How many of you have fallen in love with this statement “follow your passion”? And how many of you have come to realize that this call is not enough to lead you in some certain direction?
I tell you, I did. I just loved this sentence when I saw it – how many years ago now? As much as I loved it, I didn’t feel guided by it, it was such a diffuse promise. So what are my passions, I asked myself. Dancing, reading, travelling. And what do I exactly do with it? Become a professional dancer? But first, I am not so young to start this carrier (I was over 30 then), and second, do I really want to be a professional dancer? Well, no. I want to enjoy dancing as often as possible – but I don’t want to perform on stage and practice for hours, let alone mentioning the competitions. And some of my other passions are just like this: I enjoy doing them once a while – but I don’t want to build my whole life around them.
So you can guess how glad I was to read a take on passion in Elisabeth Gilbert’s latest book on creativity “Big Magic”. She says that she used to be a preacher of “follow your passion” – all until she was faced with a fact that there were so many people who didn’t know what their passion was. And such preaching to them was like rubbing “you’re a looser” in their faces. Besides, she said, that call is kind of illogical. Because passion is by definition something you burn for – and you do it. So those who know their passions – they do follow them already. It is in the nature of the thing. Can you call something a passion – and do nothing about it? While those who don’t know, just get confused and frustrated by this call.
So what is the solution, asks Gilbert. Follow your curiosity instead. It’s not possible there’s no curious bone in you, she says. So follow it. You can never imagine what it can lead you to. For E. Gilbert her curiosity to gardening led her to the idea of the botany novel, for example.
The same idea is expressed by Dan Lerner, the teacher of Science of Happiness class at NYC university (in the podcast on Good Life Project, see the link in my previous post). He says that many people think that passion is something you recognize at once as your life’s call. Like you walk onto something and know immediately – this is what I was meant to do. While it may work for some, it doesn’t work for everyone. And we are illusioned by such examples of people with the strong feeling of call – which we don’t observe in ourselves and which keeps us frustrated. We think that this is how it functions, when it really does so only for some. People don’t know that it takes three years to develop a passion. And often it starts with an interest. You just follow that interest, you keep on doing it – and then after some 3 years you say it is your passion. Though in the beginning you didn’t recognize it as such.
Alain de Botton makes a similar point in his “Job to Love” (by the School of Life). We haven’t learnt how to discover the work we could love. We imagine that it will be revealed to us by a sudden pull of a magical feeling. But, he supposes, you can do it without relying on this mystical method, and learn instead some techniques that will help you to discover your strengths and pleasures that you derive from work. In the book he presents exercises that can help one in such inquiry. You can, for example, examine your favorite childhood activities and what exactly you liked about them. Or you can read a list of twelve pleasures of work and see which apply to you and how you would distribute them according to your priority.
And my own question is: why do we want to bind the notion of passion to work only? What if passion was a way of living one’s life, which can be reflected in your relationships, your hobbies, your own philosophy and ideas? Passion as a lifestyle – what do you think about it? How would it color your life?