If I had to describe myself with a word, it would be, “Meh.” A word for somebody with passion, “Woohoo!” I think of them running through life. A person full of energy, grabbing the world with both hands and shaking it.
By comparison, I plod along, not wanting to grab anything. When I rush it’s only because I’m afraid of being late.
Thinking of the passionate person, I see somebody with so much love for something that they look as though they’re going to explode. I see bright colours and rainbows. When I look at myself I think of beige or grey.
Now after some consideration, I’ve started to wonder how many of these “passionate” people I’ve met. The people I’ve described. Off the top of my head, I could count them on one hand. That can’t be right though, can it? That so few people are passionate. This leads me to believe that my own idea of passion is erroneous. Maybe I’ve been thinking about it all wrong.
What is Passion?
According to Robert Vallerand – an academic who has a passion for researching passion – passion is, “a strong inclination towards a self-defining activity that people love, that they consider important, and in which they devote significant amounts of time and energy.”
Already I’m running into a problem here. Passion has little to do with jumping around, shouting about your love of something. Rather, it is just the enjoyment of an activity, that is important to you, that you spend a lot of your time doing. Nothing more, nothing less.
When I think of that passionate person, why are they jumping around and shouting then? Well, I think I’ve just mistaken extroversion for passion.
An extroverted person who is passionate is going to want to share that passion and shout about it from the rooftops. Since these people are the ones shouting the loudest, they’re the ones who we all hear talking about their passions.
It’s easy for us to then assume that passion turns us into a person that jumps around on stage with a huge smile on our face. The reality is that how we react to our passions is based on who we are. I’m an introvert, so I’m never going to shout and scream about anything. I may be slow in what I do, but that doesn’t make my love of something any less valid.
If you enjoy doing something and you do that thing a lot, chances are it’s a passion. If that’s the case, you’re also passionate, no matter your reaction. Passion isn’t only for extroverts. It’s for everybody.
Harmonious Passion vs Obsessive Passion
But now Vallerand (that passionate passion professor) has thrown a spanner into the works. He suggests that there are two types of passion: harmonious and obsessive.
Harmonious is the one I’ve just described. This activity that we do because we love it. The classic passion.
But, there are other activities that we pursue with different motivations. An obsessive passion is something we feel compelled to pursue due to extrinsic factors. Maybe we do something because we want to please others or the status of doing the activity is valuable for our self-esteem.
If we don’t pursue these obsessive passions we feel negatively. Maybe we feel guilty for not doing the activity in question. If we do badly at the activity, we beat ourselves up about it.
Now, have you ever had a job you’ve hated? But you’ve still worked your arse off to do it, maybe to please others? Then when you’ve had to take a sick day you’ve felt like you’ve let everybody down, even though you don’t even like the job?! Maybe it’s your day off and your manager asks if you want to go in. You say, “Yes” even though work is the last place you want to be.
Well, that would be an obsessive passion. Something that consumes us. It’s tied in our identity as we do it so often, but we might not even enjoy doing it!
Harmonious passion is linked to high-life satisfaction, these passions help us towards our goals. They’re things we enjoy, but we don’t need them. Our life goes on even when we’re not doing them.
Obsessive passion is linked to workaholism – these passions take over our lives. We find it hard to give them up as we feel like we’re nothing without them. How we think about ourselves is connected to these passions.
Finding a Passion
So what does this all mean for me? Well for a start, I need to start thinking of passion differently. In truth, I am passionate. I love writing, walking, taking photos, cooking.
Yet in the past, my life has always focussed on the wrong type of passion. Working crappy jobs I don’t like to make ends meet and never feeling fulfilled.
It’s rather simple, I suppose. A life filled with harmonious passions will be a happy one. Obsessive passions take up energy and time, but don’t make your life feel important.
Maybe you’re now sitting there and thinking, “But I’ve got no passion, nothing I enjoy.” Well, I’m of the opinion that pretty much everybody has a passion. Just what prevents us seeing these passions is either we don’t want to admit them to ourselves or we’re looking for the wrong thing.
A passion isn’t something that is going to make you smile and feel happy every time you do it. Rather it’s something that makes you feel fulfilled, something you can do for a long time without boredom or wanting to top yourself.
Passions are linked to a thing called flow. Flow is basically what they refer to is as being “in the zone”. Activities you can do for hours without thinking. Like a form of meditation.
I often feel this way about writing. Writing doesn’t make me feel especially happy. I don’t consider writing to be fun. But when I’m doing it it’s like the rest of the world falls away and only the writing exists. I am completely focused. That’s a passion.
Pursuing a Passion
If you’ve found your passion and want to pursue it fully, you’re probably going to find it’s tough. After years of working in dead-end jobs, stuck in obsessive passions, I know it’s going to be a big struggle to do anything else.
The hard thing is moulding your life situation until you’re at the point where you can pursue your passion. That’s the struggle. We all know that the things we enjoy make us happy. But having the guts to pursue those things is a different matter.
If you’ve devoted your whole life to obsessive passions, you’re almost going to have to start again. You could be changing your entire life, which is nigh on impossible to do in one step. I think this is what puts a lot of people off. Too much change, too fast.
There’s also fear though. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of everything. For many years I haven’t pursued my passions because I’ve been afraid to do so. As I’ve said, I never feel I measure up. I know I’m going to fail.
Part of the reason I started travelling was that it allowed me to escape from this. I knew that I was on the cusp of spending the rest of my life in obsessive passions, stuck doing things I hated.
I didn’t want to face up to the decision of pursuing my passions and travelling seemed a better alternative. When I first moved to Canada all those years ago, I would say, “Hey, I work this job I hate, but it’s worth it because I get to be in this amazing place.”
I’ve now come to realise that it’s not worth it at all. I’ve started to fear that one day I’ll wake up and regret my entire life. Spending my life in jobs I hated just because I was scared to chase my passions.
Each time I start to consider that chase, I get overwhelmed. But I feel like I’ve been trying to take on too much – trying to make everything change overnight when that’s just not possible.
I can’t just quit working tomorrow and devote my time and energy to my passion. I live in the real world. I’d run out of money, get depressed and just be in a worse position.
After our first terrible week in Australia, I decided to try to at least do something more with my time to make our struggle worthwhile. The thought of another year in Australia working crap jobs was almost too much to bear. I’ve instead decided to make a compromise. I’m going to work part-time, four days a week while spending my free days pursuing one of my passions, which is radio production.
This, I hope, is the first step in a journey which ends with my life being filled with passions. Instead of being qualified for a life I don’t want to lead.
It may take a while and a lot more learning. But at least I’ll have no regrets, even if I do fail.
In future, when I start to feel bad about not being passionate, I’ll come back to this post. It will act as a motivator. And I hope it will motivate you too.