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.