Passion Is Overrated

Creativity, Random Thoughts

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.

Sensitive Artist Type

Creativity, Random Thoughts

Just read an article describing artists as sensitive people who contradictorily rely on both outward, boisterous expression and quiet, inward solitude to keep themselves in balance. I’ve never really thought about it, but I think there is an element of truth to this concept.

Recently I’ve been thinking about my work style and temperament. As a general rule I find myself really driven and productive for a period of time followed by a sudden crash and a complete and total desire to do fuck all, as the kids over in the land of Eng say. I’ve always accepted these two extremes in my life, but others haven’t been quite so understanding. At least one friend asked me if I was manic. And I’ve openly wondered with my wife if maybe I didn’t suffer from bouts of depression.

With the perspective of this article (linked above) added into the mix, I think the whole package makes a little more sense when plugged into the model of a sensitive creative type: I get overstimulated and need quiet alone time to recharge. Some of my most cherished moments are alone, removed from society and culture. It is in solitude that my mind works best to come up with new ideas. And I’ve described myself as a little shy and socially awkward, but I also feed off people’s energy; if they are happy I’m happy; if they are sad I am sad. Plus I have these extreme moments where my highs are really high and my lows are pretty crappy: one moment happy and boisterous; the next quiet, reserved, and I’m a crabby prick.

Thinking back to the short period of time that I worked as a true freelancer (not just moonlighting like I do now) I would work solid ten, twelve, fourteen hour days for about three months. Then, running full force into a wall I would wake up late one morning and decide that I’m eating cookies and playing video games and nothing else. I am aware that I turned into a bag of shit, but I always figured that I gave too hard and my body shut down in order to preserve my health. Looking back I think there was a psychological need to recharge as well.

The one sign that there was, is, mental exhaustion is that after about two weeks of going full retard I would start getting twitchy again. My hands would crave some kind of craft and my mind would start spitting out new ideas even if they weren’t illustration related. I would find myself back at the desk creating again without reason or rhyme.

Now that I work full time on top of a side hustle that rhythm has changed a bit, but remains essentially the same: a period of sprinting followed by a period of exhaustion. These days I have a busy season that follows the school’s semester schedule. Mostly hitting hard toward the middle-end of fall and spring which I find really draining and I get pretty whiney. Then it takes me a couple of weeks to recover. During the off months is when I get most of my work done since I can direct energy to more creative pursuits, but once we hit our busy season my work drops off.

The frustrating thing is that I feel like I should be able to push harder. As one friend recently posted on Facebook, in order to achieve you must be able to push past the pain. I agree with this for the most part, except that I’m lazy, but taking into consideration all the things we have to keep in balance the real struggle is what do you focus on and what do you sacrifice?

While having full time employment is – to borrow from religious folk – a blessing, I would rather be working on my illustrations and prints. However, I know that I am not going to make a living off of my art yet, because I’m taking the slow road, but this current side hustle will need some more investment to get off the ground in a sustainable way. Yet, I can’t help feeling that if I quit my job and focused on my side hustle, trying to make it a full time gig I would a) feel a fire under my ass since it would be my only source of income, and b) be able to dedicate the time needed to get out there and promote the business like it needs to be.

Also I’m curious to see whether or not I can wrangle in this up and down cycle I’m on and better manage the energy I put into life on the whole. With the theory that I will get more enjoyment out of life if I can spread the energy out more.

For now all I can do is keep plugging away with the goal of achieving self sufficiency. At least now I know that I’m not totally crazy and maybe I can figure out a strategy to work with my temperament. One thing that has become a really important aspect of life is to take vacation time that separates me from normal life. Solitude is what I cave to recharge and if I can tap into a little bit of beauty in the process then all the better the recovery will be with the added benefit of inspiration.