Why You Can’t Find Your Passion

 

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.

Follow Through

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. 

 

Let Go of Jealousy: Use Pop Culture, Art & Friendship

 
"Comparison is the thief of joy" - Theodore Roosevelt

Everyone’s favourite makeup guru and every lonely heart on Youtube’s Fairy Godmother, Kandee Johnson, gives excellent advice on letting go of jealousy. One of the main points Johnson makes is that “Truly successful people are happy for others… they enjoy their success and want others to reach success too.” This idea fits into a paradigm of “abundance.”

Having a paradigm of abundance is believing that there is an infinite amount of potential success in the world. The opposite is a paradigm of scarcity; believing that there is finite amount of success. In the world of scarcity, when others succeed it means there is less success available for you. It means it is only possible for you to succeed when others fail. This is the mindset that gives rise to jealousy. 

Analyze Pop Culture

If you see Gigi Hadid and think that her beauty makes you less beautiful, that’s a logical fallacy. It’s an error of comparison. One does not discount the other, for one is an apple and one is an orange. 

Here’s a way you can prove this theory to yourself, if you didn’t believe me when I compared you to a supermodel ;). 

Think of your favourite actor. Now think of your favourite film that does not have that actor in it. 

One of my favourite films is Bridget Jones’s Diary. The lead actor of that film is Renee Zellweger. Many other actresses were considered for the role including Rachel Weisz and Kate Winslet. The fact that neither of them were in the film does not make them any less great as actors. It also doesn’t make Bridget Jones's Diary any less of a great film despite the fact that neither Rachel nor Kate were in it. Renee, Rachel and Kate are all great actors but they’re also all different. The success of one does not detract from the success of another. We live in a world where all three actors have Oscars. 

 

Cherish Your Friends to Change Your Perspective

I’m not saying that letting go of comparison is easy. What inspired me to write this essay is my own struggle with comparison. I find myself constantly comparing myself to my peers or to strangers on the internet.

One strategy that’s supported me is to think of my own friends and how much I love them "just as they are" (like in Bridget Jones when Colin Firth tells Renee Zellweger he likes her "just as she is"). I think of the wonderful people I'm blessed to have as friends and I think of everything that makes them brilliant and beautiful. I also like to sometimes create a little taxonomy of all the little details that make up their lives.

When you shift your perspective and remove yourself from the centre of your paradigm, it's easier to see how we as individuals fit within a larger framework. Instead of each of us being the centre of our own universe and comparing our kingdoms to rival states, imagine us all as denizens of the same realm; all equal, not one better or less than the other. 

Mind maps are a great tool to try for this strategy. Here's an example of one I did, using 3 of my friends:

 

Make Art

It's in this way that I was thinking about the flower world. I love finding wildflowers and whenever I do find one, I don't compare it to its neighbour. Similarly, I'm trying hard to not compare myself to my neighbours.

I created this photo series to remind myself and others that comparison is the thief of joy. You can't compare yourself to another much like you can't compare flowers. When you line either up, side by side, the shapes don't align.

What a shame it would be if they did. 

 

Living Life to the Fullest at 100 years old

 

For her 100th birthday, Doris Rittinger received 37 birthday cards. 

At 100 years old, Doris has lived through two world wars, the Great Depression, and on two continents. She’s been married, widowed, raised a family, worked, retired and then some. 

I first met her on a lovely fall day in her apartment that overlooks the Grand River. Her living room is decorated with beautiful canvases that she painted herself. Intelligent, engaging and kind as can be, Doris was stylishly dressed all in purple with bright red lipstick. 

Although Doris’s story still has chapters to be written, her story is a shining example of what it means to live a full, good life. 

The Life and Times of Doris Rittinger

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Doris was born in Woodstock, in February of 1915. The war had started the year before and her father had enlisted at the age of 20. Her mother had originally come to Canada a few years earlier to be where she had family, a brother and a sister. 

During the war, her Father was stationed in France. “When I was 10 months old, he wrote to my mother and said ‘you might as well come here.’ My mother’s parents were in England, so we moved and he met us there when he was on leave,” says Doris. “We crossed an ocean in the middle of the Great War.” 

While in England, her mother had run a housekeeping business and had saved all the money for them to move back to Woodstock. After the war, like most families, Doris’s family lived through terrible depression.

Back in Canada, Doris’s father started a business selling goods to farmers. “My father peddled goods with a team of horses: Easy and Topsy. He took his van all through the country. It wasn’t until they started to build the Welland canal, that work got better,” says Doris. 

“When they started hiring people to work on the new Peace Bridge, I gave my dad lessons in Customs and Immigration, and he got a good job. We had a nice house, and I had new friends,” says Doris. The year that they moved to Welland, was the same year that the Prince of Wales visited.

“As a teenager, in the evenings and after school, my mother always wanted me to play bridge with her. She needed a fourth. But you know I wanted to go skating,” says Doris. “One day, I was skating by myself and this young man came up and took my arm. He didn’t even say a word, just skated away with me. We went out for five years.” 

Doris was 24 when they married, her husband 28. Although that may seem older than usual for the time, Doris’s husband worked for the Bank of Commerce, and the bank’s employees were unable to marry until they reached a certain salary. As Doris puts it, “We were going out for a while waiting, until finally my husband said to his boss, ‘I’d like to get married when I’m still alive, you know!’” 

During that time, it was uncommon for women to work outside the home. Doris was raising two daughters while her husband worked, and on his salary they rented different apartments around town. There was something about renting though that didn’t sit well with Doris. “My husband didn’t think it was good for us to have our own home, but I said ‘I can’t help it. I want my own home.’’

The new house they had built cost them $10,000. They had borrowed money to have it built, and one day in particular, Doris’s husband came home and said he felt uncomfortable about their debt and how difficult their expenses had become. The next day, without saying a word to her husband, Doris went out and got a job at the hospital. She worked there for 3 years until their debt was completely paid off. 

It was this same strong will and independence that allowed Doris to finish high school. “Lots of my relatives didn’t think I should finish school. They said, “What does she need high school for?” but I wanted to go. I always liked literature and I was terrified of using English improperly, so I wanted to continue, to better myself. Looking back, I’m always glad I did that.” 

Another thing that’s remarkable about Doris is that she’s never stopped enjoying life. She first learned to ride a bike in her sixties and to this day, is an avid reader. “I don’t like Danielle Steel at all. But I do like romantic novels, just not the cheap, dirty ones. I also like murder mysteries because they keep your attention every minute,” says Doris. 

When asked what the secret to a happy life is, Doris says “romance.”  One of the most difficult times in Doris’s life was when her husband had cancer. “We were young and in our forties, when he had it,” says Doris. “I lived off just tea during that time.” Although her husband’s cancer went into remission, it returned many years later. “The hardest part was that his cancer returned after he had been given the “all clear” at his yearly checkup. After his cancer went into remission, he had to get it checked every year at Princess Margaret’s in Toronto. The year he died, they gave him the “all clear” and two weeks later when he was at his family doctor, they said it had returned and was in his pancreas. He died six weeks after that.” 

When I asked Doris if she had any advice or wisdom to impart on young people today she said, “I think wisdom comes naturally with your bringing up.” 

Just for fun, I've also shared a short video of Doris in the blog section. Find it here.

 

How Observation Can Expand your Perspective

 

A minute before the train was scheduled to arrive, a man in his early twenties rushed unto the platform. He was wearing flannel pyjama bottoms and a black varsity windbreaker. Unlike the other awaiting passengers, he had no backpack or luggage. He held his phone in one hand and a plastic grocery bag in the other. He was completely unencumbered by reading materials, headphones or a laptop. 

On the station’s only bench, three elderly ladies sat with neatly combed silver hair and watery eyes. They weren’t reading the newspaper, checking cellphones or chatting; they just sat in wait. They treating waiting as an action unto itself. They didn’t overshadow their wait with preoccupation or external entertainment. 

Even when the train was 20 minutes late, the women didn’t dig through their purses for something to read and the young man didn’t endlessly scroll through social media postings. Their wait had an air of grace.

If you are constantly seeking external sources of mental and emotional stimulation you become desensitized to the glisten and breath of life. Artificial sweeteners may be sweeter than sugar, but they can also make your coffee offensively saccharine. 

When you’re out and about in the world, take the time to pay attention; to both physically and metaphorically smell the roses. 

Take note of what people are wearing, listen to what people are saying. A street is more varied and authentic than any Instagram feed. 

Observation is also key to expanding your perspective. If you are always internally focused on yourself and your group of friends, you’ll fail to see the varied experiences of those around you. Similarly, because we have the capacity to curate what we see and don’t see on social media, our online observations of others are insulated and do not reflect the breadth of the world we live in. 

When you expand your perspective and observe the world the way it is versus how you’d like to see it, you will increase your capacity for critical thinking. When you see and understand life experiences that are not your own, you have the capacity to objectively analyze issues from all sides and perspectives. 

For inspiration, here are some of the beautiful sights I've seen. 

bird bancroft.jpg
 

The crowning gem is that I once noticed that Colin Mochrie was on the same flight as me. This is the back of his head ☺.

 
 

A Tool to Increase Passion: Go for a Walk in Nature

 

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. - John Muir

Leave distractions behind and travel light.

Slow down by taking a deep breath.

Be present.

Listen. 

Look.

Think about what you’re seeing.

Marvel in nature's beauty.

 

A Tool to Increase Passion: Unplug to Recharge

 

You’re at your desk working on a deadline or camped out in a library study carrel preparing for exams. You’ve now re-read the same sentence 4 times and know you need a break. 

You don’t have time to trek to the gym, change, workout, change back and return. You either can’t turn on Youtube because of your work’s security settings or know that if you did you’d lose an hour instead of 5 minutes. 

What can you do instead that’s refreshing and free? You can go for a walk. 

The best thing about walking is that it doesn’t matter where you are. You don’t need equipment or a large investment of time. You can walk for 2 minutes or 2 hours. You can walk anywhere: through a building, through a park or parking lot, in a suburb or downtown.

Turn off your phone completely instead of putting it on silent. “The expectation of e-mail seems to be taking up our working memory,” says Steven Yantis, the chairman of the psychological and brain sciences department at Johns Hopkins (1). Similarly, researchers Atchley and Strayer argue that “heavy technology use can inhibit deep thought and cause anxiety, and that getting out into nature can help” (1).

Walking increases blood flow and releases endorphins. This will leave you refreshed and ready to return to work. 

After your walk, if you start to feel overwhelmed again, take some slow, deep breaths. This will activate your parasympathetic nervous system and signal to your body to relax and heal (2).

Works Cited:

  1. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/16/technology/16brain.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
  2. http://www.spinachandyoga.com/5-hard-to-resist-benefits-of-breathing-deeper