Oct 22nd

2013

Follow Your Passion?

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As trendy as it has been recently for people to write about doing things fueled by our passion, it looks like we’ve now swung the other way, fatigued, I suspect, by all this talk of passion, which like any hot-burning fire, takes constant fuel to feed it. No wonder we’re tiring of the word “passion”. But it would be a mistake to go too far the other way. Lately I see more and more posts on Twitter and Facebook putting down shoot-from-the-heart photography and photographers who “follow their bliss.” I worry because we tend to be so polar, and the moment we make that swing back away from passion, we’ll miss the middle, and return to the other extreme – photographs and lives lived according to rules and the tyranny of technique. Why does it always have to be one way OR the other?

And then this morning I was pointed to an article by Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic, which had some solid things to say about learning from failure. But like so many articles these days, weary from the calls to “follow your passion,” he dismisses that call to do what you love as bad business advice. And if Follow Your Passion were the only advice you ever got, it probably would be. But I still think he’s wrong in writing-off a life – even in business – that begins with passion. I believe he’s wrong because he’s forgetting that what we do, why we do it, and how we do it are different things. He’s forgetting you can live passionately, do business passionately, do art – with all the passion or love or enthusiasm you can muster – and still do it with excellence, wisdom, acumen, and hard work. You can make photographs with passion and still not neglect your craft.

“What we do, why we do it, and how we do it are different things.”

The question that never seems to get asked is: What do you want to do with your brief life? If that something is to build a profitable business and make an unfathomable amount of money, then Follow Your Passion might be the wrong mantra. But then I’d argue that you’ve just identified your passion – money – and now the question is, How do you do that? If what you want to do with your life is build a sustainable business that works around the thing you most love, then Follow Your Passion is great advice, so long as you understand the words “build a sustainable business” and you work your ass off to do so. Passion is not a magic wand. It’s a reason for learning from your mistakes and persevering, not a substitute for it. Whether you do what you do to make great money or make great art – passion is a fuel that’s hard to beat. What you allow that fuel to power is up to you.

Having this discussion at all, without first asking yourself what you want, and what you are prepared to do to get what you want, is pointless. In fact, maybe the discussion itself is pointless because it results in a lot of talk and not much action. The word Passion gets used a lot these days, so much so that it’s losing it’s meaning. Use whatever word you want. Our choice of words isn’t the point. What is very much the point is this: How do you want to spend the few -and they will seem both few and short – days of your life? The scarcer something is, the more valuable it is, and our days are not only limited, we don’t have a clue how many we’ve got on the books. Dismiss this talk of “passion” as childish, and do what’s sensible, but it won’t lengthen your days or add meaning to them.

How do you make a life that allows you to do what you love? That’s a completely different question. For some it means a business of your own. For others it means a job you also enjoy, one that keeps you free of the concerns of running a business and focused in your free time to do what you want to do. For most of us it means – and this is where Scott Adams hits the nail on the head so well – failing a few times, maybe many times,  as we discover our own road. And for some those falling down times are dark, and long. But if you know deep down that you’ll never be happy unless you try, then what’s the point of doing anything but?

“I still believe the only road worth walking is one that you’re passionate about.”

What “Do what you love” and “Follow your passion” does not mean is an easy road. If anything it means a harder one at times. It does not mean less hard work, it probably means more. But it’s meaningful work. Work that, on balance, gives us more energy than it takes from us.  Work that feeds our souls, or whatever you call the deepest part of you. Work we look back on in later years as a road well-taken, one that gave us joy. However you do that, I still believe the only road worth walking is one that you’re passionate about, the one you’re so deep-down in love with that you’ll walk until your shoes fall off and your feet begin to bleed. Whatever that means to you.

So make art, make a business, build a family, a house, or a relationship, but God help you if you don’t do if for love. Sometimes it won’t feel that way, but if it’s not fueled by love, find something else. Call it whatever you like. I’m OK with passion.

Comments (18)
  1. October 22, 2013 at 7:58 am

    Wow. FInally someone calls it like it is! Yeah, I’d love to follow my passion — however, I get paid six figures to do IT work and guess what? If I didn’t earn that, I WOULDN’T be able to “follow my passion” which is photography. I”m sure you would consider my work mind numbing but quite the contrary it’s exciting, and tests me every single day!

    So… I have to stick to doing my day job which is something I do enjoy anyway, def not my passion, but I do enjoy it and continue on my other passion which is photography.

  2. October 22, 2013 at 8:07 am

    Jorge is right… It’s great to follow your passions but it doesn’t have to be what you do to make a living. A question that always comes up when I tell people I’m a photographer is, “are you a full-time photographer?” I smile and answer, “are you a full-time human being?” :) It gives them a perspective that you are NOT what you do for a living, you are what you perceive yourself to be.

  3. Hanae

    October 22, 2013 at 8:14 am

    OATUS, I love this picture. It reminds me of my childhood.

  4. October 22, 2013 at 10:14 am

    Really interesting post. I think that passion is the basis for everything. It has to be there. It has to be such a force that it makes artists work like crazy to do what they have to do. I cannot remember ever seeing a successful artist – be it a singer, dancer, painter – who has not got this undying passion. It makes them go the extra mile and really stretch out. It is like a drug that they have to have. Even if they are not the worlds best businessmen or women, the passion sees them through. It is the fire in their belly that makes them succeed.

  5. October 22, 2013 at 10:37 am

    Yes, I love the image, so moody….

    How often have you met or read about people who did something for money alone, then found themselves trapped and unable to switch directions towards what they really wanted to be doing because they were dependent upon the income they were generating from the career they were, now, totally burned out on.

    As you say, life if short, we all have a one way ticket and don’t know when it will be punched. We only borrow what we have here, all we truly own is our “time.”

    So I’m with you David, do what you have passion for, what excites you. Sure it take effort, but it will take a lot of effort creating a life that you are unhappy with.

  6. October 22, 2013 at 11:12 am

    Insightful post, plenty of things to mull over.

    Have you ever read the book by Cal Newport “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”. It was sparked by a remark made by Steve Martin in a tv interview. Martin said he was always being asked by wannabe actors how to become famous and “Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You” was his reply. He said that many wannabes were disappointed with this as they were looking for shortcuts to fame.

    Linda xx

    PS I’m not related to Cal!!

  7. Ved

    October 22, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    Why is that all this talk and diligence of understanding about following your own passion comes (I’m only referring to myself) when you’re at a age when you’re not inclined towards taking any risks. When you’re young you tend to be more likely to take risks but no wisdom to understand the value or seriousness of those passion or hobbies but when we grow older we realize how important it was to take those risks and followed it. It’s always the failure to fail and I guess in most cases people do fail that’s probably why since ages very few people take the plunge.

  8. October 22, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    Alan Watts put it into perspective:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=je3rQevW-cw

    “What do I desire?”

  9. AD

    October 22, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    David, you bring to mind Mary Oliver:

    “….Tell me, what is it you plan to do
    with your one wild and precious life?”

    http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/?date=2008%2F06%2F30

  10. October 23, 2013 at 12:25 am

    David, thanks for sharing… i wonder how many people who made passion their daily job were manage to keep that passion and love for it alive…
    regardin photography, i can’t imagine working as a photographer (as a daily job) ’cause i’m afraid of loosing the love and passion for that…
    photography is kind of stepping-stone for me… now, i can go out of the office… take the camera get into that world of light and simply forget about everything that’s around me (problems, tasks to be done… etc), reset my head and mind…
    Also, from my own perspective i do agree with Jorge – without my daily job i wouldn’t be able to follow what i love (and it’s not only the photography)…

  11. October 23, 2013 at 7:32 am

    A good friend pointed my to your blog and I’m so glad she did! Thank you! I don’t know if it’s that I’m really opening up to things all of the sudden but your writings have been really hitting home. I truly love photography and having to deal with death so closely keeps me aware that we don’t have a lot of time on this earth. Make the most of it is what I keep telling myself but in the end I usually have to listen to my logical self and go in a modified direction. I’m one of those that works for a place I love and realize that it allows me to do what I’m truly passionate about, photography. All things in moderation as they say. I don’t get to travel endlessly around the world capturing images of fantastic places but I do get out. Thank you again, really enjoy you’re writing.

  12. October 23, 2013 at 8:31 am

    Hmmm. Count me in with those who are weary of hearing about passion and inclined to think “follow your passion” is unhelpful advice. Perhaps it’s because where talk of passion occurs even more inane words about happiness are sure to follow.

    I guess I don’t see passion as something we are born with, a wind in our soul to which we fix our sails before discovering who we really are. Instead, I see passion as the realisation of what we have done and chose to continue doing.

    My passions, music, words, images, cooking, cycling, were not passions when I first took them up or even when I got good at them. They were adventures, enterprises or just stuff I did to avoid feeling bored.

    They became passions largely because I kept doing them, or came back to doing them.

    Many of the saddest people I know are those who, in mid-life are trying to discover their passions in order to follow them. They chop and change and lurch from one potential passion to another, all the while hoping something will give them focus and, in some magical way, happiness.

  13. October 23, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    Here is what Vincent had to say about it:

    “I would rather die of passion than of boredom.”

    Vincent Van Gogh

  14. October 23, 2013 at 6:06 pm

    I love this sentence David.

    “What is very much the point is this: How do you want to spend the few -and they will seem both few and short – days of your life? The scarcer something is, the more valuable it is, and our days are not only limited, we don’t have a clue how many we’ve got on the books.”

    It should be at the forefront of every decision we make especially in our careers, im chaning jobs at the moment so its very revelant to me.

    Regards,
    Ben

  15. November 5, 2013 at 3:54 am

    The hard work part needs to mentioned a lot more with the follow your passion part in society.

  16. November 7, 2013 at 10:25 pm

    Very interesting post David. I totally agree that having a passion for your work will carry you through more barriers than others might be able to persevere through. Its as Chase Jarvis regularly says – those barriers and challenges are there to keep those less committed than him out, only fortifying his determination.

    However, i’ve seen the opposite be true where passionate entrepreneurs pursue their dreams to devastating ends – perhaps costing them their life savings, marriage, family, relationships, house, etc. There is no honour in being blindingly intent on succeeding no matter how little demand their is for your craft. it would be better kept as a hobby, where it would refresh you rather than deplete you.

    If everyone were to follow their passions by doing what they love, nobody would wash toilets for a living. Or many other occupations. But I personally know many happy, fulfilled, affluent janitor/entrepreneurs with great flexibility in their lifestyle to pursue their passions.

    Living a passionate life does not need to include how you make your income. And it doesn’t have to include self-fulfillment above all else. Living part of your life in the service of others (your family included) can be more rewarding.

    It does go back to your main question of What Do You Want To Do With Your Time On This Planet? Surely the mundane consumer cog in the system existence is the path of least resistance and leaves one feeling empty. I’ve been looking for a way to live more intentionally, but its hard to get out. Easy to get in, hard to get out. Chris Guillebeau’s Art of Non-Conformity has been a good kick in the pants recently.

    The link of occupation to happiness, well that comes from within. It all has to do with our attitude and some intangibles like freedom, how we are treated, etc. We’d be better of looking at our priorities, our spirituality, our creative expression and our relationships as sources of happiness – far ahead of how we earn money to cover our expenses. The lure of entrepreneur/artist is not an easy one – just have a heart to heart talk with several before thinking this is the way to happiness.