My entire life people have said, “Follow your passions.” Well what happens when you don’t feel especially passionate about anything?
At some point I noticed that things didn’t quite shine like they used to. It used to be that I got excited about things in life, but now, I realized, that my innocent youth had slipped away during the night and in its place now lives a cynical ass hat. Passion is harder to come by now.
There are probably several reasons for this metamorphosis including internal psycho-social conflicts and past heart breaks. All of which have accumulated into this perfect apathy that now darkens my senses. Makes the world seem grey.
Not that I’m without excitement, but when I consider my future there isn’t anything that sticks out as that one true love that I’m supposed to find. It’s as if after following Disney philosophies of saving myself for the Prince Charming of work-life balance I have waited in vain for the right job opportunity to come along and sweep me off my feet only to wake up one day and look in the mirror expecting a bright young bird laden maiden and instead realize that I’ve become an old witch with a cat.
My old curmudgeonliness aside I have to cringe when people talk about discovering your passion in life and letting it guide you. There was a time when I believed these myths, but after trying to find that secret energy for several decades I’m beginning to think that there is more to the story than people are letting on.
When I first started out doing graphic work I was excited about the proposition of making money from art. I was more than ready to turn my passion for creating into fuel for a money machine that would sustain me. It was more difficult than I imagined. My dreams weren’t crushed exactly, because I’m still pursuing a variation on that theme. However I did learn an important lesson: passion doesn’t last.
Up until very recently I would think that maybe there was something wrong with me. Why couldn’t I find something to be passionate about? Where was my Prince Charming?
Passion is a tricky myth to get around in my line of work. I frequently study other artists looking for things that I can incorporate into my habits. The best artists out there have single-mindedly pursued their craft and pushed the limits of their talents over time improving their skills. Many people who end up at the top of their class credit passion as the thing that drove them to their single minded success.
This is where it starts. The perspective of people who have already made it is like gospel to the uninitiated seeking the promised land.
Artists, often temperamental, can be very critical of their own work. Good artists use that dour energy to drive harder on the next piece and over time it’s this lack of confidence that pushes an artist to become better at their craft. But then something strange happens: one day they get out of bed and realize that they are in a completely different place then they were a decade ago. Suddenly people are asking questions like, “How did you get to be so great?”
If the artist is lucky he feels good about his body of work and the achievements he’s wrought. So upon reflection he thinks, “I feel pretty passionate about my past and present work now so that must be the key.” I don’t doubt that people feel passionate, but the message becomes “Feel something so intensely that it pushes you through the hard times.” Seems simple enough.
Having tried that strategy I know first hand that passion eventually runs out. That emotion isn’t built for long distance running. In fact it’s kind of a lazy emotion only good for a quickie. Think about your first date: it’s all exciting in the beginning. We get dressed up, put on perfume, make sure to fart in the bathroom and not in front of our new partner. But spend a couple of years together and the makeup goes away, we prefer sweats to real clothes, and farting has become an oddly competitive sport. That honeymoon period always ends with the excitement evaporating. Things never stay sparkly and new. The passion doesn’t last.
When we make passion our ultimate goal we end up chasing something that only happens occasionally, mostly by accident, and almost always after we have passed through difficulty. What the real goal should be is achievement. That’s what successful people are mistakenly passing off as passion, because it’s the projects that they worked so hard to finish that makes them feel good about their resume.
I draw because I like it. I don’t wake up everyday feeling like I have to draw, but I like the challenge and I want to get better at it and make money… someday. It’s the same reason that I build furniture from old pallets. It makes me feel accomplished. Like I’m contributing to the world. But I wouldn’t describe it as passion. I don’t feel like I have this overwhelming lust for life work. It’s just something that I happen to be interested in for intrinsic reasons.
The passion comes when someone buys a poster, or tells me that they really want that chair I made as a gift for a friend. When other people, especially strangers, get excited about the things I create I get excited. And that’s the passion that people are trying to express when they give advice about being passionate. That’s the heat-of-the-moment, flash-in-the-pan kind of emotion that only happens after I’ve poured sweat, and swear words into all the bullshit of making the thing.
After a couple of decades of wondering why it’s not working for me what I’ve finally decided is that passion is oversold as a miracle cure for feeling shitty about life and now it sounds like snake oil to me. You may not feel the same way and that’s fine. For some people it probably feels like passion day to day and you should consider yourself lucky if that’s the case. From my point of view it doesn’t hold water and I think that I can do better by redefining my goals.
When the passion fades and you get married, have kids, adopt a dog, you don’t stop loving your partner. Your relationship takes on new meaning because you’ve grown past passion. If you do it right your relationship turns into a deeply caring friendship. A kind of love that is – granted – earned through a little pain, but through each challenge met that relationship becomes stronger. Over time you might say that you kept the passion alive, but really it was something stronger. Something that became a part of you and in a sense is shared between you and your partner. I think it’s the same with your work. The passion gets you through the door, but it’s achievement that keeps you going. Strive for achievement. Not passion. Passion is overrated.