Passion: Understanding one of the mysteries of life

Credit: Kaboompics.com

Credit: Kaboompics.com

When I wrote my recent post about confidence, I thought that this concept was one of the most confusing and mysterious things in life. Little did I think about another concept that makes ‘confidence’ seem as obvious as 1+1. Not only is this one even more mind-boggling than confidence, it also seems to be one of the most fervently discussed concept in the last few years. Yep, today I finally decide to shed (another) light on that thing called passion.

I intentionally avoided talking about this so far because it’s something that bothers me incessantly. “You gotta be passionate. You just have to find your passion.” It has become the alpha and omega of life. The silver bullet to all sufferings; the solution to avoiding and/or escaping the terrifying prospect of a corporate life that you hate; the cure to the malaise of living a life where you despise every waking second of your existence. To that end, I thought it would be obnoxious to give you yet another post about “why passion is so important to the meaning of life and intergalactic space travel.” But the more time passed, the more I realized why there are actually so many blog posts and articles about it.

Because… it’s actually fucking important. It really is. It simply took me a while to figure out how I wanted to tackle this discussion in a way that a) makes sense, b) resonates with you, the reader, in an honest and genuine way, and c) doesn’t tick you off because I sound like “one of them” telling you to be passionate. Because of all that, this post is going to be largely explorational and not necessarily a telling-you-what-to-do post. Onwards then!

 

Curiosity

The thing that scares people to death about passion is the notion that this is THE decision of their lives. This is the ONE THING they absolutely must get right for their lives to make sense. It’s almost more monumental a decision than who you decide to marry and have children with in the future. It’s no wonder then that people are so anxious about this. Thankfully, I came across a far more sustainable, less fear-inducing point of view for passion: curiosity.

At the very least, it will keep you pleasantly distracted while life sorts itself out. At the very most, your curiosity may surprise you.
— Elizabeth Gilbert

Instead of always chasing the golden star of your one true passion that will set you free, perhaps it's better to find something that intellectually fascinates you. The reason I like this approach is because it’s so much better for people that aren’t permanently enthusiastic and excited about everything in life. It’s a less in-your-face approach for the lower-energy, more introverted types out there. To them, it’s bloody kryptonite to tell them to find something that they’re excited and/or hyper-ecstatic about because you’re not speaking their language. Therefore, this calmer approach relies much more on intellect than on fickle emotion. Relieving, right?

 

The other side of the coin

Obviously, that’s not all there is to the story. I came across a very different side of this discussion as I explored it in the Realm of Darkness (read: the Internet). I found myself reading an old Reddit thread where two of the comments caught my eye. They were brutally honest and suggested that finding or not finding passion has become an excuse for people not willing to get their shit together:

Honestly mate, finding your “passion” is not the problem. It’s your unwillingness to commit to a role or field of study is the problem. You seem to be the guy to give up at the first sign of real work, incapable of handling any discomfort. You think your “passion” is this magic thing that you will find enjoyable and easy ALL the time AND will instantly make people throw money at you. People don’t care if you’ve found your passion for painting licking, they care that you add value to their lives. To create value requires work, often it requires a lot of work upfront. You won’t find any nice words from me today (the other comments will make up for that)

————

”Passion” as it stands is intended to give you a reason to slog through hardship to get to a certain point, not to make the whole experience rosy and fun. Rather than focusing on finding a career that you find enjoyable, perhaps you need to sit down and work backwards — what sort of an impact do you want to have? Get past the narcissistic stage and think outside of yourself. In your life, how would your work impact others, and how would you want to impact them? Identify a reason to work in general and then move on from there to find a career that reflects that reason. When you start seeing results (or even before), you will likely naturally develop a passion for your work.

The first comment especially is a painful but honest take on the matter. What it says to me is that first of all, no matter how much you love something, it’s always going to feel like work eventually. Unfortunately, there’s a misconception that if you find your passion it’s going to be great and awesome and rainbows will shoot out your ass at every waking moment. This leads nicely to the second point of these comments, which is that the difference between working on any other regular activity and “doing your passion” is that you have to give a shit about this. That deeper sense of commitment and care is going to drag you through the days when working on this thing feels like crap. Or, as Dorothy Parker once said, “I hate writing; I love having written.” If you don’t care about it, you won’t have the grit or mental fortitude to grind through the rough days and complete that work.

That fortitude can come from the knowledge that you’re doing this not to make yourself feel gloriously happy every day but instead are working for something greater than yourself. It could come from the fact that you’re adding real value to people’s lives and that you witness the tangible impact of this work (as I talked about a while ago). Nevertheless, everything is eventually going to be work, but it’s up to you how you treat the significance of that work.

For the first time, Vegeta is fighting for someone other than himself, controlling his own fate.
— Piccolo

So here are two more take-aways for you then: stop using your lack of a passion as an excuse to not commit to something and care about something greater than yourself. Which leads me nicely into my next point… (alright that’s a lie, I just edited everything so that it would flow this way. It’s not some grand coincidence.)

 

Don’t stop the feeling

When we think of the professions that require self-sacrifice, we think of teachers, firefighters, doctors in impoverished regions of the world, and policemen. That said, most of the people in these professions are terribly underpaid but continue to show up day after day. One must wonder, then, why they continue to do so, right? Surely it must be because they know that their work is for the greater good of man and, consequently, the feeling they get from that is worth the lack of finance.

The feeling.

This is the next act in this wonderful play of passion and triggers an important thought process. Instead of asking yourself what your passion is, perhaps the better question to ask is this: “what is the feeling I want to have from my work?” This shifts the discussion from an outcome – I want to be this or that and pursue such and such a passion – to a process – I want to feel energized, alive, or like a Super Saiyan all the time.

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive
— Howard Thurman

No matter how rough a person’s life is, I’m certain that every one of us has something that makes us feel alive. The problem is that you probably think that this has to be something that, as I mentioned earlier, makes you super-hyper-amazingly-ecstatically-happy-excited-all day-every-day-all-the-time (I think you get my point).

But it doesn’t!

Don’t let people make you feel guilty just because your thing doesn’t make you come alive in the same way as it does with other people’s passions. It makes me think of how Goku and Vegeta enjoyed the thrill of a deadly fight so much that it made them really come alive. Fate of the world at stake? “Man I’m having so much fun Vegeta!” It seems nonsensical, but that isn’t the point; the point is that it was their thing.

Why? That is the question people ask me most. Pourquoi? For what? Why do you walk on the wire? Why do you tempt fate? Why do you risk death? But, I don’t think of it this way. I never even say this word, death. La mort. Instead, I use the opposite word. Life. For me, to walk on the wire, this is life.
— Phillipe Petit (Movie: "The Walk")

 

Why be one thing?

I have to admit, I always looked down on Reddit and saw it as a place where angry keyboard warriors bitched and moaned about their lives and blamed their shitty predicaments on “the system.” So on that note, I do apologize to Reddit and all Reddit-ers because it’s actually an extremely interesting place to visit if you find the right thread. For the topic of passion, Reddit offered me another fantastic comment:

The ‘click’ moment for me came when I met someone I would describe as a Renaissance Woman. She was an event organizer, she was in a band, she hosted painting exhibitions and she was a pretty fierce activist. She can’t possibly say “I am a ______” because she is so many things. She is a great organizer, her paintings are okay, but have their own charm and her band is kinda wacky. She doesn’t care though, because she’s doing all the things she wants to do. Projects keep snowballing for her, and she’s never bored.

I want to be a Renaissance Woman! I want to write, then illustrate a book, then travel and photograph wildlife, then work as a carer for disabled people, then start an online company.

You don’t have to do only one thing, you don’t have to absolutely love the one thing forever and ever, and you don’t have to stick with it.

Fuck it. Be a Renaissance Man.

A wonderfully-delivered thought that is as liberating as it is dangerous. It is liberating because it makes it clear that if the one thing you thought was your ‘passion’ ends up being an absolute disaster, it won’t be the end of the world! You can try one thing, then another, and whatever else that you like if it truly fascinates you and makes you come alive. It doesn’t define you as a person if you mess up in one thing, because you can just try with another thing later if/when it doesn’t give you that feeling you hunger for anymore. Passion isn’t static, it’s dynamically fluid.

However, it is dangerous advice because, as the other Reddit user mentioned above, jumping from one thing to another can become an excuse for your unwillingness to truly commit to something and put in the hard frikkin work. On that note, Angela Duckworth offers some interesting advice.

I think that one of the skills that one must develop in life … is to learn to substitute nuance for novelty.
— Angela Duckworth

Instead of moving on to something else at the mere sight of a new shiny toy to play with, try to discover a deeper level of your current interest. For example, if you love software development, learn about software development in small businesses vs. big corporations, or maybe different coding languages. Whatever it is, try to build depth within a topic before increasing the range of topics that tickle your interest.

 

Scarcity

The final act that this fanciful play of passion has in store for us is, without shame, a bit related to economics. I’m honestly amazed I managed to squeeze this one in (phrasing!) in a way that still makes sense but it’s a refreshing and very logical take on the issue of passion (and the lack thereof) in people today. It comes courtesy of Peter Diamandis from a recent Art of Charm podcast episode:

As individuals we’re becoming so empowered today, that mindset is the only restrictor. There’s no lack of capital: we have $15 to $20 billion dollars in crowdfunding. There’s more angel capital and venture capital than any time before. So capital is not an issue. Access to knowledge is not an issue: with Google you can know anything you want. Access to experts is not an issue. Access to computing power is not an issue.

So then what is the scarce resource? The scarce resource is the passionate, committed mind. The person who says ok, I am going to make this happen.
— Peter Diamandis; The Art of Charm episode 587

Once I heard it this way, it really made sense to me because it’s so damn true. There’s all the money in the world these days; we have all the technology, knowledge, books, and experts. Google will answer your every question within the nanosecond. There’s more opportunity than ever before to make a solid living in non-traditional fields: social media, selling subscription underwear, playing videogames, selling origami, and SO, SO much more. With all those resources to our disposal, what then is the missing piece of the puzzle? What is the Key that will unlock people’s hearts?

Perhaps that truly is the key then.

The passionate, committed mind.

See you, Space Cowboy.

 

Useful Resources

·        Fizzle Show Episode 201

·        Freakonomics “How to get more grit in your life” episode

·        Peter Diamandis on the Art of Charm

·        The Reddit thread where I got all those comments