Graduations evoke a myriad of emotions such as joy, relief, pride, triumph, completion, and anticipation for the next phase in life. Thousands of fresh bloods are and will be listening to speeches inspiring and encouraging them to make the world a better place, to build something of value, or to be aware of their true selves and that of the people around them and beyond among many other pieces of counsel.
Counsel is needed because real world out there isn’t a pretty place, a truth that can sometimes be forgotten in the insular walls of academia. Our world is a tough, ugly reality where dishonest and ruthless people prey on the vulnerable and amass exorbitant riches by stepping on the necks of the exploited and oppressed, using their backs as stairs for selfish and greedy ambition. It’s a world where we continue to be deaf to the cries of those in the desert advocating for our environment, the poor, the abused, the conquered, and the violated. It’s a world with much darkness, but also with countless potential for light if we look carefully enough.
Sooner or later in this life, for those of us who are lucky enough to have options, we have to make a choice about the kind of life we wish to live on this Earth. Will we be the bolts keeping the Machine alive and running as we live from paycheck to paycheck to make ends meet? Will we pursue lucrative careers to be financially set and secure for the rest of our days and maybe even until our grandchildren’s days? Or will we be different and be among the few who make the bold, oftentimes risky decision to forgo the status quo and societal conventions to pursue our passions?
Pursuing a passion is serious business. It’s not a romance or a fantasy of instantly making millions or living a blissful life on a private island somewhere in the Pacific. Passion involves deeply strong feelings, brutal honesty, fire, sweat, grit, and whole lot of work, along with shouldering the ridicule and doubt that may come from family, friends, and yes, even from ourselves.
So, is it wrong to follow after our passion and let it lead our lives? In Part I of this two-part article, we’ll go through the first four questions below to help us get closer to the answer.
- Am I willing to endure suffering for a period of time for my passion?
First of all, what is passion? The Merriam Webster dictionary describes it as a strong feeling or excitement for something or about doing something. The word passion originates from the Latin word passio, meaning suffering, along with the Latin word pati, meaning to suffer.
When we’ve made the choice to pursue our passion, it’s guaranteed we will endure discomfort of varying degrees in more ways than one whether it’s emotional, physical, or financial. Our relationships might also hurt if we’re surrounded by loved ones and mentors who don’t support our decisions to pursue our passions because in their eyes our pursuits appear misguided, risky, or, every critic’s favorite word, unrealistic.
How many times have I heard that one and its other variations?
Get your head out of the clouds
Come down to earth.
Put your feet on the ground.
Countless times, but I’m receiving a lot less of these sayings lately because it’s become apparent to the people close to me that I’m not giving up on doing what I love and can never let go of despite failing on numerous occasions: writing.
If we make an honest self-evaluation of ourselves and realize we’re not made to enduring any particular type of suffering for a period of time, which could be long or short term depending on a lot of factors like our mindset or work ethic, then pursuing our passion may not be the best way to go in our lives.
- Do I have a strong purpose guiding my life?
Moving away from cold dictionary definitions, passion has other meanings, especially when it’s intertwined with business, art, technology, social work, or any other endeavor stirring within a person’s mind. I like John Hagel’s description of passion as a force orienting us in a specific direction, giving us focus. Suzanne Fetting describes it as the alignment of our actions with our authentic selves. I say passion is obsession—a crazy energy within us desperately needing to manifest itself through our work, or else it will consume us. The source of this energy is one’s purpose.
Some use this energy from an early start, others get to it later, but it’s definitely within each person whether awake or dormant. Where does this purpose come from? From knowing the authentic self. What is the authentic self? It is awareness of the thoughts occupying our minds most of the time, the ideas making us excited about life and its potential, and the vision we have for how the world could be if we had all the resources available at our disposal. It’s filtering out the voices of our parents, family, friends, teachers, experts, and society until we’re left with the kernels of our own voices, our own desires, hopes, and dreams. It’s knowledge of who we really are when we’re alone.
By understanding our authentic selves, we can tailor our purpose precisely to our passions. Celestine Chua provides a series of questions worth answering if we’re serious about understanding who we are.
If we’re thinking about pursuing our passions without a clear idea of who we are, or if we’re unwilling to do the work of self-introspection, then we might as well be signing up for a journey of wasted hours and endless frustration.
- Am I willing to put faith and trust into the unknown?
Some people get stuck on evidence, and won’t invest in anything unless they can see real results right away. This makes perfect sense. Who wants to waste money, time, and energy on a project yielding little to no real results? It’s one of the reasons why many of us work for reliable jobs that give us paychecks: real money dispensed into our accounts at specific times. This is comfort. This is security. This is stability. Therefore, it’s easy to believe in what is known and predictable. All power to people who desire predictable lives. No judgment here whatsoever. One of my favorite sayings is you do you.
Following our passion is the opposite of this. If our passion is to create something that will change the world, how the world thinks or uses something, or how the world consumes knowledge or entertainment, or offer the world new stories, art, technology, or give whatever it is we have cooking up in our minds to benefit people, AND make a living from it, then we must embrace uncertainty.
We don’t know how it will happen; we just believe it will happen. We have faith in ourselves and in the universe to deliver whatever is we want to see happen, all while working on hard on our endeavors, of course.
If we’re unable to trust in the unknown and believe that things will end up being more than okay, then we should look to other more predictable and safe paths.
- Does perseverance flow in my blood?
More than in any other time, our present world pays homage to instant gratification and access. The precipitous rise of technology continues to cut down the time for receiving items and getting services done. Who has time to wait anymore? With our phones already becoming extensions of our bodies, we have quick access to anyone and anything, and get upset over simple things like late text replies.
Patience, persistence, and perseverance are dying, and experts are concerned that school children are lacking grit. These three Ps must make up the internal vocabulary of any soul pursuing a passion. Passion cannot live without perseverance; I’d go as far to say that passion doesn’t exist without perseverance. When pursuing passions, we’re in it for the long haul and patience grows and becomes a fiber of our being.
That’s not to say we keep doing the same things over and over with no results forever and ever. No, because we are passionate, we are willing to learn from mistakes and others and change courses to get to our destinations and beyond. Hagel describes this type of passion as the passion of the explorers. People with this sort of passion are not focused on the particulars of how something will be done, but rather the big picture, knowing many paths exist toward the vision in their minds.
If we can’t imagine ourselves sticking to something for the long-term and developing the mental fortitude it takes to keep at our passion while ignoring side-eyes and whispers from people who think you’re crazy or obsessed, then we should opt for a career where patience and perseverance can take a seat.
Following your passion is a serious decision.
Many times we hear people throw out expressions like “Follow your heart!” or “Do something you’re passionate about!” or “Go after your dreams!”
To the naïve mind, these phrases sound sweet and enticing, possibly conjuring up images of an easy life without much work. ‘Easy’ is a foreign word to those following their passions. Short-cuts, cheat codes, and other quick schemes to produce the fruits of passion almost always lead to disappointments, lost, frustrations, and desires to give up right away.
This isn’t meant to turn people away from going after what makes their hearts sing early in the morning. We need an honest picture from time to time of how life is before we make a big decision affecting our lives in so many different ways.
I will end with this, however. You’ll never know until you try.
How about you? What other questions should we ask before we decide to follow our passion? Would love to hear your thoughts!
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Be sure to look out for my e-book, The Passionate Dreamer’s Notebook: For Those Who Refuse to Quit, coming out in Jun