Our society puts a high premium on finding your passion and dedicating your life to the pursuit of that passion.
This gives rise to stress and social pressure. We all want to know what our “passion” is so that we can be successful at that passion as soon as possible.
This societal pressure also fosters many harmful misconceptions about the pursuit of passion. One of the biggest misconceptions on the pursuit of passion is the idea that your greatest passion should be your favourite activity.
Here’s why I think this conflation is problematic.
Passion is a feeling
Passion is a feeling characterized by fire and fervour. You can feel passion towards many things in life. You can even be passionate about lots of different things all at the same time: sports teams, television shows, the stranger you made out with at the bar last week.
Pursuing these particular passions though will not necessarily lead you to a “life of passion.”
Living with passion, or living fervently, means that you’re not only inspired to act but you’re also excited to act in ways that ignite the fire of your heart. Your actions, dreams and direction in life are aligned and guided by this inner fire. Feeding this inner fire is how we find fulfillment.
That fire in your heart is your greatest passion. This is why our greatest passion is often more than just one of our favourite activities. I personally really like singing in my car. I like to dance at red lights and switch between radio stations until I find a song I can sing along to. I’m not going to pursue singing though. I know that pursuing singing as a career or even as a hobby wouldn’t make me happy. It’s okay to like things and for those things to not be your capital “P” passion in life.
Passion & Resistance
I sometimes think the reason we “can’t find” our passion is that we believe our “passion” should be our favourite thing. We believe we should want to spend every waking moment working on our craft. The adage “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” is harmful for it makes us feel like frauds when we meet challenges or obstacles in our craft.
Obstacles, whether they're external or internal, are a natural part of the creative process. Whether you’re a painter, an engineer or a community organizer, if you’re doing creative work, you will one day encounter difficulty. It’s important to know that’s part of the process. It doesn’t mean you have to quit what you’re doing and find a new passion.
As a writer, I know writing is not my favourite activity. I’d much rather sleep or watch Netflix. Watching Netflix is relaxing and entertaining but it does not provide me with a sense of accomplishment. That’s how I know it’s not my capital “P” passion. I don’t finish a movie or TV show and find that the fire in my heart has been fed. In fact, after watching TV, I often feel a great nagging to get back to work. It’s as though that fire knows I’ve been procrastinating, it can tell I’ve been resisting it.
In his book, The War of Art, Steven Pressfield examines creative resistance. Pressfield argues that “There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.”
So when you do find your passion, and you face resistance or difficulty, take heart. Know you’re going in the right direction. I know that for me sometimes this reassurance can give me the strength I need to persevere.
Living a life of passion is following through on your craft even if it’s hard. If you long to do something and day-dream about something but something else is stopping you from sitting down to do it, what’s stopping you is resistance. That resistance is a clear sign that what you’re dreaming about is your passion. It’s your calling and you need to be brave, sit down and work. That's how you'll find fulfillment.
With that in mind, if you’re still trying to figure out what your passion is, take stock of what activities you dream about. What’s an idea or activity that you feel strongly about but you keep putting off? What are you resisting? Resistance exists because pursuing our passion or acting on our feelings, can be a really uncomfortable process. Resistance in our creative and emotional lives is actually there to keep us safe — that’s it’s function. So next time you find resistance, call it by its name. Tell it you know it’s just there to look out for you but that you need to overcome it to feed the fire in your heart.
Passion may be a feeling, but we won’t get anything out of that feeling unless we act on it.