Oh, finally! After beaucoup years of nonsense about “finding your passion” and “following your bliss,” people of influence are finally telling us more ordinary sorts a better truth.
Passion is not a path. Passion is not a guidepost. Passion is really not a will-o-the-wisp phosphorescent light that dances ahead of you and maybe leads you into a bog or something.
Passion is a feeling. It comes, it goes, it morphs, it grows. And, more than anything (like every other human feeling), passion is a go-juice you can use to make your moves in the world.
ABOUT THE WORD “PASSION”
For years now “passion” has been a word that postmodern pop self-help psychologies and the human resource contingent have embraced.
Running with it, they have been dragging the lot of us all over the landscape looking for that special source of personal motivation that will spark up a certain intensity of feeling that will somehow give extraordinary meaning to our existence as we know it.
It’s sort of ironic when you consider that the word itself comes to us from a Greek word that actually means “to suffer” and “to be acted on” that morphed into the Late Latin (chiefly Christian) word passio, “passion or suffering.”
It makes more sense when you understand that at one time “suffer” used to just mean “to undergo.”
It’s interesting to note that the ordeal that Jesus the Christ went through during his last days on earth (leading up to and beyond his crucifixion and then resurrection) was dubbed as the “passion of Christ” in early Latin translations of the Bible beginning in the 2nd century CE.
Over time a lot of other meanings (both secular and sometimes downright sexual) got dumped on the poor word and “passion” became a lot more nuanced. By the 13th century, the word “passion” was used to refer to any strong emotion.
Poets kept playing with the word until, by the end of the 16th century “passion” came to signify some uncontrollable emotion like rage or a strong sexual attraction or deep love.
Poetic passion involves a lot of trauma and drama and make the best kinds of stories that you really don’t want to have to live through. Many popular writers and poets down through the centuries sure had a lot of fun with it.
Nowadays in our everyday world the word and the concepts surrounding it seem to have gotten more than a bit hackneyed. It’s gone amorphous and bland. For some, it has even become synonymous with “disappointment” and “disillusionment.”
THE PASSION “PROMISE” IS A CON
These days we are assured by many self-help mavens and other celebrities offering a profundity of life-advice (mostly in graduation and other motivational speeches) that if we look hard enough we’re supposed to be able to find this “passion” thing somehow.
For years now they’ve been telling us that if we do find some passion or other and then pour it into the work we do in the world then the world will make a stellar sort of sense, our ducks will all line up, and our lives will go along swimmingly ever more.
We are further assured that mixing in passion with our work would rev up our disengaged and limping motivational engines and miraculously fix our unproductive “bad” attitudes post-haste.
Mostly it did not quite work out that way.
For one thing, passion isn’t a something that you “find.” It’s already there in you (or it’s not).
However, where the passion “promise” really went wonky was when the human resources contingent got ahold of it and started beating us over the head with the thing.
They tend to quote some fake Confucius thing: “Do the work you love and you will never work again.”
Ummm…guys, for real, there are jobs that need to be done that nobody can love. They still have to be done and somebody’s gotta do them. And, sometimes, that somebody is you.
Even the work you love is going to have boring parts and parts that frustrate you and other parts that are just plain unsatisfactory.
Deeply held passions do help you find grand directions to explore and passion can help you get through the parts that suck. What it doesn’t do is magically make the suck go away.
The passion promise can even be a downer if you’re doing work you love and you hit a bumpy place. If you’re expecting smooth sailing just because you’re doing the work you love, you may be blindsided by perfectly normal pitfalls and potholes in your chosen road.
Even worse, you may get some nasty shocks when you reach the top of your beloved mountain and can see all the other higher mountains to be conquered in the distance.
PASSION AS DREAM-REALIZATION FUEL
Myself, I’ve always tended to follow the poets. I believe their take on the word “passion” – that it is a deeply felt emotion as well as a source of turmoil, chaos, and change — is more right than not.
I also believe the smarty pants who’ve studied such things and say that all of our very human emotions are the most readily available kinds of fuel we can access for moving our butts around in this old world.
Because of this, I’ve come to the conclusion that passion its-own-self is like high-grade fuel. In my world, passion is just another kind of “go-juice.”
Renowned life-coach Mel Robbins agrees. Here’s her 2020 YouTube video, “Why ‘Find Your Passion’ Is Terrible Advice.”
Robbins’ most important takeaway is this: “Passion is the energy that you bring to everything that you do.” It’s not what you do; it’s HOW you do it.
It makes sense, that.
As far as I can tell, in order to develop your own personal mana and refine your power of agency and your ability to just do stuff that’s focused on making your dreams come real you probably need to have a large holding capacity for passion (and even that can be grown).
Some folks come into the world with huge reservoirs of passion and have intense emotions and feelings just oozing out of them; other people, not so much.
Some people who often become the recognized visionaries among us develop their capacity to hold all kinds of passions to a very high degree.
(Those who we may consider “mad” are more likely to be wannabe visionaries who fail to focus or control their accumulated cache of passions, but that’s another story.)
Recognized visionaries of various sorts in more recent times have pointed out how passions can, indeed, fuel our own makings.
Harriet Tubman once told us, “Every great dream starts with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
Nelson Mandela pointed out, “There is no passion to be found in playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”
Steve Jobs once said, “You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out.”
The caveat to all that is the one about not letting your passions push you around in directions you really don’t want to go. As Ben Franklin once advised, “If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.”
Old Ben (a.k.a. The Pragmatic One) did have a point. Passion can be an inflammable and most destructive thing. (Just ask the poets and the storytellers.)
The trick, if you’re going to follow Old Ben’s advice, is not to let reason dampen down and smother the fire it helps you generate. (You don’t want to run out of steam, ya know.)
THE GROWTH AND FEEDING OF PASSIONS: LEARN SOMETHING
The cool part in all this passion stuff is that you can develop a passion for anything by concentrating your attention on some fascinating-to-you bit of the world or other. The feeling of passion is often compounded by your stores of knowledge and the insights and understandings you’ve collected.
Passion grows and is fed by your curiosity. Passion expands when you do things as you follow where your curiosity leads you.
One resource you might like to keep on your bookshelf to explore is the 2017 book, MINDSHIFT: Break through Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potential, by educator, writer and engineer Barbara Oakley.
Oakley is the creator of what’s touted as the most popular massive open online course (MOOC) in the world, “Learning How to Learn,” which she has taught for years alongside legendary neuroscientist Terrence Sejnowski.
Click the button below to learn more about their Coursera class:
You don’t have to “find your passion.” You just need to grow one. You can even grow more than one. In fact, you can grow as many as you can hold.
Combining a number of passions that you hold can help you realize some dream or other or advance a cause that you believe in and then the world is gifted with some new thing that helps the people all around you live better lives.
ADOPT SOMEBODY ELSE’S VISION AND GROW YOUR PASSION
Author and vlogger Simon Sinek has an interesting take on passion. In his 2020 video, “Where Passion Comes From,” he points out that most of us ordinary sorts are not particularly good at being the kind of visionary who can come up with a clear, realistic and credible vision that impacts the whole world.
We don’t have to be.
We mostly do know the kind of world we’d like to live in and we can choose to help make that one more real in the place and the time where we are.
What could be better than living in a neighborhood that has all the things and people you like?
If we want to grow our passion, Sinek says, all we have to do is go look for and find somebody else’s vision that resonates with us and then use our innate talents and the skillsets we’ve developed in our lives to help make that future world come real.
Here’s a poem:
The wise guys
They all say
Life’s a dream,
No more than
A glimmering gleam.
In an instant
It can vanish
Like some phantom
Shadow flickering past
Your eyes’ corners.
This one dies,
That one leaves,
The other one
Loses his way.
The plot thickens.
This game lost,
That one shattered,
The other one
Scattered like chaff.
Where’s the wheat?
This treasure snatched,
That one ruined,
The other one
Null and void.
It’s all gone.
A lifetime built
Around small passions
Melts away in
The acid of
More empty space.
And your heart
Again breaks open,
One more time,
The pieces piercing
Through the veils.
And you sit
And pick up
All the pieces
As you wonder
About the sequel.
They tell me
Passions help you
Move the world.
And help to
Make it sparkle.
Seems to me
Passions just help
You figure out
How to get
Yourself to Next.
Is it good?
Is it bad?
It isn’t indifferent….
Life keeps calling.
What’s your answer?
By Netta Kanoho
Header Photo Credit: “Passion Spring” by Nathalie via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
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