The Pressure of Passion

In a world where we are constantly told that you should follow your passion, where we equate it with success and/or happiness, it can feel exhausting to be constantly told that you can achieve anything if you just set your mind to it and work really hard.

I believe this is a valid statement to make, but I think it’s misleading to assume that this kind of one-size-fits-all approach is right for all people.

The problem with passion is that it often suggests having a purpose and clear sense of direction. Which is problematic when you don’t have one.

If anything, I feel our obsession with passion has put unnecessary pressure on people to achieve sometimes unrealistic goals and makes us more prone to feel like failures when we don’t achieve the great successes we think we ought to achieve. And there’s nothing worse than a boss (or anyone) who tries to motivate you by telling you to be more passionate.

When talking about this idea of meritocracy in his TED Talk, Alain De Botton says:

Never before have expectations been so high, about what human beings can achieve with their lifespan. We’re told from many sources that anyone can achieve anything… That’s exhilarating if you’re doing well, and very crushing if you’re not. It leads, in the worst cases…to increased rates of suicide.

I used to envy those people who just know what their passion is, it seems from the moment they are born. They seem to have a steadfast direction in their lives. Things are a lot easier when you know what you want because you can then apply the Nike principle of “Just Do It”. But what happens if you are not one of those people?

And what happens if you follow your passion right to the heights of achieving all your goals. How do you proceed from there?

You do not have to be driven by passion.

If you do not feel driven by passion, that is perfectly ok, I would argue it’s even normal. I don’t have one. You are among many. There is no point forcing yourself to embark on a mission to find it because it will simply cause anxiety. I’ve tried and tested this route many times.

“It can be… painful when you’re meant to be having such fun at work, to find no work at all, or work that doesn’t fulfil your soul. The modern world has made the career crisis one of the central difficulties of existence. We’re asking so much of our working lives, so no wonder they sometimes don’t deliver against the expectations of them.” School of Life – History of Work

Passion can be unreliable, unpredictable and stressful. It comes and it goes. Something about the word can feel like it’s almost uncontrollable, obsessive and like it requires a lifetime of commitment. None of which is entirely true, but it can cause stress if you think about it like that. You certainly can’t always feel passionate about your work so it makes no sense to measure your success by how passionate you feel.

Let curiosity lead the way.

I find a much more useful and gentler approach in life is to follow your curiosity. It may be the case that you don’t feel very fulfilled by your work and that you don’t have an opportunity to make a change right now. But you can still find fulfilment in other areas of your life and I would argue it’s even more important to in this case. If you don’t know how to do that, having a curious mind will help. Hobbies are a perfect avenue for this, but don’t feel limited to this because there are no rules.

Much like a puppy joyfully following a scent trail in the park, there doesn’t have to be a purpose in curiosity other than the joy it gives you to follow it. Neither does it matter where you end up.

If you simply allow yourself to be drawn to the things that interest you, you open yourself up to all kinds of opportunities. This brings a sense of freedom that you may not find elsewhere in your life. You can have one path of curiosity, or you may have many. You can change your mind at any time. You may lose interest and want to go in another direction and that’s all ok. A lot of creativity can grow out of this. Sometimes a whole new career can grow out of it too.

“The creators who most inspire me then are not the most passionate, but the most curious. Curiosity is what keeps you working steadily when hotter passions may come and go.” Elizabeth Gilbert – Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

I personally have many paths of curiosity and I don’t one career, but several. I’ve never had a career or life plan and growing up I was given the message that you must focus on one career in life (and it couldn’t be a creative one), master it and work hard at it in order to be happy and successful. But I struggled with this, it was terrible for my self esteem and it made me very unhappy. Now I don’t play by the rules. I still don’t have a plan, but I balance the not-so-creative work with creative outlets and I feel very fulfilled and happy. I’ve found my own path by doing my own thing. I’ve also discovered that I might be what Emilie Wapnik has termed being a ‘multipotentialite‘.

Children are perfect examples to follow. They are interested in the world and will try things out, experiment, investigate and when they get bored, they’ll find something else to be interested in. A good teacher knows how to engage their curiosity by posing the right questions rather than simply telling them the answers.

Passion is like a butterfly.

It could be that you learn to play an instrument, or it could be that you simply enjoy listening to music in the comfort of your home. It could be anything at all.

If you follow an area of interest or a hobby for long enough, at some point you may start to lose yourself in the moment. A lot of artists call it “being in the zone”. Abraham Maslow called this a “peak experience”. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls this a state of “flow” and believes that it is actually the key to being happiness. I find that it is actually very similar to my experiences with meditation. You don’t notice time passing because you are totally lost in it. Your enjoyment or fulfilment in doing the task may focus you, relax you or give you a lot of energy and you just want to do it even more.

Well, my friend, if this happens to you then passion has found you.

I believe that everyone is capable of finding passion. But I see it as being like a butterfly in your hand. It’s not something you can hold tight and capture. It comes to you only when you are relaxed and open to it.

The point I am trying to make is that curiosity and passion go hand in hand. You can’t have passion without feeling the curiosity first. Sometimes you can’t even have passion when you want it most. You can chase it like a dog chasing its tail, but you will never find it out of sheer will alone.

So be kinder to yourself. Know that passion is something rare and may come to you when you least expect it, when you are in your element, doing something you love. When passion flies away, as it will frequently do, all is not lost. When you have no other direction, curiosity is the most useful and loyal guide you can have and will always take you where you need to go.

Recommended Videos:

TED Talk: Alain de Botton: A kinder, gentler philosophy of success

The School Of Life – The History of Work

Ken Robinson – Do Schools Kill Creativity

Why some of us don’t have one true calling | Emilie Wapnick

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Flow, the secret to happiness

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  • Life & MindBody Coach
  • Somatic & Arts Practitioner
  • B.A. Psychology, PgDip Journalism
  • Currently studying Creative Arts Therapy

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