Passion Must Be Handled with Care
Everyone tells us to find our passion but no one tells us how to find it, let alone how to live with it. While most passions start off as positive endeavors, they often take turns for the worse. If you don’t proactively manage your passion, you put yourself at risk for becoming a slave to external validation, burnout, regret and loss of joy.
If you do proactively manage your passion, however, living with passion leads to improved health, happiness, and overall life-satisfaction. In other words, there is both good passion and bad passion, and what direction your passion takes is largely up to you.
The Origins of Passion
Passion is fueled by a neurochemical called dopamine. Dopamine doesn’t make us feel good or content once we’ve achieved something; it makes us crave the chase. Some of us are born with an insensitivity to dopamine, thus predisposing us to feelings of passion and obsession.
We are all, however, affected by the biology of passion. The more we pursue an activity that offers meaningful rewards, the more dopamine is released, leading us to build up a resistance over time. Passion builds on itself: the more we push, the more we get hooked on the feeling of pushing.
Find and Grow Your Passion
When an idea or activity interests you, give yourself permission to pursue it. Don’t be constrained by the story you tell yourself about yourself, or by your past experiences. Overcome the resistance that is “I couldn’t possibly do this” syndrome and allow moments of intrigue to capture your attention, even if they seem divergent from your current path.
- Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good: Resist the urge to assign too much importance to the initial excitement that comes with starting a new job, activity, or hobby. If you expect a perfect match from the outset, odds are, you’ll be let down.
- Pay special attention to activities that meet your three basic needs: competence, autonomy, and relatedness. Meeting these needs is critical to sustaining the motivation required to turn an interest into a passion.
- Following the barbell strategy—that is, sticking to something safe on one hand while you increasingly take risks to pursue your passion on the other—increases the chances you’ll succeed at making your passion a bigger part of your life. Over time, gradually shift the equation, spending more time and energy pursuing your passion and less time on the safer stuff.
When Passion Goes Awry
Beware of your passion becoming obsessive. Obsessive passion happens when you become less passionate about doing than you are about achieving. When you are obsessively passionate, you crave external results, validation and you’ll always want more: more money, more fame, more followers. The Buddha called this suffering.
Fear can be a powerful short-term motivator, but in the long term, being driven by fear is unsustainable. Passions that are fueled by fear quickly become toxic. When we shed fear, we go from playing “not to lose” to playing to win. When we play to win, we take constructive risks that often lead to breakthroughs. Everyone has fears. Working to overcome them is often the key to sustainable passion, performance, and happiness.
The Best Kind of Passion
Work to maintain your inner drive, or motivation that comes predominantly from within.
Adhere to the twenty-four-hour rule. After failures and successes, give yourself twenty-four hours to feel either sad or happy, then return to your craft. Getting back to work helps put external drivers in their place, behind the importance of internal ones.
Internalize drive from within as a core value: When you start to feel yourself getting overly emotional about failures, successes, or external validation, pause and reflect on what you like most about your work. Remind yourself that drive that comes from within is healthier and more sustainable than drive that comes from external sources.
Focus on the process, not on results.
Set goals, but rather than focusing too much on the goal itself, focus on the steps that are within your control to accomplish the goal. Understand that if you thoroughly embrace the journey, you are more likely to arrive at the destination feeling good, confident, and satisfied.
Patience is not just a virtue; it is a skill that must be developed over time. Patience is critical to mastery and harmonious passion. The ability to stay the course and ride out valleys and plateaus separates good from great and harmonious from obsessive passion. One of the best ways to remain patient is to reflect on your purpose, or the overarching “why” that underlies your activity. Doing so reminds you why you’re in this in the first place, and also creates some space between impulse and action.
The Illusion of Balance
Regardless of what all the self-help books may say, living with passion and being “balanced” are antithetical. Just think about the times you’ve felt most alive in your own life and answer the question, were you balanced?
It’s OK to be unbalanced, so long as you don’t let the inertia of a passionate experience push you forward on autopilot without ever evaluating what you’re giving up as a result. Don’t strive for balance. Instead, strive for the self-awareness that is necessary to evaluate the unique trade-offs that passion requires making in your own life.
Self-Awareness and the Power to Choose
The inertia of passion can become overpowering. The best way to counter this inertia is through keen self-awareness. One of the best ways to gain the self-awareness required to productively live with passion is to step outside your “self.”
- Pretend a friend is in the same situation you are and then give advice to him or her about what to do.
- Journal about the big decisions in your life in the third person and then reflect on what you wrote and how you felt when you were writing it.
- Immerse yourself in lush, natural environments.
- Watch the sunset, stargaze, or observe a full moon.
- View artistic works.
- Listen to music that moves you.
- Look for examples of extraordinary human kindness in daily life.
- Bear witness to a craftsperson at work using their unbelievable skill.
Becoming more self-aware is so important because it affords you the ability to evaluate the tradeoffs inherent to living a passionate life, and allows you to choose how to channel your passion.
Moving On: How to Transition from a Passion with Grace and Grit
When it’s time to move forward from a passion, you shouldn’t deny or suppress the fact that your passion was a big part of your life; rather, you should embrace that fact, and build upon the lessons learned and experiences gained from your past in whatever it is you do next.
Rather than moving swiftly to the next thing, you should create some time and space to reflect upon your passion and the impact it had on your life. Although your activity or pursuit may change, the deep personality traits that fueled your passion don’t. Harness these traits in the next chapter of your life.