Passion Is Dead. Stop Talking About It Already

2010 September 16

I’m sick of passion and exhortations to discover it, embrace it, follow it, stay true to it, etc. Maybe it’s because I’ve been watching a lot of Top Chef lately (pairs well with rebounding from food poisoning) and have heard contestant after contestant blather about being passionate about food, or maybe it’s because the internet is downright lousy with folks throwing around passion-related platitudes (their own or ones they’ve cribbed from Bartlett’s Quotations), but enough is enough.

Photo by Sebastian-Dario

Passion and all the talk about it is overrated. It breeds self doubt. It’s okay not to be passionate with a neon capital P. That doesn’t mean you’re dead inside. Some folks just aren’t born with the potential for obsessive devotion gene and making them feel like slackers or outliers for not having an all-consuming passion (Cooking! Teaching! Collecting vintage Pez dispensers!) is not cool in my books. If that’s not how your brain and heart work, there’s no amount of pep-talking, cheerleading or example-setting that is going to convert you. You can’t get there from here. And worrying that you’re broken for not being able to name the one thing that defines you is unnecessary and stressing about the absolute imperative of discovering your passion (because it must exist, yes?) keeps you from living in the here and now and blinds you to what would satisfy you/content you/meet your needs, which is some pretty useful intel to have.

And even if you are one of those fiery types, what if you haven’t found your passion? Or you’ve found what you thought was your passion, but you’ve reached the exhaustion point with trying to master the perfect crepe or you realize that paying the rent has to come before indulging your love for micro-brewing or photography? Does that mean you’ve been doing it wrong? No, it just means you’re human. And like the rest of us, you don’t have an unlimited attention span and boundless energy and you realize that caring 110% 24/7 about X (or Y or Z) is exhausting and untenable, even for the most single-minded. It’s normal to feel burned out and feed up sometimes. Think about when you’re battling a nasty cold and even the idea of your favorite food in the world (prepared by someone other than germy ol’ you, obviously) is of little interest. Same deal. Doesn’t mean you fail at Authentic Living 101.

So, let’s ditch passion (and god, please let authenticity die with it). Forget about zeroing in on it, pursuing it, measuring it, rhapsodizing about it. Focus on persistence instead. Rather than trying to identify the one pursuit or calling that is supposed to transform your existence into a unicorn-filled, adrenaline-fueled zen paradise, identify the values and activities that keep cropping up in your life. What endures? What persists? What do you keep returning to? Maybe it’s writing in one form or another. Maybe it’s activities that involve being around children, or solving problems, or building things. Maybe it’s boys who make you laugh or girls who remind you of your third grade crush. Start identifying the (positive) patterns in your life. Boil them down to their essence (helping, creating, fixing, seeing the humor in life) and then think about all the contexts and circumstances in which you could find or recreate these ideas. Suddenly, it’s no longer about trying to find one all-encompassing ardor to last all the days of your life, but making a list of 38 careers and 29 volunteer possibilities that could satisfy your desire to work with people or a page of potential sport-related activities that could fulfill your need for outdoor adventure.

Bottom line? Persistence trumps passion. And opportunity opens more doors than obsession. It might not be as quotable, but it’s much less exhausting.

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