’ll be out there every day trying to do it the best you possibly can, and pretty soon everybody around will catch the passion from you – like a fever.”

What propels me? Reading, writing and teaching. And it’s virtuous. I am lucky to be able to do it daily, and better still, get paid for it.

Let me highlight three attributes of passion.

Firstly, don’t be perturbed if your passion isn’t permanent and it keeps changing over time. It’s perfectly all right, for life is giving you precisely the discovery process that you must undergo before you do something remarkable with what genuinely propels you. Sachin so much wanted to be a fast bowler before he became a legendary batter. And as the Master Blaster, or as many call him, the God of Cricket, recounts, “First it [cricket] needs to have a solid foundation in your heart – and gradually from that solid foundation I believe you start building as you grow up, start playing more matches, play a better standard of cricket; then gradually it finds its way to your brain and you start figuring out how to score runs and how to take wickets. But if cricket is not in your heart then results are not that great.” Find your cricket.

Secondly, don’t worry about convincing others about your passion. Your passion is a private affair. It may not get you economic or social value, to begin with, but if you are good at it and you keep at it, you will hit a breakthrough. How about being a cricket commentator while cornering a degree in engineering and then an MBA from one of India’s most coveted management institutes, IIM Ahmedabad? Yes, you guessed it. We are talking about Harsha Bhogle. Though not a very accomplished cricketer, by age 19, Bhogle was already commentating for the All India Radio. His passion was heard through the mic. In 1992, he became the first Indian commentator to be invited by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. That was quite a feat for a non-cricketer. And over my growing up years, Bhogle’s is the fondest voice on the subject. As he writes in his book, The Winning Way, “Skills can be more easily taught, attitude can’t…and at the very top is passion, an extraordinary drive, where success and joy come together for win after win.”

Lastly, don’t settle till your passion converges with your profession. Though that might have once been too much to ask for, but not any longer. During the 1960s and 1970s, one had to be an obedient government servant or a resourceful merchant during the day and then attend to one’s passion post-work hours: painting, singing, writing, gardening, playing musical instruments, or what have you. But that’s not true anymore. You don’t have to live a split life, hoping that when you retire you will engage with your passion full-time and till such time, you keep finding love in your work. No more. You must strive to make a profession out of your passion. And you do it by gaining mastery and showcasing your work. If there’s no market for you, create one.

An MBBS by qualification, Devdutt Pattanaik followed his interest in reading religious scripts and mythology before obtaining a diploma in Comparative Mythology from Mumbai University. After dabbling with companies like Sanofi Aventis and Ernst & Young, Pattanaik found his calling at the Future Group as its first Chief Belief Officer. By then his passion and profession were almost approaching singularity, and then he shook up the Indian business and political landscape by bringing his unique perspectives from spirituality to the practice of management. He created a niche for himself from nowhere, all by following and investing in his passion.

You get to your passion, often accidentally, but till such time you must keep tinkering. Often people wait for passion to “occur” to them, while they forget that they aren’t the chosen one. It’s always humbling to ask the question ‘Why me?’ before you ask “Why not me?” You fumble towards your passion instead of unwrapping it.

In your lifetime, you have a chance to discover your true passion for yourself, strive to be the best at it, and then figure out how to offer value to those around you. And don’t settle.

Excerpted with permission from Design Your Career: Lead Self, Lead Others, Lead Change, Pavan Soni, Penguin Business.