Is “Passion” Complete Nonsense?

David Andrew Wiebe

Photo by Ian Schneider/Unsplash

Are you clear on what your passion is?

Or do you feel like it’s elusive?

In everyday conversation, the term “passion” is thrown around rather casually, as if it’s easily found. We even seem to identify with it as though it’s tangible.

We tend to make a big deal about passion, because a lot of successful people seem to attribute their success to it.

“Follow your passion,” they say.

But is passion real? Or is it complete nonsense? Does it even matter?

Are We All Born with a Passion?

The attitude towards passion has changed considerably in recent times. And it’s become trendy to be anti-passion.

Just 10 to 20 years ago, platitudes about passion were akin to the nectar of gods – the words we’d been yearning for and longing to hear.

Today, young entrepreneurs are quick to dismiss it by saying, “Passion? F--- that.”

Former Forbes contributor Michal Bohanes said:

Following your passion presupposes that you have one. But many people don’t. While everyone has a unique combination of talents, most people’s inner orchestra des not coalesce into playing a tune they can hear and dance to.

Here, Bohanes mostly offers a business-based perspective on the issue of passion, suggesting that passion doesn’t take nuances like market conditions into account.

And he is right. Business isn't just about you. It's also about your prospects and customers.

But either way, his point is well-taken. Some people don’t have a passion. And trying to force that idea onto them is doing them a disservice.

Is it Worth Trying to Figure Out What Your Passion is?

So, maybe you aren’t sure whether you have a passion.

Is it worth searching for? Should you try figuring something out anyway, even if it’s just to have a rote answer to “what is your passion?”

Author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck Mark Manson has an article titled Screw Finding Your Passion.

It is a characteristically Mason-esque title, but he makes some good points in this piece.

He notes that he gets tons of emails from people asking what they should do what their life and flatly states, “If you don’t have any idea what to do with yourself, what makes you think some jackass with a website would? I’m a writer, not a fortune teller.”

But the part of the article that I like most is where he talks about remembering what it’s like to be a child.

When we were children, we didn’t question what we did with our time. We didn’t compare the merits of one activity over another. We just did as the spirit moved, without any prompting.

Maybe that’s a clue. Maybe “following your passion” is just going and doing without micro-analyzing everything. Maybe it’s following your bliss.

Should I Just Give up on Passion Then?

As trendy as it has become to be anti-passion, maybe no one’s wrong.

In their own way, everyone is expressing their own truth, and while we may disagree, that doesn’t make anyone else automatically wrong.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from author and lecturer Werner Erhard, it’s that as we seek to understand something, adding more meaning to it doesn’t necessarily elucidate what we’re trying to understand. Doing so can make it murkier!

In other words, going in the opposite direction, and ”disappearing” passion, creates the space necessary for us to be able to see passion for what it truly is.

It allows us to make up our own minds about passion.

So, before arguing the existence or merits of passion, the first thing we should be doing is following in the footsteps of Bohanes and Manson, questioning what we think we know about passion.

What Most People Don’t Know About Passion

In his book, Die Empty, author Todd Henry says:

“Passion” has its roots in the Latin word pati, which means to “suffer or endure.” Therefore, at the root of passion is suffering.

Passion and suffering are mutually inclusive.

Platitudes like “follow your passion” seem to insinuate that passion is somehow easy, when in fact, it’s not.

The question is not “what do you love to do?” The question is “what is something you’re willing to suffer for?”

There’s a significant gap between what we find pleasurable, and what we would sacrifice ourselves for.

Most of us might be willing to suffer for our significant other, our children, and maybe our best friends.

But suffering for a cause? A business? A project? That sounds difficult.

So, even though it’s tempting to write off passion as B.S., it’s pointing to some part of us we may have never explored. It’s prompting deeper self-discovery.

Greater self-discovery can come from examining what we are willing to sacrifice and suffer for. Because that’s where true passion can be found.

Substituting Passion for…

As someone who grew up in Japan, I believe there’s a great deal we can learn from their culture in terms of passion.

Author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up Marie Kondo teaches people how to keep their homes organized.

But she is teaching more than just organization. She is teaching people to be happier, by eliminating things in their lives that no longer bring them joy.

Another simple but powerful concept is Ikigai, which is largely misunderstood.

Japanologist Nick Kemp sought to educate people on its true meaning in episode 772 of the SuperFastBusiness podcast, and he does a good job. But it's easy to overexplain.

Ikigai basically just boils down to your purpose – a reason to live.

And your reason for living can change over time. It might be your business, or spouse, or children, or grandchildren. Or some other passion.

But if you have a purpose, a reason to live, isn’t that your passion?

And, if you can accept that this might be a moving target as your live progresses, would it put some of the confusion to rest? Would it help you find more joy in the moment?

Final Thoughts

I don’t believe passion is irrelevant. It's not nonsense.

But as someone who spent much of his 20s trying to figure out what his passion was, I would simply advise you to do what you enjoy doing.

That’s what I did – I followed my impulses and tried a lot of things. I didn’t succeed at everything, but I always learned something. And most of the time, the process was enjoyable.

Passion doesn’t need to exist for us to feel good about life. But we can better understand its presence by imagining its absence.

And it may be worthwhile to return to a childlike attitude, allowing ourselves to explore and worry less about making mistakes.


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